י׳ באלול ה׳תשע״ז (September 1, 2017)

Sanhedrin 48a-b: Killed by the King

Much of this perek has focused on the laws that govern how the carries out capital punishment. There are also extra-judicial punishments that can be meted out by the government in times of need. Thus, if a Jewish king found that an individual had sinned against the monarchy, he could arrange for him to be tried and killed.

The Gemara on today’s daf quotes a tosefta that distinguishes between harugei malkhut – people who are put to death by the king – and harugei beit din – those who are killed by the courts. While the children of harugei beit din receive their inheritance from the condemned man as they would had he died of natural causes, the inheritance of harugei malkhut is confiscated by the king. Rabbi Yehuda disagrees, arguing that even the property of harugei malkhut would go to their children.

The source for the first opinion, which is raised as a response to Rabbi Yehuda is the case of Navot HaYizraeli. According to the story in I Melakhim (21:18), King Aḥav wanted to purchase a vineyard from Navot, who refused to sell it to him since it was his family inheritance. Seeing how disappointed King Aḥav was, his wife Queen Izevel assured him that she would take care of the matter and arrange for false witnesses to testify that Navot had cursed the king. Once Navot was duly killed, the navi recounts that King Aḥav took possession of the field, an action that led to a sharp rebuke from the prophet Eliyahu who said ha-ratzaḥtah ve-gam yarashtah!? – have you murdered and then expect to inherit!?

The Meiri points out that the only time that the property of harugei malkhut would be confiscated by the king was when the person was killed on account of his having rebelled against the monarchy. If, however, he was killed because of some other pressing social need, e.g. a person who was known to be a murderer based on clear evidence that was not accepted in the ordinary courts because he had not been properly warned of the punishment that he would receive, then his children would receive their inheritance as in a normal case of their father’s death.

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