Sunday, 30 July 2017

Sanhedrin 14: Appointing Judges as Resistance; Where and How Many Judges are Appointed

We are told about how judges were appointed when “the wicked kingdom of Rome issued decrees of religious persecution against the Jewish people”.  The rabbis understood that in an attempt to interrupt the internal justice system of the Jews, it was declared that anyone who ordained a judge, who was ordained, who was in that city would be destroyed; the boundaries of that city would be destroyed.  Rabbi Yehuda ben Bava found a place between Usha and Shefaram – a desolate area – where he ordained Rabbis Meir, Yehuda, Shimon, Yosei and Elazar.  This is used as proof that one rabbi can ordain a judge.

When they were discovered, Rabbi Yehuda ben Bava insisted that his disciples run away.  He said that he would stay, as he would be punished either way as an old man who cannot run.  He was said to be speared three hundred times by Roman soldiers, making him look like a sieve. 

There is an argument stating that Rabbi Akiva ordained Rabbi Meir.  However, the people did not accept the appointment because Rabbi Meir was so young at the time.  Thus Rabbi Yehuda ben Bava’s story of ordaining Rabbi Meir was validated.

Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi argues that the ordination of judges must take place in HaAretz.  What would this mean about those who were ordained outside?  The rabbis look to a number of cases where people are ordained in and outside of Israel to understand that in fact ordination can be granted only from inside HaAretz. 

It is confirmed that those descended from the house of the high priest Eli are not eligible to be ordained as judges.  This does not refer to just those who are “elderly” but to the true “elders” of that house. 

The ordination of Rabbi Zeira and others are described.  One of the more interesting points is that his grace is described like that of a bride: “No blue eye shadow and no rouge on her face and no hair dye, and yet…[she is beautiful]”.  Both the flexibility of gendered metaphors and the spiritual beauty described are unusual in Talmud text.

From this conversation, the Gemara outlines whether and which judges are required for which processes.  Must all judges be members of the Sanhedrin?  Or could they be ordained judges of lesser stature?  The rabbis use proof texts to examine who is required to be at which events. 

Finally, the rabbis consider valuation of fruits of a fourth-year sapling or second-tithe produce.  Who assesses whether fruit is beginning to decompose, whether wine has developed a film on it, or whether coins have begun to rust?  Are ten people required to evaluate even a small fork of consecrated property?  The rabbis consider where the number ten might have originated and what other number of judges might be more accurate.

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