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Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Sanhedrin

Folio 5a

but one who is a recognised Mumheh1  may judge alone.

R. Nahman said: One like myself may adjudicate monetary cases alone. And so said R. Hiyya.

The following problem was [consequently] propounded: Does the statement 'one like myself' mean that as I have learned traditions and am able to reason them out, and have also obtained authorisation2  [so must he who wishes to render a legal decision alone]; but that if he has not obtained authorisation, his judgment is invalid; or is his judgment valid without such authorisation? Come and hear! Mar Zutra, the son of R. Nahman, judged a case alone and gave an erroneous decision. On appearing before R. Joseph, he was told: If both parties accepted you as their judge, you are not liable to make restitution. Otherwise, go and indemnify the injured party. Hence it can be inferred that the judgment of one, though not authorised, is valid.

Said Rab: Whosoever wishes to decide monetary cases by himself and be free from liability in case of an erroneous decision, should obtain sanction from the Resh Galutha,3  And so said Samuel.

It is clear that an authorisation held from the Resh Galutha 'here' [in Babylonia] holds good 'here' — And one from the Palestinian authority 'there' [in Palestine] is valid 'there' — Likewise, the authorisation received 'here' is valid 'there', because the authority in Babylon is designated 'sceptre' — but that of Palestine, 'lawgiver' [denoting a lower rank] — as it has been taught: The sceptre shall not depart from Judah,4  this refers to the Exilarchs of Babylon who rule over Israel with sceptres;5  and a lawgiver … this refers to the descendants of Hillel [in Palestine] who teach the Torah in public. Is, however, a permission given 'there' valid 'here'? Come and hear! Rabbah b. Hana gave an erroneous judgment [in Babylonia]. He then came before R. Hiyya, who said to him: If both parties accepted you as their judge, you are not liable to make restitution; otherwise you must indemnify them. Now — Rabbah b. Hana did hold permission [but from the Palestinian authority]. Hence we infer that the Palestinian authorisation does not hold good for Babylon.6

But is it really not valid in Babylon? Did not Rabbah, son of R. Huna, when quarrelling with the members of the household of the Resh Galutha, maintain, I do not hold my authorisation from you. I hold it from my father who had it from Rab, and he from R. Hiyya, who received it from Rabbi [in Palestine]'? — He was only trying to put them in their place with mere words.

Well, then, if such authorisation is invalid in Babylon, what good was it to Rabbah, son of R. Huna? — It held good for cities that were situated on the Babylonian border [which were under the jurisdiction of Palestine].7

Now, what is the content of an authorisation? — When Rabbah b. Hana was about to go to Babylon, R. Hiyya said to Rabbi: 'My brother's son is going8  to Babylon. May he, decide in matters of ritual law?' Rabbi answered: 'He may. May he decide monetary cases?' — He may.' 'May he declare firstborn animals permissible [for slaughter]?'9 — 'He may.' When Rab went there, R. Hiyya said to Rabbi: 'My sister's son is going to Babylon. May he decide on matters of ritual law?' — He may. 'May he decide [monetary] cases?' — 'He may.' 'May' he declare firstborn animals permissible for slaughter?' — 'He may not.' Why did R. Hiyya call the former 'brother's son' and the latter 'sister's son'? You cannot say that it was actually so, since a Master said that Aibu [Rab's father] and Hana [Rabbah's father], Shila and Martha and R. Hiyya were the sons of Abba b. Aha Karsela of Kafri?10  — Rab was also R. Hiyya's sister's son [on his mother's side], while Rabbah was only his brother's son. Or, if you prefer, I might say he chose to call him sister's son'

Original footnotes renumbered. See Structure of the Talmud Files
  1. V. Glos.
  2. V. n. 6.
  3. Lit. — 'head of the Golah', Exilarch. Title given to the chief of the Babylonian Jews who from the time of the exile were designated by the term Golah, v. Jer. XXVIII, 6.
  4. Gen. XLIX. 10.
  5. Sceptre, symbol of the authority of a ruler appointed by the Government, as was the Resh Galutha, 'Lawgiver' designates the heads of Palestinian schools who have no political authority.
  6. Otherwise he should not have been liable to indemnification.
  7. [V. Zuri, Toledoth Hamishpat Haziburi I, pp. 384 ff.]
  8. Lit., 'descending'.
  9. On finding, after careful examination, that they had permanent blemishes. After the destruction of the Temple, firstborn animals could be slaughtered only on having permanent defects.
  10. In Babylonia. Hence Rab was also the son of R. Hiyya's brother's.

Sanhedrin 5b

on account of his eminent wisdom, as it is written: Say unto wisdom, thou art my sister.1

What was the reason that Rab was not authorised to permit the slaughter of firstborn animals? Was it that he was not learned2  enough? But have we not just said that he was very learned? Was it because he was not an expert in judging defects? But did not Rab himself say: I spent eighteen months with a shepherd in order to learn which was a permanent and which a passing blemish? — Rabbi withheld that authorisation from Rab, as a special mark of respect to Rabbah b. Hana.3  Or, if you prefer, I might say that for the very reason that Rab was a special expert in judging blemishes, he might in consequence declare permissible, with a view to slaughter, [permanent] defects which to others might not be known as such. These latter might thus be led to maintain that Rab had passed cases of such a kind and so to declare permissible transitory blemishes.

We were told above that Rabbi authorised him, Rabbah, and Rab respectively, to] decide in matters of ritual law. Since he was learned in the law, what need had he to obtain permission? — Because of the following incident, for it has been taught: Once Rabbi went to a certain place and saw its inhabitants kneading the dough without the necessary precaution against levitical uncleanness.4  Upon inquiry, they told him that a certain scholar on a visit taught them: Water of bize'im [ponds] does not render food liable to become unclean. In reality, he referred to [eggs], but they thought he said bize'im [ponds].5  They further erred in the application of the following Mishnah:6  The waters of Keramyon and Pigah,7  because they are ponds, are unfit for purification purposes.8  They thought that since this water was unfit for purification, it likewise could not render food liable to become unclean. But this conclusion is unwarranted, for whereas there, that is in connection with the purification offering, running water is required, waters, from any source, can render food liable to uncleanness. There and then9  it was decreed that a disciple must not give decisions unless he was granted permission by his teacher.

Tanhum son of R. Ammi happened to be at Hatar, and in expounding the law to its inhabitants, taught them that they might soak the grain before grinding for Passover.10  But they said to him: Does not R. Mani of Tyre live here, and has it not been taught that a disciple should not give an halachic decision in the place where his teacher resides, unless there is a distance of three parasangs — the space occupied by the camp of Israel — between them? He answered: The point did not occur to me.

R. Hiyya saw a man standing in a cemetery and asked him: 'Are you not the son of so and so who was a Priest?'11  'Yes,' he answered, 'but my father being wilful, set his eyes upon a divorced woman, and by marrying her, profaned his priesthood.'12

It is obvious that a partial authorisation is valid,13  as has already been said. But how is it with a conditional authorisation?14  Come and hear! R. Johanan said to R. Shaman:15  You have our authorisation until you return to us.

The text [above states]: 'Samuel said, If two [commoners] try a case [instead of three] their decision holds good, but they are called a presumptuous Beth din.'

R. Nahman sat and reported this teaching, but Rabbah objected to it on the ground of the following [Mishnah]:16  Even if two acquit or condemn, but the third is undecided17  the number of the judges must be increased. Now if it were so, as Samuel maintains, why add; why not let the decision of these two be as valid as that of two who have tried a case? — There [in the Mishnah] the case is different, since from the outset they sat with the intention of constituting a court of three; whereas here they did not sit with that intention.

He raised a further objection:18  'R. Simeon b. Gamaliel says: Legal judgment is by three; arbitration is valid if made by two. And the force of arbitration is greater than that of legal judgment, for if two judges decide a case, the litigants can repudiate their decision, whilst if two judges arbitrate, the parties cannot repudiate their decision.'19

Original footnotes renumbered. See Structure of the Talmud Files
  1. Prov. VII, 4.
  2. Lit, 'wise'.
  3. So as to establish him firmly in the respect of Babylonians, whilst Rab's standing was in any case high.
  4. V. Lev. XI, 38.
  5. That disciple must have been defective of speech, and the listener could easily fall into error owing to the similarity of pronunciation of [H] 'ponds' — (cf. Job VIII, 11) — and [H] 'eggs'.
  6. Parah VIII. 10.
  7. In Palestine. V. B. B. (Sonc. ed.), p. 298, n. 10
  8. Num. XIX, 17.
  9. Lit., 'in that hour'.
  10. Leavenness, the result of dampness, does not occur in this, as the grain is ground immediately after washing.
  11. According to Levitical law, the Priest is forbidden to have direct contact with a dead body or come within a roofed enclosure where such lies buried.
  12. The offspring of the marriage between a priest and a woman disqualified for him (v. Lev. XXI, 14) are profane and the laws pertaining to priestly status do not apply to them. [In J. Sheb. the incident is ascribed to Rabbi, which explains the mention of it in this connection, v. Hazofeh XIII, 346.]
  13. As in the case of Rab.
  14. For a definite time.
  15. [R. Shaman b. Abbe, on the occasion of his visit to Babylon. v. D. S. a. l.]
  16. Infra 29a.
  17. Lit., 'he says. 'I do not know' (how to decide).'
  18. Tosef. Sanh. 1.
  19. Because the arbitrators were of their own choice. Hence we see clearly that the decision of two in a legal judgment is not valid.