Sanhedrin, Chapter Two, Mishnah Four



Mishnah four deals the rights and responsibilities of a king.

  Mishnah Four

1)                     He may send forth the people to a battle waged of free choice by the decision of the court of seventy one.

2)                     He may break through [the private domain of any man] to make himself a road and none may protest him.

a)                                           The king’s road has no limit.

3)                     Whatsoever the people take in plunder they must place before him, and he may take first.

4)                     “And he shall not have many wives” (Deut. 17:17)—eighteen only.

a)                                           Rabbi Judah says: “He may take many wives provided they don’t turn his heart away [from worshipping God]. 

b)                                          Rabbi Shimon says:  “Even one that might turn his heart away, he should not marry.  Why then does it say, “He shall not have many wives”, even if they are like Avigayil. 

5)                     “He shall not keep many horses” (Deut. 17:16)—enough for his chariot only.

6)                     “Nor shall he amass silver and gold to excess” (Deut. 17:17)—enough to pay his soldier’s wages.

7)                     He must write a Torah scroll for himself; when he goes forth to battle he shall take it with him, and when he returns he shall bring it back with him; when he sits in judgement it shall be with him, and when he sits to eat it shall be with him, as it says, “Let it remain with him and let him read it all his life” (Deut. 17:19)



Section one:  The king has a right to take his people out to war, but he first must receive permission from the Sanhedrin.  This is probably seen to be a check to make sure a king does not take his people out to dangerous and frivolous wars.

Section two:  The king has a right to expropriate anyone’s property if he should need the property to make a path.  Furthermore, this path has no limits to its size.  There are some commentators who say that this section of the mishnah is applicable only if the king is going out to war.

Section three:   When the people plunder conquered cities after a victorious war, the king may have his first pick at the plunder. 

Section four:  The remainder of the mishnah is a midrash (exegesis) on Deuteronomy 16-19.  The first midrash discusses the limitation on the number of wives a king may take.  According to the first opinion he may only (!) have 18 wives.  Rabbi Judah emphasizes the continuation of verse 17 which says, “lest his heart go astray.”  According to Rabbi Judah the verse does not prohibit a certain number of wives, rather it prohibits the king from taking any wife who will lead his heart astray.  The Bible itself relates that this is exactly what happened with Solomon in his old age (See I Kings 11).  Rabbi Eliezer responds to Rabbi Judah and says that if the verse had only meant to say that he may not marry women who will lead his heart astray then why did it state a specific number.  Therefore, Rabbi Eliezer says that he may not marry many wives even if they were like Avigayil, David’s wife, who is the prototypical example of a smart and good wife (see I Samuel 25:3).

Section five:  When the Torah states that the king may not have many horses, it means to limit him to those which he needs for his chariot only.

Section six:  The king may only have enough gold to pay his soldiers. 

Section seven:  The Torah states that the king should have a Torah scroll and learn it all the days of his life.  The mishnah emphasizes that this Torah scroll must always be with him, even when he goes out to war!  The king is to always be reminded that he serves a higher King, God.  Keeping the Torah with him at all times reminds him that his authority is secondary to the ultimate authority of God, as revealed in the Torah.


Questions for Further Thought:

·                      Section four:  What is the difference in opinion between the first opinion (the king may take 18 wives) and Rabbi Eliezer’s opinion?