Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Sanhedrin 9: Disqualifying Witnesses; Capital Punishment and Bi'ah

The rabbis continue their discussion of a case where a woman has transgressed. What is the issue?  Perhaps she was warned that her transgression would result in lashes, but not that it would result in capital punishment.  The rabbis go on to discuss whether three or twenty-three judged would be required to punish this crime with lashes.  

Perhaps this case was difficult because one of her witnesses was either a relative or another invalid witness.  We are reminded that Rabbi Akiva sates that two witnesses are always enough.  A third is used only to be stringent.  If two witnesses were disqualified, all would be punished like the first, even if the third's testimony was irrelevant/unnecessary.  Does this only apply to capital cases, the rabbis wonder?   And would it apply to 100 judges? We are reminded that the testimony is disqualified only if the invalid witness warned the transgressor.

But what if a person was murdered in front of two brothers who could not testify against the murderer?  Again, the rabbis turn to whether or not the transgressor was warned before committing the crime.  We are told that the testimony right be eliminated anyhow due to conflicting stories.

The Gemara opens up questions of monetary liability accompanying death penalties.  Witnesses might be filled, too.  Punishment follows attempts to kill witnesses.  They also pay, because they tried to cause a loss to someone else.

Rav Yosef teaches that if Shimon says that he was "forcibly raped" by Levi, he is permitted to team up with another witness to kill his violator.  if Shimon says that the act was consensual, then Shimon is considered to be a rasha, a bad person, and he cannot testify.  Rava rejects this, suggesting that a person cannot disqualify himself from testifying.   Instead, the testimony is 'split': It is as if he said that Levi had bi'ah, sexual relations (literally 'entrance'), with another man; I consented to have bi'ah with a man.  His admission is ignored, and he joins with the second witness to kill Levi.

Clearly the concept of bi'ah, entering, is reserved for very specific relationships.  It is interesting that this particular example seems to suggest that it would be reasonable to kill a man who has bi'ah with another man.  The taboo around this particular human behaviour runs so deeply that it is difficult to imagine a 'reframing' of this act in an ancient context.

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