Sunday, 23 July 2017

Sanhedrin 7: Advice to Judges on Moving Quickly Toward Peace; Judging Fairly

The rabbis continue to argue about whether or not mediation, or compromise, is an optimal goal for judges.  It is debated when it is best to suggest compromise within the judging process.  Rabbis suggest a number of phrases that serve as analogies regarding disputes.  Of note is the rabbis desire to end disputes as early as possible, for conflict escalates when left unattended.

A number of phrases are listed in the Gemara's effort to point out the benefits of working toward peace.  Most of these phrases are supported by biblical and other texts:

  • "because I hear people gossip about me and I do not respond, I will be saved from other misfortunes"
  • one who begins a conflict begins one hundred judgements
  • "it is common that people are not punished right away for two or three transgressions, but the fourth will not be pardoned"
  • "a person who seeks peace will behaved from seven pits, and a bad person will fall into the first pit"
  • "if a bet din took a person's garment, he should rejoice because he was saved from sin"
  • "when a weaver naps, her basket drops from her head and she will not be recognized for her trade"
  • "the one I relied on raised his hand (or his weapon) against me"
  • "when I was close with my wife, we could both fit on the blade of a sword.  Now that our love has waned, a bed 60 amos wide is not enough"
Similar words of wisdom are shared regarding judgement:
  • a judge who gives the true verdict cases the Divine Presence to rest in Yisrael
  • a judge who gives a false verdict causes the Divine Presence to leave Yisrael
  • If a judge takes from one and gives to another incorrectly, G-d will take his soul
  • A judge should imagine that a sword is between his thighs and that Gehenna is waiting to swallow him if he swerves toward the left or the right
  • The daytime is proper for a verdict
  • A verdict should not be made until it is as clear as morning
  • If 10 judges judge together and they all err, all are punished*
  • a student who watches his teacher err and stays silent is punished
  • If a judge is financially independent, like a king who relies on no-one else, he will establish order in the land
  • if a judge is like a kohen who goes to the granaries to get terumah, he will destroy the land
After describing a judge who was not learned enough to do his job, more wisdom is shared regarding the damage that is done by an unlearned judge.  The rabbis stress the importance of judges who are not swayed by taking bribes of gold or silver to be appointed.  Some rabbis believe that judges should not place themselves 'higher' than others.  Other rabbis discuss the importance of judges setting themselves apart from others.  Sometimes this includes judges carrying straps with them to remind people that those judges have the power to inflict lashes as punishment.  

Our daf ends with instructions to judges: do not favour your friends.  Further, do not put yourself in a position where you are obliged to help others, for you may be influenced to judge a case in their favour.

*Rav Huna would always judge with a group so that he would not have to bear being punished on his own if he made a mistake

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