Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Sanhedrin 16: Why Do These Crimes Require Judgement by Seventy-One Judges?

The rabbis continue to debate when 71 judges are required, including the lottery for the urim v'tummim.  The discussion about cities filled with idolators are considered again, where individuals are stones but must first be judged individually by the Great Sanhedrin.  Quotes from Deuteronomy (17:5) are used as proof texts.  

We are reminded that 71 judges are needed to judge a false prophet.  This is proven by a number of word analogies, gezerah shava, where just like one must be judged by or rebel against 71, a false prophet must be judged by 71 as well.  Proofs are provided to better understand why a high priest charged with a capital crime must be judged by 71 judges.  The rabbis wonder about whether we are considering the crimes of a high priest or crimes of great importance because of the ambiguous nature of the wording in the text.  Among other concerns, the rabbis also question smaller matters, like how many judges are required if the high priest's ox kills someone.

Our Mishna also taught that 71 judges are required to decide whether or not to go to a war that is not required (commanded or in defence).  This is proved and then rejected.  A story is told of King David, who would awaken at midnight when the wind sounded the harp above his bed.  He would awaken and then learn Torah until the sages found him in the morning.  On one occasion, he was informed that the people could not finance themselves any longer, and David sent them to war.  They checked first with Achisofel and the Sanhedrin; they also asked the Urim v'Tummim.  This story is anazlysed as well, with the rabbis understanding that Urim v'Tummim were also called Keresi and Pelesi, meaning cut or enforce their words, and that their words were wondrous.   

We learned that 71 judges were required to add to the area of Jerusalem.  Prooftexts suggest that this is known through Moshe Rabbeinu, who is related to the number 71  (Moshe is added to his 70 judges), and his consecration of the kelim.  Perhaps kelim are consecrated through work or prayer in future generations.    This is discussed in some detail, including the translation and understandings of the word 'osam' and how it might add to this discussion.

The end of our daf walks through a number reasons that 71 judges are required to destroy a city because its majority were idolatrous.  One of the conversations focuses on why three cities should not be destroyed if they are beside each other.  The main concern is that HaAretz might be left desolate.  The rabbis seem to be more concerned about the density of the populus within the borders of Israel.  This continues to be a concern.  While modern Israel houses people of many different religions and nations, Israel as a Jewish, democratic state requires a large Jewish population.  As we know, claims to Israel as the home of the Jewish people has always been a challenge - and that tradition continues.

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