For the week ending 6 March 2010 / 19 Adar I 5770

Sanhedrin 23 - 29

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
Become a Supporter Library Library
  • Selecting judges and rejecting them
  • How refined Jerusalemites chose their company
  • The brilliance and mutual respect of Talmudic Sages
  • Can one retract his consent to be judged by an unqualified court
  • Who is disqualified to serve as a witness because of wrongdoing and how he can be reinstated
  • The saga of Shavna who rebelled against Chizkiyahu
  • The status of one with a reputation for sexual immorality
  • If the testimony of a witness exposed as a liar is retroactively disqualified
  • Which relatives are disqualified as witnesses
  • When offspring suffer for the sins of their forebears
  • Can good friend or profound enemy serve as a witness
  • How witnesses are interrogated
  • When an admission is not considered to be genuine
  • When does the court make a plea on behalf of the defendant

Pleading for the Defendant

  • Sanhedrin 29a

If someone admits to owing money to another, but when it comes to later paying that debt he claims that he was only fooling when he made that admission, he is believed. If he fails to offer this excuse in making his refusal, the court does not offer it on his behalf.

When it comes to a case involving capital punishment, however, if the court is capable of presenting an argument on behalf of the defendant which he has not put forth, it is obligated to do so. The exception to this rule is when the person on trial is accused of being a maisit – one who attempted to persuade another Jew to worship idols.

The source for such a severe attitude towards the evil persuader, says Rabbi Chama bar Chanina, is the Torah command "You shall not have pity on him nor shall you cover up for him." (Devarim 13:9)

Another source mentioned in the name of Rabbi Yonatan is that of G-d convicting the primeval serpent for persuading Chava to eat from the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. There was certainly a plea that could have been made on behalf of that maisit and it was not made. What could have been said in the serpent's defense? "Is one supposed to heed the word of the master or that of the disciple?" – the rationale given as to why when one sins as an agent for another it is he who bears responsibility for the crime rather than the one who sent him to do so.

Tosefot asks why then cannot every maisit get away by arguing that his victim had no business ignoring the command of his Heavenly Master? His answer is that only the serpent could have possibly been acquitted with such a claim because he had never been commanded to desist from evil persuasion and was judged only because of the tragedy he caused. The maisit, however, has been commanded to refrain from such evil persuasion and is convicted for the attempt itself.

What the Sages Say

"How do we know that whoever adds to the words of G-d only detracts from them? Although G-d's command was to refrain from eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, Chava added that He also prohibited touching the tree and this led to the serpent tricking her."

  • The Sage Chizkiah - Sanhedrin 29a

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