Saturday, 22 July 2017

Sanhedrin 6: Compromise, Mediation, Judgement

Sanhedrin 5 described cases where one rabbi might be considered an adequate judge and another would not.  The rabbis explored the notion of "qualifications" and the needs of different communities.

Today's daf begins with questioning how only two judges could be appropriate to judge in monetary matters.  How can we know what to do when two men hold different opinions?  We learn that the ruling of one judge is acceptable, and that judge will be responsible for any damages from his personal funds if his judgement is incorrect.  However, the rabbis debate about which part of his judgement is incorrect.  Was it his knowledge of the Mishna?  Or was it his process of deliberation?  

The rabbis then discuss differences between judgement, compromise, and mediation.  We learn that some rabbis deem one judge sufficient to compromise rather than to judge, whereas three judges are required for mediation rather than judgement.  Some rabbis state that two judges are helpful with compromise, for there are witnesses to ensure that the terms of the compromise are met.  One argument suggests that compromise requires no act of acquisition and thus judges are not required at all.

Some rabbis assert that it is not permitted to mediate a dispute.  Certainly it is forbidden to mediate a conflict after a judgement has been decreed.  The notion that mediation is a sin and that blessing a mediator is a sin is justified by verses in Psalms.  Instead, human judgement should be similar to the judgement of G-d.  But how then do we justify the methods of Aaron, our first High Priest, who was said to be a lover of peace and one who mediated through peaceful means (Malachi 2:6).  The rabbis look to other instances of misusing a blessing.  In these cases one is said to be blessing oneself and cursing G-d.  It is considered to be covetous behaviour to bless a mediator.  

Some rabbis believe that mediation is preferable to judgement.  Quotations from Zechariah (8:16) and II Samuel (8:15) state that mediation was used by King David and others to bring about peace.  Peace and charity are both encouraged when we avoid firm judgements.  The rabbis discuss "justice and charity", using examples of King David offering justice to an injured party while providing benefit to the poor at his own expense.  

Reish Lakish states that a judge is permitted to remove himself from the case if at the start of the case he hears that one party is flexible and the other is rigid in his perspective.  The rabbis seem to attempt to convince judges to continue their work, though.  We are told that it is righteous to be true to one's judgement of a person regardless of their riches or poverty.  They are judging for G-d, not for people.  Judges might say that the work is very hard and they might wonder why they are doing it at all.  The Gemara reminds us that judges judge based only on what they see.  All that judges can do is make the best judgement possible given the information presented to them.

Finally, the rabbis ask how to know when a case has been completed.  One suggestion is that the case ends when a judge states that one person is liable and another has been exonerated.  We are then told about Rav Huna, who would ask both parties if they would like a strict judgement or a compromise at the start of each case.  This practice is considered to be a mitzvah by some rabbis.  

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