כ״ד באב ה׳תשע״ז (August 16, 2017)

Sanhedrin 31a-b: Choosing a Venue

When two litigants want to approach the court, who gets to decide the venue where the case will be considered?

The Gemara on today’s daf deals with a situation where one litigant says “I would like the case to be heard here” and the other one wants the case to be taken to the makom ha-va’ad – the place of the Assembly. Two students came from Israel with different traditions said in the name of Rabbi Yoḥanan:

Rav Dimi quoted Rabbi Yoḥanan as ruling that they must go to the makom ha-va’ad.

Rav Safra quoted Rabbi Yoḥanan as saying that they should remain in their city and any difficulty could be sent to the makom ha-va’ad.

Although Ameimar concludes by accepting Rav Safra’s ruling, he points out that there is one exception. In cases where the disagreement is between a borrower and a lender, the lender has the upper hand based on the passage in Sefer Mishle (22:7) – eved loveh le-ish malveh – that the borrower is subservient to the lender.

The concept of a makom ha-va’ad is explained by the Meiri as referring to any place where there are judges sitting in courts that were established by the community, and did not establish themselves as judges on their own. Such courts had more power to enforce their rulings.

The Gemara concludes with a vignette that illustrates the ruling. Mar Ukva – the head of the Jewish community in Bavel – received a letter from the court in Tiberias stating that someone named Ukvan HaBavli complained to them that his brother, Yirmeya, had taken some of Ukvan’s land to build a path for himself. The letter suggested both that he be tried in Bavel and that he be told to come before them in Tiberias. The Gemara explains this to mean that if he does not accept the local ruling, he should be brought before the court in Tiberias.

Rav Ashi argues that the case here is a different one, since the question was one of kenas – of fines – and questions of kenas are not judged in Bavel. Rav Ashi concludes that the letter was written to Mar Ukva to honor him, but not because he would have had the power to judge the case locally.

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