כ״ג באב ה׳תשע״ז (August 15, 2017)

Sanhedrin 30a-b: Recording the Verdict

When the judges conclude their ruling, how much information should they give the litigants about how their decision was reached?

According to the Mishna (29a) the judges are not supposed to share much information. The Mishna states clearly that a judge should not tell one of the litigants “I was on your side but I could do nothing because the other two judges were against you” invoking the passage in Sefer Vayikra (19:16) that teaches that one should not be a talebearer, and in Sefer Mishle (11:13) that talebearers share secrets, but a loyal person keeps them.

Given the clear ruling of the Mishna, the Gemara presents an odd disagreement. In response to the question “How is the court decision recorded?” we find three opinions:

Rabbi Yohanan says we write that the court found the defendant innocent.

Reish Lakish says that we enumerate the names of the judges who found the defendant innocent and those who found him guilty.

Rabbi Eliezer says that we say that from the conclusion of their discussion the defendant was found to be innocent, language that implies that there was a disagreement in the court.

The position presented by Reish Lakish appears to contradict the clear language of the Mishna, for if we record the different opinions, what is wrong with the judge sharing them, as well. This question is raised by the Talmud Yerushalmi, and several different answers are offered.

The Meiri suggests that court decisions were not usually recorded; they were only set to writing if one of the litigants wanted to appeal the ruling. Therefore it would have been unusual for the litigants to find out what positions the judges had taken.

The Ran suggests that the prohibition in the Mishna was limited to situations where the judge might chase after the party that lost the case in an attempt to flatter him, but there is nothing intrinsically wrong with the litigants learning which way each judge ruled.

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