Sanhedrin, Chapter One, Mishnah One

 

Introduction

The first four mishnayoth of Sanhedrin discuss how many judges are needed to adjudicate certain cases of civil and criminal law.  The typical number for civil cases was three and the typical number for criminal cases was twenty-three.  The problem will arise in situations where it is not clear whether a certain case is civil or criminal.

 

Mishnah One

1)                     Cases concerning property [are decided] by three.

2)                     Cases concerning robbery or personal injury, by three.

3)                     Claims for full damages or half-damages, twofold restitution, or fourfold or fivefold restitution, by three.

4)                     Claims against a rapist, a seducer and one who defames [a virgin are decided] by three, according to Rabbi Meir.

a)                                           The Sages say:  “One who defames [a virgin is decided] by twenty-three, for there may arise from it a capital case.

 

Explanation

Section one:  Property cases include disputes arising out of loans, sales, inheritance, gifts and other similar monetary matters.

Section two:  Personal injury is a case where one person directly injures another.  Robbery, as we learned in Bava Kamma chapter nine, does not carry with it a penalty of twofold restitution as does thievery.

Section three:  Full damages are assessed when a “warned” animal, one that has previously injured three times, causes further damage.  Half-damages are assessed when the damaging animal had not injured three times.  Twofold restitution is the penalty for a thief, and fourfold or fivefold restitution is the penalty for a thief who stole an animal and either sold it or slaughtered it.

Section four:  According to the Torah the rapist (Deut. 22:29) and the seducer (Ex. 22:16-17) pay fines of 50 shekel for having illegally taken the woman’s virginity.  In addition, according to the Rabbis the rapist also pays for injuring the woman as would any person who causes another person injury (see Bava Kamma, chapter eight).  The “one who defames a virgin” is referred to in Deut. 22:13-22.  This is a case where a husband falsely claims that the wife was not a virgin.  If the husband was found to be a liar he is beaten and must pay a fine of 100 shekels.  If his accusation turned out to be true the woman is put to death.  The Rabbinic understanding of this law greatly differs from its simple understanding in the Torah, but now is not the place for a detailed explanation.

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