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Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Sanhedrin

Sanhedrin 16a

where the head of the tribe has sinned;1  did not R. Adda b. Ahabah say: Every great matter they shall bring unto thee2  means the delinquencies of the great man;3  so this one [sc. the head of a tribe] too, is a great man.4

'Ulla, quoting R. Eleazar says: [This refers to the case of] a dispute over the division of land [where the procedure must be the same] as at the first [division] in Eretz Yisrael. As in the commencement,5  [such a dispute was decided by a Court of] seventy-one, so does it stand for all time.6  But if so, just as originally the division was made by means of the urn, the Urim and Tummim,7  and in the presence of all Israel, so at all times there must be an urn, the Urim and Tummim, and the presence of all Israel! But clearly, the answer given by R. Mathna is the better one.

Rabina says: I still maintain that the case in question is that of a tribe led astray into idolatry, and if you object that such should be judged after the manner of a multitude [I say,] True! though they are executed as individuals;8  yet their trial must indeed be by a court competent to try a multitude.9  For did not R. Hama son of R. Jose say in the name of R. Oshaia [in reference to the Scriptural passage]: Then shalt thou bring forth that man and that woman,10  that an individual man or woman may be brought unto [the court at] thy gates,11  but not a whole town?12  Similarly in this case, only an individual man or woman canst thou bring forth to thy gates, but thou canst not bring forth a whole tribe.

NOR THE FALSE PROPHET. Whence is this inferred? — R. Jose son of R. Hanina says: It is derived from [the analogy set up] by the word hazadah,13  used both here,14  and in reference to the rebellious elder.15  Just as there, [the rebellious elder is to be put to death only if he has rebelled against a Sanhedrin of] seventy-one, so here too, [the false prophet is to be tried by a court of] seventy-one. But is not the expression 'hazadah' mentioned in reference to his execution,16  which is determined by a court of twenty-three? — 17 Resh Lakish therefore said: It is derived from the use of dabar [word] employed here,18  and in reference to his [the elder's] rebelliousness. But let us, in turn, deduce [that the execution of] the rebellious elder [is by seventy-one] by employing the analogy of hazadah written therein and in the case of the false prophet.19  — He [the Tanna] had a tradition authorising the analogy of dabar, but not that of hazadah.20


Whence is this derived? — R. Adda b. Ahabah said: Scripture states, Every great matter they shall bring unto thee.21  [This means:] The matters [viz., delinquencies] of the great [man].22

An objection is raised: A great matter [means] 'a difficult23  case'. You say, 'a difficult case'; but perhaps it is not so, the meaning being 'the matters of the great man'? Since Scripture states further on, Hard causes [difficult cases] they brought unto Moses,24  it is clear that difficult cases are meant. [Hence great matter means 'difficult case']? — His25  view is that of the following Tanna. For it has been taught: Every great matter, means 'the matters of a great [man]'. You say so, but may it not mean, 'every difficult case'? When Scripture further refers to 'hard causes' [difficult cases], these have already been mentioned.26  How then, do I interpret, 'great matter'? — 'The matters of the great [man].'27

But according to that Tanna,28  why the need of both verses? — The one states the law itself; the other, its practice.29  But the other [Tanna]?30  — If so,31  either 'great' should be employed in both passages, or 'difficult' in both. Why 'great' in one passage and 'difficult' in the other? We may infer therefrom the two meanings.32

R. Eleazar asked: How many judges are needed to judge the [goring] ox of the High Priest? Is it assimilated to the execution of his owner,33  or is it assimilated to that of owners in general?34  — Abaye said: Since he raised the question with regard to his ox, it seems that in regard to his other monetary cases, he is certain.35  But is not this obvious? — No, for you might have supposed from the verse, Every great matter … that every matter of the great man36  [is to be brought before the great Sanhedrin]. He [Abaye] therefore informs us [otherwise].


Whence do we deduce this? — Said R. Abbahu: Scripture states, And he shall stand before Eleazar the Priest [who shall inquire for him by the judgment of the Urim before the Lord. At his word shall they go out and at his word they shall come in, both he and all the children of Israel with him even all the Congregation].37  'He', refers to the King;38  'And all the children of Israel with him,' to the Priest anointed for the conduct of war;39  and, 'all the Congregation,' means the Sanhedrin.40  But perhaps it is the Sanhedrin whom the Divine Law instructs to inquire of the Urim and Tummim?41  — But [it may be deduced] from the story related by R. Aha b. Bizna in the name of R. Simeon the Pious: A harp hung over David's bed, and as soon as midnight arrived, a northerly wind blew upon its strings and caused it to play of its own accord. Immediately David arose and studied the Torah until the break of dawn. At the coming of dawn, the Sages of Israel entered into his presence and said unto him: 'Our Sovereign King, thy people Israel need sustenance.' 'Go and support yourselves by mutual trading,'42  David replied, 'But,' said they, 'a handful does not satisfy the lion, nor can a pit be filled with its own clods.'43  Whereupon David said to them: 'Go and stretch forth your hands with a troop [of soldiers].'44  Immediately they held counsel with Ahitophel and took advice from the Sanhedrin45  and inquired of the Urim and Tummim. R. Joseph said: What passage [states this]?

Original footnotes renumbered. See Structure of the Talmud Files
  1. Irrespective of the manner of transgression, provided it carries with it the penalty of death.
  2. Ex. XVIII, 22.
  3. I.e., the High Priest ([H] lit., 'great priest'), v. infra, and 18b.
  4. Who, accordingly, is tried by seventy-one (v. preceding note).
  5. When Palestine was divided for the first time amongst the tribes.
  6. Lit., 'here'.
  7. Objects used as a kind of Divine oracle which the High Priest wore on his breast, v. B.B. 122a.
  8. By stoning.
  9. Viz., of seventy-one.
  10. Deut. XVII, 5.
  11. The local court of twenty-three.
  12. But before a court of seventy-one.
  13. [H], presumption.
  14. In reference to the false prophet, Deut. XVIII, 20.
  15. Ibid. XVII, 12. And the man that does presumptuously (bezadon).
  16. Ibid: that man shall die.
  17. The reference to the Sanhedrin in Deut. XVII, 12, is only with respect to his disregard of their decision.
  18. The false prophet: ibid. XVIII, 20, The prophet that shall speak a word. The elder: ibid. XVII, 10, And thou shalt do according the word. The need of seventy-one for the false prophet, therefore, is derived from the passage relating to the rebelliousness of the elder, which must be directed against the major Sanhedrin.
  19. I.e., just as the rule, that the judgment of the false prophet must be by seventy-one, is derived from an analogy of the two dabars, so, on the other hand, we may deduce that the execution of the elder must be by seventy-one, from an analogy of the two hazadahs.
  20. That analogy was not handed down to him by his teachers, and no man may set up an analogy of his own. Cf. Pes. 66a and other places.
  21. Moses. Ex. XVIII, 22.
  22. E.g., the High Priest. v. p. 76, n. 8.
  23. Lit., 'hard'.
  24. Ibid. XVIII, 26.
  25. R. Adda b. Ahabah.
  26. And therefore the previous verse is unnecessary on this assumption.
  27. I.e., the High Priest.
  28. The first Tanna, who interprets 'great matter' as 'difficult case'.
  29. Ex. XVIII, 22, states the law; ibid. 26 merely relates that this was carried out, but gives no new law.
  30. I.e., why interpret both verses (v. n. 11) as stating laws, when the second is obviously mere narrative?
  31. That the same thing is referred to in both verses.
  32. a) Matters of a great man, b) difficult case. For though the second verse is a narrative, it refers to a difficult case, and is not identical with the first verse.
  33. Which is by seventy-one.
  34. Which is by twenty-three, v. Mishnah, supra 2a.
  35. That they must be tried before a court of three.
  36. Even monetary cases.
  37. Num. XXVII, 21-22.
  38. Joshua, who had regal authority.
  39. And whose call to war must be heeded by all Israelites.
  40. V. p. 3, no. 4.
  41. I.e., that none but the Sanhedrin (also the King and the Priest anointed for war) may enquire of the Urim and Tummim: but not because of any need to obtain their permission for the proclamation of war.
  42. Lit., 'one from another'.
  43. A community cannot live on its own resources.
  44. Invade foreign territory.
  45. Hence the ruling in the Mishnah, that the permission of the Sanhedrin was required for the proclamation of war.

Sanhedrin 16b

And after Ahitophel was Benaiah the son of Jehoiada1  and Abiathar; and the Captain of the king's host was Joab.2  'Ahitophel' is the adviser, even as it is written, And the counsel of Ahitophel which he counselled in those days, was as if a man inquired from the word of God.3  'Benaiah the son of Jehoiada', refers to the Sanhedrin, and 'Abiathar' to the Urim and Tummim. And so it is written, And Benaiah the son of Jehoiada was over4  the Kerethites and Pelethites.5  And why were they6  termed Kerethites?7  — Because they gave definite instructions,8  And Pelethites?9  — Because their acts were wonderful. Only after this [is it written], And the captain of the king's host was Joab.10  R. Isaac the son of R. Adda, — others state, R. Isaac b. Abudimi — said: What verse [tells us of the harp hanging over David's bed]? — Awake my glory, awake psaltery and harp; I will wake the dawn.11

THE ENLARGEMENT OF THE CITY, etc. Whence is this derived? R. Shimi b. Hiyya said: Scripture states, According to all that I show thee, the pattern of the Tabernacle [and the pattern of all the furniture thereof] even so shall ye make it12  — [meaning,] in future generations13  Raba objected: All vessels made by Moses were hallowed by their anointing: those made subsequently were consecrated by [their] service.14  But why? Let us suppose [that] 'even so shall you make' applies to future generations [in this respect too]!15  — There it is different, for Scripture states, And he had anointed them and sanctified 'otham' [them];16  [hence] only they [were sanctified] by anointing, but not those of later generations. But why not deduce this: those17  [could be consecrated only] by anointing, whereas the vessels made afterwards might be consecrated either by service or by anointing? — R. Papa said: Scripture reads, … wherewith they shall minister in the Sanctuary.18  Thus, Scripture made them [i.e., their consecration] dependent on service.19  Why then do we need 'otham'?20  — But for 'otham', I might have thought that the consecration of the vessels of the future required both anointing and service, since it is written, so shall you make it;21  the Divine Law therefore emphasised, 'otham',22  i.e., only they need anointing, but not those of future generations.

THE APPOINTMENT OF THE SANHEDRIN IS BY SEVENTY-ONE. Whence do we derive this law? — Since we find that Moses set up Sanhedrins,23  and Moses had an authority equal to that of seventy-one.24

Our Rabbis taught: Whence do we know that judges are to be set up for Israel? — From the verse, Judges thou shalt made thee.25  Whence do we deduce the appointment of officers26  for Israel? — From the same verse, Officers shalt thou make thee. Whence the appointment of judges for each tribe? — From the words, Judges … for thy tribes.27  And the appointment of officers for each tribe? — From the words, Officers … for thy tribes. Whence the appointment of judges for each town? From the words, Judges … in all thy gates. And the appointment of officers for each town? — From the words, Officers … in all thy gates.28  R. Judah says: One [judicial body]29  is set over all the others, as it is written, … shalt thou make thee.30  Rabban Simeon b. Gamaliel said: [The immediate connection] of 'they shall judge' and 'for thy tribes'31  indicates that the tribal court must judge only those of its own tribe.

THE CONDEMNATION OF A TOWN [etc.]. Whence is this derived? — R. Hiyya b. Joseph said in R. Oshaia's name: Scripture states, Then shalt thou bring forth that man or that woman,32  [teaching,] an individual man or woman thou mayest bring to thy gates,33  but not a whole town.34

A CITY ON THE BORDER MAY NOT BE CONDEMNED. Why? — Because the Torah says: From the midst of thee,35  but not [a city] on the border.36

NOR CAN THREE CITIES BE CONDEMNED. For it is written, Concerning one of the cities.37  Yet one or two may be condemned, as it is written, of thy cities.38

Our Rabbis taught: [Concerning] one [of the cities]: 'one', excludes three. You say that it excludes three; but why not assume that it excludes even two? — When it states, 'thy cities', two then are indicated;39  hence, how do I explain 'one'? — That one [or two] cities may be condemned, but not three. At times Rab said that a single court cannot condemn three cities, but that [that number] may be condemned by two or three courts; at others he maintained that [three cities] can never be condemned, even by two or three courts. What is Rab's reason? — Because of 'baldness'.40  Resh Lakish said: They [sc. the Rabbis] taught this [only if the cities are] in a single province,41  but if they lie in two or three different provinces, they may be condemned. R. Johanan holds that they may not be condemned [even in that case], for fear of 'baldness'. [A Baraitha] was taught which is in agreement with R. Johanan: We cannot condemn three cities in Eretz Yisrael; but we may condemn two [if situated in two provinces] e.g one in Judea and one in Galilee; but two in Judea or two in Galilee may not be condemned; and near the border, even a single city cannot be condemned. Why? Lest the Gentiles become aware of it and destroy the whole of Eretz Yisrael.42  But may not this43  be deduced from the fact that the Divine law wrote, From the midst of thee, [implying], but not from the border? — He [the author of the Baraitha] is R. Simeon, who always interprets the Biblical law on the basis of its meaning.44

THE GREAT SANHEDRIN etc. What is the reason for the Rabbis maintaining that MOSES WAS OVER THEM?45  — Scripture says, That they may stand there

Original footnotes renumbered. See Structure of the Talmud Files
  1. The Biblical version of the verse is Jehoiada the son of Benaiah. Tosaf. Hananel and Aruk (art. [H] a.) base their versions on this reading and comment accordingly. Rashi and this translation follow the text of the printed editions of the Talmud which agree with II Sam. XX, 23, and I Chron. XVIII, 17.
  2. I Chron. XXVII, 34.
  3. II Sam. XVI, 23.
  4. Of higher rank (Rashi).
  5. I Chron, XVIII, 17, and II Sam. XX, 23. Since Abiathar is mentioned in the previous verse after Benaiah, it follows that it is he who is referred to by Kerethites and Pelethites. [According to the text adopted by R. Tam (v. Tosaf.), the verse 'Benaiah the son of Jehoiada etc.' follows the word 'Sanhedrin'. The explanation of Kerethites and Pelethites refers accordingly to the Sanhedrin.]
  6. The Urim and Tummim.
  7. [H] 'to cut'.
  8. Lit., 'they cut their words.'
  9. [H] fr. [H] 'wonder'.
  10. I.e., only after the Sanhedrin had authorised a war was there any need for Joab, the chief general.
  11. Ps. LVII, 9. 'I will wake the dawn' implies that 'I am up and stirring before the dawn'.
  12. Ex. XXV, 9.
  13. Just as the position and bounds of the Tabernacle were regulated by Moses, representing the Great Sanhedrin, so must the boundaries of the city and Temple Courts be decided upon by the Great Sanhedrin.
  14. I.e., by their very use itself. Shebu. 15a.
  15. I.e., in regard to the consecration of the vessels by the anointing.
  16. Num. VII, 1.
  17. Of the time of Moses.
  18. Num. IV, 12.
  19. And the use of the imperfect [H] (they shall minister) implies that the reference is to vessels of generations subsequent to Moses.
  20. [H] 'them', in Num. VII, 1, which appears to serve as an exclusion — which in face of the said verse is unnecessary.
  21. Interpreted to mean, 'for later generations', v. supra.
  22. 'Them, to indicate a limitation.
  23. Ex. XVIII, where it is related how Moses followed the advice of Jethro, his father-in-law.
  24. V. supra 13b.
  25. Deut. XVI, 18.
  26. To execute the sentence of the court.
  27. Ibid.
  28. Ibid.
  29. I.e., the major Sanhedrin.
  30. Which indicates that the whole of Israel was to be treated as a corporate unit.
  31. The verse reads, Judges … shalt thou make thee … for (E.V. throughout) thy tribes, and they shall judge … thus; 'for thy tribes' is coupled with 'and they shall judge'.
  32. Deut. XVII, 5.
  33. I.e., to the court at thy gates which consists of twenty-three.
  34. The latter before a court of seventy-one.
  35. Ibid. XIII, 14.
  36. V. p. 83, n. 4.
  37. Ibid. XIII, 13.
  38. 'Undefined plurals mean at least two,' is a Talmudic rule.
  39. V. n. 12.
  40. I.e., depopulation.
  41. Lit., 'place'; e.g., Judea and Galilee.
  42. Tosef. Sanh. XIV.
  43. That a border city may not be condemned.
  44. V. 111.
  45. I.e., that the court consisted of seventy besides Moses.