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Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Sanhedrin
AND THREE ROWS OF SCHOLARS SAT1 IN FRONT OF THEM; EACH KNOWING HIS OWN PLACE.2 IN CASE IT WAS NECESSARY TO ORDAIN [ANOTHER JUDGE],3 HE WAS APPOINTED FROM THE FIRST [ROW] IN WHICH CASE ONE OF THE SECOND [ROW] MOVED UP TO THE FIRST, ONE OF THE THIRD TO THE SECOND, AND A MEMBER OF THE ASSEMBLED [AUDIENCE]4 WAS SELECTED AND SEATED IN THE THIRD [ROW]. HE5 DID NOT SIT IN THE PLACE VACATED BY THE FIRST6 BUT IN THE PLACE SUITABLE FOR HIM.7
GEMARA. Whence is this derived? — R. Aha Haninah said: Scripture states, Thy navel is like a round goblet ['aggan ha-Sahar] wherein no mingled wine is wanting.8 'Thy navel' — that is the Sanhedrin. Why was it called 'navel'? — Because it sat at the navel-point9 of the world. [Why] 'aggan?10 — Because it protects [meggin] the whole world. [Why] ha-Sahar? — Because it was moon-shaped.11 [Why] in which no mingled wine is wanting? — I.e., if one of them had to leave, it had to be ascertained if twenty-three, corresponding to the number of the minor Sanhedrin, were left,12 in which case he might go out; if not, he might not depart.
Thy belly is like a heap of wheat:13 Just as all benefit from a heap of wheat, so do all benefit from the deliberations of the Sanhedrin.
Set about with lilies:14 Even through a hedge of lilies they would make no breach.15 In this connexion there is the story of a Min16 who said to R. Kahana: Ye maintain that a menstruant woman is permitted yihud [privacy] with her husband: can fire be near tow without singeing it? He retorted: The Torah testifies this of us: Set about with lilies — even through a hedge of lilies they make no breach. Resh Lakish deduced [the same answer] from the following verse, Thy temples [rakkathek] are like a pomegranate split open!17 Even the emptiest [rekanin]18 among you are as full of meritorious deeds as a pomegranate [of seeds].19 R. Zera deduced it from the following verse, And he smelt the smell of his raiment;20 read not begadaw [his raiment] but bogedaw [his traitors].21
In the neighbourhood of R. Zera there lived some lawless men. He nevertheless showed them friendship in order to lead them to repent; but the Rabbis were annoyed [at his action]. When R. Zera's soul went to rest,22 they said: Until now we had the burnt man with the dwarfed legs23 to implore Divine mercy for us; who will do so now? Thereupon they felt remorse in their hearts and repented.
THREE ROWS Abaye said: We may infer from this24 that when one moves they all move.25 But can he26 not object to them: Until now I used to sit at the head,27 whilst now ye place me at the tail!28 Said Abaye: They can answer him thus: Better a tail to lions than a head to foxes.29
MISHNAH. HOW WERE THE WITNESSES INSPIRED WITH AWE? WITNESSES IN CAPITAL CHARGES30 WERE BROUGHT IN AND INTIMIDATED [THUS]: PERHAPS WHAT YE SAY IS BASED ONLY ON CONJECTURE,31 OR HEARSAY,32 OR IS EVIDENCE FROM THE MOUTH OF ANOTHER WITNESS,33 OR EVEN FROM THE MOUTH OF A TRUSTWORTHY PERSON:34 PERHAPS YE ARE UNAWARE THAT ULTIMATELY WE SHALL SCRUTINIZE YOUR EVIDENCE BY CROSS EXAMINATION AND INQUIRY? KNOW THEN THAT CAPITAL CASES ARE NOT LIKE MONETARY CASES. IN CIVIL SUITS, ONE CAN MAKE MONETARY RESTITUTION35 AND THEREBY EFFECT HIS ATONEMENT; BUT IN CAPITAL CASES HE IS HELD RESPONSIBLE FOR HIS BLOOD [sc. THE ACCUSED'S] AND THE BLOOD OF HIS [POTENTIAL] DESCENDANTS UNTIL THE END OF TIME,36 FOR THUS WE FIND IN THE CASE OF CAIN, WHO KILLED HIS BROTHER, THAT IT IS WRITTEN: THE BLOODS OF THY BROTHER CRY UNTO ME:37 NOT THE BLOOD OF THY BROTHER, BUT THE BLOODS OF THY BROTHER, IS SAID — i.e., HIS BLOOD AND THE BLOOD OF HIS [POTENTIAL] DESCENDANTS. (ALTERNATIVELY, THE BLOODS OF THY BROTHER, TEACHES THAT HIS BLOOD WAS SPLASHED OVER TREES AND STONES.)38 FOR THIS REASON WAS MAN CREATED ALONE, TO TEACH THEE THAT WHOSOEVER DESTROYS A SINGLE SOUL OF ISRAEL,39 SCRIPTURE IMPUTES [GUILT] TO HIM AS THOUGH HE HAD DESTROYED A COMPLETE WORLD; AND WHOSOEVER PRESERVES A SINGLE SOUL OF ISRAEL, SCRIPTURE ASCRIBES [MERIT] TO HIM AS THOUGH HE HAD PRESERVED A COMPLETE WORLD.40 FURTHERMORE, [HE WAS CREATED ALONE] FOR THE SAKE OF PEACE AMONG MEN, THAT ONE MIGHT NOT SAY TO HIS FELLOW, 'MY FATHER WAS GREATER THAN THINE, AND THAT THE MINIM41 MIGHT NOT SAY, THERE ARE MANY RULING POWERS IN HEAVEN; AGAIN, TO PROCLAIM THE GREATNESS OF THE HOLY ONE, BLESSED BE HE: FOR IF A MAN STRIKES MANY COINS FROM ONE MOULD, THEY ALL RESEMBLE ONE ANOTHER, BUT THE SUPREME KING OF KINGS,42 THE HOLY ONE, BLESSED BE HE, FASHIONED EVERY MAN IN THE STAMP OP THE FIRST MAN, AND YET NOT ONE OF THEM RESEMBLES HIS FELLOW. THEREFORE EVERY SINGLE PERSON IS OBLIGED TO SAY: THE WORLD WAS CREATED FOR MY SAKE.43
PERHAPS YE WILL SAY:
Sanhedrin 37bWHY SHOULD WE INCUR THIS ANXIETY?1 [KNOW THEN:] IS IT NOT ALREADY WRITTEN, AND HE BEING A WITNESS, WHETHER HE HATH SEEN OR KNOWN, IF HE DO NOT UTTER IT?2 AND SHOULD YE SAY: WHY SHOULD WE BEAR GUILT FOR THE BLOOD OF THIS [MAN]:3 — SURELY, HOWEVER, IT IS SAID, WHEN THE WICKED PERISH, THERE IS JOY!4
GEMARA. Our Rabbis taught: What is meant by BASED ON CONJECTURE? — He [the judge] says to them: Perhaps ye saw him running after his fellow into a ruin, ye pursued him, and found him sword in hand with blood dripping from it, whilst the murdered man was writhing [in agony]: If this is what ye saw, ye saw nothing.5
It has been taught: R. Simeon b. Shatah said: May I never see comfort6 if I did not see a man pursuing his fellow into a ruin, and when I ran after him and saw him, sword in hand with blood dripping from it, and the murdered man writhing, I exclaimed to him: Wicked man, who slew this man? It is either you or I!7 But what can I do, since thy blood [i.e., life] does not rest in my hands, for it is written in the Torah, At the mouth of two witnesses etc., shall he that is to die be put to death?8 May he who knows one's thoughts exact vengeance from him who slew his fellow! It is related that before they moved from the place a serpent came and bit him [the murderer] so that he died.
But should this man [have died] through a serpent? Did not R. Joseph say, and so too it was taught in the school of Hezekiah: From the day the Temple was destroyed, although the Sanhedrin was abolished, the four modes of execution were not abolished? They were not abolished, [you say,] but surely they were! — But the law of the four modes of execution was not abolished:9 He who is worthy of stoning either falls from the roof,10 or is trampled to death by a wild beast; he who merits burning either falls into the fire or is bitten by a serpent;11 he who is worthy of decapitation is either delivered to the [gentile] Government12 or brigands attack him; he who is worthy of strangulation is either drowned in a river or dies of suffocation?13 — I will tell you: that man was guilty of another crime,14 for a Master said: One who incurs two death penalties imposed by Beth din is executed by the severer.15
BASED ON CONJECTURE. Thus, only in capital charges do we disallow conjecture, but permit it in civil suits.16 Who [is the authority for this]? — R. Aha. For it has been taught: R. Aha said: If among camels there is a lustful one, and a camel is found killed by its side, it is certain that this one killed it.17 Now, on your reasoning,18 when he [the Tanna] regards EVIDENCE FROM THE MOUTH OF ANOTHER WITNESS [as invalid]: it is only in capital charges that we do not admit it; whilst we do in monetary cases? But did we not learn: If he [the witness] says: He [the defendant] said to me, 'I owe him [the money],' or, 'So and so told me that he owes him,' his statement is worthless,19 unless he states, 'In our presence20 he admitted to him that he owed him two hundred zuz!'21 This proves that although [such evidence] is inadmissible in monetary cases too, we caution them22 only in capital cases. So in the present instance,23 though it [sc. conjecture] is inadmissible in civil suits too, we nevertheless admonish them only in capital cases.
KNOW THAT etc. Rab Judah the son of R. Hiyya said: This teaches that Cain inflicted upon his brother many blows and wounds, because he knew not whence the soul departs,24 until he reached his neck.25 Rab Judah the son of R. Hiyya also said: Since the day the earth opened her mouth to receive the blood of Abel, she has never opened it again, for it is written, From the edge of the earth have we heard songs, glory to the righteous:26 implying, from the 'edge' of the earth, but not from the mouth of the earth. Hezekiah his brother objected thereto: And the earth opened her mouth!27 — He answered: She opened if for evil,28 but not for good.
Rab Judah the son of R. Hiyya also said: Exile atones for the half of men's sins. Earlier [in the Cain narrative] it is written, And I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer;29 but later, And he dwelt in the land of Nod [wandering].30
Rab Judah said: Exile makes remission for three things, for it is written, Thus saith the Lord etc. He that abideth in this city shall die by the sword and by the famine and by the pestilence; but he that goeth out and falleth away to the Chaldeans who beseige you he shall live and his life shall be unto him for a prey.31 R. Johanan said: Exile atones for everything, for it is written, Thus saith the Lord, write ye this man childless, a man that shall not prosper in his days, for no man of his seed shall prosper sitting upon the throne of David and ruling any more in Judah.32 Whereas after he [the king] was exiled, it is written, And the sons of Jechoniah, — the same is Assir — Shealtiel his son etc.33 [He was called] Assir,34 because his mother conceived him in prison. Shealtiel,35 because God did not plant him36 in the way that others are planted. We know by tradition that a woman cannot conceive in a standing position.
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