Sotah, Chapter Nine, Mishnah One



The first part of the last chapter of Sotah discusses the ceremony in which the neck of a heifer is broken in order to atone for a murder whose murderer has not been identified.  This ceremony is described in Deuteronomy 21:1-9.


Mishnah One

1)      [The declaration over] the heifer whose neck is to be broken must be in the holy tongue; as it is said, “If a corpse is found slain on the land . . . then your elders and judges shall go out” (Deuteronomy 21:1-2)–three used to go out from the high court in Jerusalem.

2)      Rabbi Judah says: five, as it is said, “Your elders”—two, “and your judges”—two, and there cannot be a court of an even number, they add one more.



Section one:  The reason that this biblical passage is discussed here is that the declaration over the heifer must be made in Hebrew (the content of the declaration will be discussed below).  However, the mishnah does not say why this is so.  According to the Talmud, this is based on a midrash on the words, “And they shall answer and they shall say” (vs. 7).  As we have seen in earlier mishnayoth, “they shall say” is interpreted to mean that they must say in Hebrew. 

After stating that the declaration must be made in Hebrew, the mishnah continues to discuss how the entire ceremony is performed, and when it is performed.  According to the first opinion, three judges would go out from the high court in Jerusalem to determine which town was the closest to the dead body.

Section two:  Rabbi Judah midrashically determines that five judges, and not the typical three are necessary.  His opinion is also found in Mishnah Sanhedrin 1:3.