Sanhedrin, Chapter Ten, Mishnah Four



Our mishnah discusses the punishment of a city seduced into idol worship (see Deuteronomy 13:13-19), which was mentioned briefly in chapter nine, mishnah one.  There we learned that the inhabitants are to be executed by decapitation.  The remainder of chapter ten will discuss various details of this law.  We should note that these laws were certainly not practiced in the time of the Mishnah and Talmud, and according to one opinion in the Talmud there never was such a thing as a city that was judged as having been seduced into idol worship.


Mishnah Four

1)                     The inhabitants of a city seduced into worshipping idols have no portion in the world to come, as it says, “Certain men, wicked persons, have gone out from among you and seduced the inhabitants of their town” (Deuteronomy 13:14).

2)                     They are not executed unless the seducers are of that city and that tribe, and until the majority of the city are seduced, and the seducers are men.

a)                                           If women or minors seduced it, or if a minority of the city were seduced, or if the seducers were from outside the city, they are treated as individuals, and therefore two witnesses and a formal warning are necessary for each [offender].

3)                     In this [the penalty of] individuals is severer than [that of] the multitudes, for individuals are stoned, therefore their property is saved; but the multitudes are decapitated; hence their possessions are destroyed.


Explanation—Mishnah Four

Section one:  The first section is the bridge which connects this mishnah and the remainder of the chapter with the beginning half of the chapter, which dealt with those who have a portion in the world to come.  The inhabitants of a city seduced into worshipping idols lose their place in the world to come.  This is learned from the words in the quoted verse, “have gone out from among you”, which is understood by the author of the mishnah to mean that they have left the whole of Israel (clal Yisrael) to whom is promised a portion in the world to come.

Section two: From the words, “the inhabitants of their town” the mishnah learns that those who seduce the others into worshipping idols must be from the same town as those being seduced.  From the words “from among you” the mishnah learns that they must be from the same tribe of Israel.  The mishnah also states that the majority of the city must be seduced in order for it to be deemed a seduced city whose inhabitants are to be decapitated.  It is unclear from which part of the verse the mishnah learns this law.  Since the verse specifically states “men” the mishnah concludes that the seducers must be men. If any of these criteria are not met, i.e. the seducers are women or minors, or a minority of the city is seduced or the seducers are from another city, those who have worshipped idols are judged and sentenced individually.  This means that witnesses are required to testify against each one of them and each one must be warned that if s/he worships idols s/he will be executed.

Section three:  Finally, the mishnah compares the punishment of an individual who worships idols with those of a city seduced into worshipping idols.  Each one receives both a stringency and a leniency.  Individuals are executed by stoning (see chapter 7, mishnah six), a more stringent form of the death penalty, therefore their property is not destroyed and their descendents may receive their inheritance.  Those of a seduced city are executed by decapitation, which is a less stringent form of the death penalty, therefore their property is destroyed and their descendents do not inherit.