ה׳ בתשרי ה׳תשע״ח (September 25, 2017)

Sanhedrin 71a-b: Preventative Punishment

It should be noted that the ben sorer u’moreh – the stubborn and rebellious son who is “a glutton and a drunkard” (see 21:18-21) – has not committed any capital crimes. According to the Mishna on today’s daf the death sentence that he receives is al shem sofo, yamut zakkai ve-al yamut ḥayyav – he is killed because of where he will end up if he is allowed to continue in his present path. The Torah’s perspective is that he should die while still innocent rather than die when he is already guilty.

This logic appears to negate what we know from all of the sources – that a person is judged based on his current behavior. Even if God knows what he will eventually do, we can judge him only by what he has actually done. In his Ḥayyim Shenayim Yeshalem Rabbi Ḥayyim Vital explains that we are not talking about a righteous individual whose behaviors are questionable, but a person who is actively sinning and deserves to be punished. The Torah prefers that he die without having performed the severe transgressions that his activities promise will come in due time.

Furthermore, we must recognize that the behavior exhibited by the ben sorer u’moreh points to a future of anti-social behavior so severe that it will threaten society. The Torah requires that such behavior be prevented, and sekila for a ben sorer u’moreh is essentially “preventative medicine” for society and for himself.

This understanding of the underlying reasons for the laws of ben sorer u’moreh notwithstanding, according to the traditions of , the rules and regulations associated with ben sorer u’moreh are to be understood in such a limited manner that they cannot be practically applied, or will apply only in very unusual circumstances. In fact it appears likely that the laws of ben sorer u’moreh were never carried out.

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