כ״ג במרחשון ה׳תשע״א (October 31, 2010)

Horayot 3a-b – Must all the judges agree?

As we learned on yesterday’s daf (=page) when the High Court rules erroneously and that decision is acted upon by the majority of the Jewish community, the High Court will be obligated to bring a sin offering on behalf of the community, but the individuals will be free of the obligation to do so. What are the conditions necessary for the court’s ruling to be accepted?

 

Rabbi Yonatan suggests that the Biblical passage that introduces this law – ve-im kol adat yisrael yishgu – “And if all of Israel errs…” (Vayikra 4:16) – should be understood as teaching that the decision must have been made by the court unanimously, that even if one hundred judges sat together in making this decision, all must agree to the ruling if the court is to become responsible for the community’s actions. When challenged with the Mishnah‘s teaching that a single scholar who disagrees with the court’s decision will be liable for his own actions, which clearly indicates that the ruling stands even if there was minority dissent (see the discussion on yesterday’s daf), the Gemara suggests that that scholar must have been present at the deliberations and have nodded in assent when the decision was made. Ultimately, Rabbi Yonatan’s position is rejected and the Gemara concludes that “if all Israel errs” should be understood to mean that the full court must be present, even if the decision is made based on majority opinion.

 

The Talmud Yerushalmi discusses a similar situation, deliberating whether a decision taken by one hundred judges needs to be unanimous, and even whether they need to agree on the reasoning underlying their decision. The Bet Shmuel asks, however, how we will ever find a court of one hundred judges? The Great , who are the ones making the decisions in these cases, are required to be a group of 71 judges, and it is forbidden to add to this number.

 

In his Hok Natan, the Tunisian scholar Rabbi Natan Bourgil suggests that saying “even if there are one hundred judges, they must all agree” is clearly an expression of exaggeration rather than a ruling about a specific number of sitting judges. The Mahara”tz Hayot argues that on occasion court decisions were made with more than 71 judges, as we find in the Gemara in a number of places that the  consisted of 120 scholars who legislated laws for the Jewish people.

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