Mishnah/Seder Nezikin/Tractate Sanhedrin/Chapter 3/3
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Seder Nezikin, Tractate Sanhedrin
Chapter 3, Mishnah 3
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Sanhedrin deals primarily with the court and with court cases. The third chapter of Sanhedrin is focused on witnesses and court proceedings.
The third mishnah of this chapter deals with people that are invalid to serve as witnesses because of their profession.
- ואלו הן הפסולין , המשחק בקוביה, והמלוה ברבית, ומפריחי יונים, וסוחרי שביעית.
- אמר רבי שמעון, בתחלה היו קורין אותן אוספי שביעית.
- משרבו האנסין, חזרו לקרותן סוחרי שביעית.
- אמר רבי יהודה , אימתי, בזמן שאין להם אמנות אלא היא, אבל יש להן אמנות שלא היא, כשרין.
These are invalid: dice-players, loan-sharks, pigeon-flyers, sellers of Sabbatical goods. Rabbi Shimon says, previously they were called gatherers of Sabbatical goods, but because of tax-collectors, they became known as sellers of Sabbatical goods. Rabbi Yehuda says, When? When they have no other trade, but when they have another trade, behold, this is acceptable.
Understanding much of this mishnah is difficult without an understanding of shmittah laws. The first half classifies a few groups of people that are unfit for witness service, and the second half focuses on the definition of those who break shmittah laws. Here is a short explanation of each of the terms:
Dice-players - presumably gamblers. The Talmud and others sources explain that gamblers are unfit because they lack judgment. A gambler, especially a dice-player, in which the game is entirely concerned with luck, expects to win something though the odds are against him. Thus they cannot serve as a witness. Another possible explanation is that one whose primary profession concerns luck is not of solid character to serve as a witness in even a monetary case.
Loan-sharks - because lending money at interest is considered a sin (until later Talmudic reforms), these people are not allowed to serve as witnesses for the same reasons as dice-players.
Pigeon-flyers - the Talmud suggests that this may be a group of people who gambled on pigeon races, though this is not certain.
Sellers of Sabbatical goods - this refers to people who sell goods (crops, most likely) that were acquired during the shmittah (Sabbatical) year. Rabbi Shimon explains that anyone who so much as gathers these goods is unfit, but because of tax-collectors, everyone who gathers must 'sell' a part of the goods to the tax-collectors, and thus they are known as sellers of Sabbatical goods.