TalmuDigest

For the week ending 13 February 2010 / 28 Shevat 5770

Sanhedrin 2 - 8

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
The Color of HeavenArtscroll
  • How many judges are needed for every sort of case
  • The differences between judgment of damages and of debts
  • The source for the need of three judges in financial cases
  • Following the written meaning of Torah terms or their pronunciation
  • Who is qualified to serve as a single judge
  • The need to receive authorization to serve as a judge
  • What status does a court of two judges have
  • What sort of mistaken judgment is reversible
  • The positive and negative aspects of compromise
  • Wise folk sayings and their parallels in biblical sources
  • The good judges and the bad ones
  • How a good judge should view himself and his responsibility
  • Judgment of damage done by ox and the crime of slandering a wife

First Comes First

  • Sanhedrin 8a

When Moshe appointed judges for his people he instructed them that they must give a hearing to minor matters as well as major ones (Devarim 1:17). Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish interprests this as an order to respect the judgment involving only a prutah – the smallest coin – as much as one involving very large sums.

This cannot simply mean that there is a need to carefully examine even a minor matter and render a proper judgment, for this is obviously a basic requirement of justice. The conclusion, therefore, is that if a matter involving only a prutah comes before the court before a matter involving much money, the court has no right to give precedence to the latter because of the larger amount involved.

Maharsha raises the question as to why even such instruction is necessary since the minor case came first.

His explanation is based on the rule that a judge may receive compensation if it is obvious that the time he spends in judging is at the expense of the livelihood he could earn from another pursuit in the same time. Since the litigants would have to provide this compensation (in equal fashion and when such compensation is not provided by the community), there would be a temptation to give precedence to the case involving serious money so that there is enough at stake to make compensation to the judges possible, which is not so when only a tiny sum is at stake. To rule out such a consideration, Moshe told his judges that “first comes first” regardless of the amount involved.

What the Sages Say

"A judge who judges in true fashion causes G-d's Presence to rest in Israel."

  • Rabbi Shmuel bar Nachmeni in the name of Rabbi Yonatan - Sanhedrin 7a

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