Sanhedrin, Chapter Three, Mishnah Two



This mishnah deals with the ability of the litigant to retract on a deal he made before the trial began. 


Mishnah Two

1)                     If one litigant said to the other, “I accept my father as trustworthy”, or “I accept your father as trustworthy”, or “I accept three herdsman as trustworthy”, Rabbi Meir says, “He may retract.”

a)                                           But the Sages say, “He cannot retract.”

2)                     If one must take an oath before his fellow, and his fellow said to him, “Vow to me by the life of your head”, Rabbi Meir says, “He may retract.”

a)                                           But the Sages say, “He cannot retract.”



This mishnah contains another two disputes between Rabbi Meir and the Sages.  The subject in this mishnah is a litigant’s ability to retract when he has allowed the opposing litigant to suspend the usual court rules.

Section one:  Usually relatives of either litigant are invalid as either judges or witnesses.  Furthermore, criminals are not accepted as judges or witnesses.  Herdsman were assumed to be thieves, since it was assumed that they would allow their herds to graze in others’ fields.  However, Rabbi Meir and the Sages agree that if one was to accept a relative or a criminal as a judge or witness they could act as such.  On the other hand, Rabbi Meir says that if, during the trial or even after the trial the litigant who accepted the relative or criminal were to change his mind, he could do so and ask for a retrial.  The Sages say he may not retract.  Once he has accepted the relative or the criminal he must accept the decision they make. 

Section two:  In certain circumstances the defendant will have to take an oath that he doesn’t owe the plaintiff money or property (on rarer occasions the plaintiff is allowed to take an oath and collect from the defendant).  The usual oath is one taken in front of a court, and it was considered an extremely grave matter.  However, all agree that the other litigant could allow the litigant who must take the oath to take a more personal oath, one by his own head, and not have to take an oath in front of the court.  Again, according to Rabbi Meir, if at a later point he wanted his opposing litigant to take an oath in front of the court, an oath that was considered to be graver, he may do so.  As in the previous case, Rabbi Meir allows him to retract, whereas the Sages do not.   


Questions for Further Thought:

·                      Why does Rabbi Meir allow the person to retract?  What effect will Rabbi Meir’s permission to retract have on the opposing litigant?