Thursday, 3 August 2017
Sanhedrin 17: Halachot of Choosing Members of the Sanhedrin; its Surroundings
We are told of how the 70 elders were chosen by Moshe Rabbeinu. There was not an equal number of tribes to choose from; selecting 6 elders from each tribe would add to 72 elders. Instead of creating tension among the tribes, Moshe chose 6 from each tribe and asked them to select a number. Two of the cards were left blank. It was reasonable to suggest that they had not be chosen by G-d. Moshe had nothing to do with it. Levites were selected in a similar manner.
Another suggestion is that Eldad and Medad were called to this gathering of elders but they did not respond because unlike other prophets, they did not stop prophesizing to be named as elders, leaving 70 elders present plus Moshe. What were they prophesizing about? Some rabbis suggest that they were noting Moshe’s death and Joshua’s succession. Others believed that they were prophesizing about the quail, and yet others supposed that they were prophesizing Gog and Magog. Prooftexts are shared to demonstrate the plausibility of this suggestion.
Rav Kahana teaches that in a court where each member sees fit to convict the defendant of capital punishment, he is acquitted. It may take all night to find a plausible reason to acquit. Further, the tradition to debate overnight allows the rabbi to delay a punishment which might be enacted immediately after the decision. All of this is necessary because at least one person must be present who is able to argue in the name of the defendant for the trail to be halachically sound.
Rabbi Yochanan teaches that one on the Sanhedrin must be men:
· Of stature
· Of wisdom
· Of pleasant appearance
· Who are old enough to be respected
· Who are Masters of sorcery in order to judge sorcerers
· Who speak 70 languages so that no translators are needed
· Skilled enough at logical reasoning to argue that a creeping animal is actually pure
The rabbis agree that if a city cannot send two men who speak seventy languages, they should send those who can understand those languages before sending a lesser elder. However, their conversation suggests that only two to three languages were expected in a given Sanhedrin.
The Gemara names a number of statements that precede the statements of different rabbis. One random example is “The Elders of Pumbedita” refers to Rav Yehuda and Rav Eina, while “the sharp ones of Pumbedita” refers to Eifa and Avimi, the sons of Rachava. Another example: “they laughed at it in the West” means that Rabbi Yosei bar Chanina disagreed with a certain idea. There are many, many rabbis and euphemisms named in this section of today’s daf.
Finally, our daf ends with a number of rules regarding the leadership or elite in any given city. Why would 120 people be required? The rabbis walk through the needs of the court. There are two scribes, two bailiffs, two litigants, two witnesses for each side, conspiring witnesses, and additional witnesses required for the Sanhedrin to hear a case.
A city Torah scholar requires these ten things in his city of residence:
· A court with the authority to flog/punish transgressors
· A charity fund where two people collect and three distribute
· A synagogue
· A bathhouse
· A public bathroom
· A doctor
· A bloodletter
· A scribe
· A ritual slaughterer
· A children’s teacher
· An additional 120 residents
· Varieties of fruit, says Rabbi Akiva, to illuminate the eyes