Mishnah/Seder Nezikin/Tractate Sanhedrin/Chapter 1/4
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Seder Nezikin, Tractate Sanhedrin
Chapter 1, Mishnah 4
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Sanhedrin deals primarily with the court. It presents three courts, a Bet Din of 3, a court of 23, and a larger court known as the "sanhedrin" made up of 71 judges in capital cases. The first chapter of Sanhedrin is focused on how many judges are needed for different cases, capital and non-capital.
The fourth mishnah of this chapter categorizes cases that require 23 judges. The phenomenon of a 23-judge court is first found in the Mishnah and Tosefta (there is dispute as to which came first) but has no biblical or logical basis. Three judges is simple: Three is more than one and three cannot end in a tie if everyone votes. 71 is found in the Torah, when Moses appoints a court of 70 judges in the desert. (70+Moses=71) 23, however, shows up first in rabbinic texts. It has therefore been suggested that perhaps this is a reflection on a court that actually did exist (there is little proof that any such court, of 23 or 71, ever actually existed before the Mishnah was codified), or perhaps it was only formulated in the minds of the rabbis.
- דיני נפשות, בעשרים ושלשה.
- הרובע והנרבע, בעשרים ושלשה, שנאמר (ויקרא כ,טז) והרגת את האשה ואת הבהמה, ואומר (שם כ,טו) ואת הבהמה תהרגו.
- שור הנסקל, בעשרים ושלשה, שנאמר (שמות כא,כט) השור יסקל וגם בעליו יומת, כמיתת הבעלים כך מיתת השור.
- הארי והדב והנמר והברדלס והנחש , מיתתן בעשרים ושלשה.
- רבי אליעזר אומר, כל הקודם להרגן, זכה.
- רבי עקיבא אומר, מיתתן בעשרים ושלשה.
Capital cases (are to be judged) with 23 (judges). Bestiality and buggery, with 23, as it is written (Leviticus 20:16) "kill the woman and the beast" and it is written (20:15) "and the beast, kill it." An ox to be stoned, with 23, as it is written (Exodus 21:29) "the ox shall be stoned and also its owner killed," like the death of the owner is the death of the ox. The lion, the bear, the tiger, the panther, and the snake, kill them with 23. Rabbi Eliezar says: [if] anyone kills the animal (without waiting), this is correct. Rabbi Akiva says: kill them with 23.
This is a list of cases requiring 23 judges, each of which alludes to biblical laws. Here is a brief explanation of these laws:
Bestiality and buggery - The first refers to the biblical prohibition against a woman laying with an animal and the second refers to a man laying with an animal. One is understood to be passive (on the part of the animal) and one active, but in both cases, the animal and the human must die.
An ox to be stoned - If an ox gores someone then it must be stoned. If it was known that the ox was angry or prone to goring, the owner must also be stoned.
The lion, the bear, the tiger, the panther, the snake - This refers to if a person is killed by a wild animal without an owner. Some manuscripts include the word 'wolf' as well.