Sanhedrin, Chapter Eleven, Mishnah One



The final chapter of Sanhedrin returns to the categorization of which criminals receive which death penalty, a topic that the Mishnah began to discuss in chapter seven.  Our chapter discusses those who are executed by strangling.  According to the Rabbis anyone whom the Torah states should be executed without stating the form of the execution, is to be executed by strangling, which is the least destructive and probably least painful form of execution.


Mishnah One

1)                     The following are strangled: 

a)                                           One who strikes his father or mother;

b)                                          One who kidnaps a Jew;

c)                                           An elder who rebels against the ruling of the court;

d)                                          A false prophet;

e)                                           One who prophesies in the name of an idol;

f)                                           One who commits adultery;

g)                                           Witnesses who testified falsely [to the adultery of] a priest’s daughter, and the one who has had sexual relations with her.

2)                     The one who strikes his father or his mother is liable only if he wounds them.

a)                                           In this respect, cursing is more stringent than striking, for one who curses [his/her parents] after death is liable, while one who strikes them after death is not.

3)                     One who kidnaps a Jew is not liable unless he brings him onto his own property. Rabbi Judah said: “Until he brings him onto his own property and puts him to service, as it says, “If a man is found to have kidnapped a fellow Israelite, enslaving him or selling him” (Deut. 24:7).  

a)                                           If he kidnaps his own son. — Rabbi Ishmael the son of Rabbi Yohanan ben Beroka declares him liable, but the Sages exempt [him].

b)                                          If he kidnapped one who was half a slave and half free,   — Rabbi Judah declares him liable, but the Sages exempt [him].


Explanation—Mishnah One

Section one:  As did the mishnah with regards to those executed by stoning, burning and decapitation, so too with regards to strangling the mishnah first lists all of those who are punished by this form of execution.  The mishnah will now proceed, from here to the end of the tractate to go into greater detail with regards to each category.  We will therefore explain each category and its Biblical proof texts as we come to them later in the Mishnah.

Section two:  Exodus 21:15 teaches that one who strikes either of his parents is liable to the death penalty.  Striking an ordinary person is not a capital crime and is punishable through financial penalties only.  However, striking one’s parent is a form of rebellion against not only society but in essence against God as well.  Therefore the Torah deems it, and cursing one’s parents (Ex. 21:17) to be capital crimes, punishable by death.  Since the Torah does not state how the execution is to be performed, the Rabbis declared that the person is to be strangled.   

Our mishnah teaches that in order for the child to be guilty of striking he must make a wound.  If the child strikes without causing a wound s/he is not to be executed.

The mishnah also teaches that although a child is executed for either striking or cursing one’s parents, there is a stringency with regards to cursing that does not exist with regards to striking.  One who curses is liable even if he curses the parent after death, whereas one who strikes is only liable if the parent was alive when struck.

Section three:  Exodus 21:16 and Deuteronomy 24:7 both state that one who kidnaps is liable for the death penalty.  Our mishnah defines kidnapping as taking a person and bringing them forcefully onto one’s property.  Just the mere act of taking the person does not constitute the type of kidnapping punishable by death.  Rabbi Judah, basing himself on the verse in Deuteronomy states that even kidnapping and bringing onto one’s property is not punishable by death.  Only if the kidnapper forces the abductee to work as a slave is he to be executed.

According to the Rabbi Yishmael the son of Rabbi Yohanan ben Beroka, one who kidnaps his own son is not liable as a kidnapper, whereas the Sages say that he is.  Rabbi Yishmael probably assumes that a parents’ authority over their children is so great that categorically the laws of kidnapping cannot apply.  The Sages, representing the majority opinion, limit the parents authority by applying the laws of kidnapping even to one’s own child.

The aforementioned verse in Deuteronomy clearly limits the laws of kidnapping to an Israelite who kidnaps another Israelite.  According to all of the Sages in our mishnah, one who kidnaps a non-Jew is not liable for the death penalty.  There is however a dispute with regards to one who is half a slave and half a free Jew (i.e. he was owned by two owners and one freed him while the other did not).  According to Rabbi Judah, the mere fact that he is half a Jew means that the laws of kidnapping do apply to him.  According to the Sages since he is half a slave, the laws of kidnapping do not apply.


Questions for Further Thought:

·                      Section two:  Is there a thematic connection between the laws taught in section 2 and section 2a?