Sanhedrin Launched in Tiberias
12:42 Oct 14, '04 / 29 Tishrei 5765
A unique ceremony - probably only the second of its kind in the past 1,600 years - is taking place in Tiberias today: The launching of a Sanhedrin, the highest Jewish-legal tribunal in the Land of Israel.
The Sanhedrin, a religious assembly that convened in one of the Holy Temple chambers in Jerusalem, comprised 71 sages and existed during the Tannaitic period, from several decades before the Common Era until roughly 425 C.E. Details of today's ceremony are still sketchy, but the organizers' announced their intention to convene 71 rabbis who have received special rabbinic ordination as specified by Maimonides.
An attempt to reconvene the Sanhedrin was made several centuries ago in Tzfat. The body in fact ordained such greats as Rabbi Yosef Karo, the author of the classic Jewish Law code Shulhan Arukh. However, the opposition of other leading rabbis soon forced the end of the endeavor.
One of the leaders of today's attempt to revive the Sanhedrin is Rabbi Yeshai Ba'avad of Beit El. He said that the 71 rabbis "from across the spectrum received the special ordination, in accordance with Maimonides' rulings, over the past several months." Rabbi Ba'avad explained that the membership of the new body is not permanent: "What is much more crucial is the establishment of this body. Those who are members of it today will not necessarily be its members tomorrow. But the goal is to have one rabbinic body in Jerusalem that will convene monthly and issue rulings on central issues. This is the need of the generation and of the hour."
Rabbi Yisrael Ariel, who heads the Temple institute in Jerusalem, is one of the participating rabbis. He told Arutz-7 today, "Whether this will be the actual Sanhedrin that we await, is a question of time - just like the establishment of the State; we rejoiced in it, but we are still awaiting something much more ideal. It's a process. Today's ceremony is really the continuation of the renewal of the Ordination process in Israel, which we marked several months ago. Our Talmudic Sages describe the ten stages of exile of the Sanhedrin from Jerusalem to other locations, until it ended in Tiberias - and this is the place where it was foretold that it would be renewed, and from here it will be relocated to Jerusalem."
Rabbi Ariel said that the rabbis there included many from the entire spectrum: "Hareidi, religious-Zionist, Sephardi, Ashkenazi, hassidi, and many others - such as Rabbi Yoel Schwartz, Rabbi Adin Shteinzaltz, and many others... We can't expect a great consensus; that's not how things work here. But sometimes that's how the process goes, from the bottom up."
Published: 17:23 October 13, 2004
Last Update: 12:42 October 14, 2004
The Jewish Court System
by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan
Qualifications for a Jewish judge and the operation of the Sanhedrin.
An excerpt from Rabbi Kaplan's Handbook of Jewish Thought.
The Sanhedrin was the supreme council of Israel. As long as it stood, it was the supreme court and legislative body in all matters of Torah law. As such, the Sanhedrin was entrusted with keeping and interpreting the Oral Torah.
It is a positive commandment to set up courts to interpret and decide questions of Torah law. It is thus written, "You shall appoint judges and officers in all your gates, which God is giving you" (Deut. 16:18).
The commandment includes the communal responsibility to appoint a duly ordained Sanhedrin. This precedes the establishment of other courts.
The Sanhedrin consisted of 71 judges. God thus commanded Moses, "Gather to Me 70 men of the elders of Israel... and bring them to the Tent of Meeting, so that they should stand there with you" (Numbers 11:16). This was the first Sanhedrin. Counting Moses himself, it consisted of 71 members.
Since the membership of the Sanhedrin is fixed by the Torah, its number cannot be changed.
Nevertheless, it was permitted to allow outside sages to enter into the deliberations of the Sanhedrin without voting privileges. Cases are therefore sometimes found in which a greater number participate in a decision.
The Sanhedrin could not render judgment unless its entire membership was present. If a member was absent, however, a temporary substitute could be appointed.
The leading sage of the Sanhedrin was appointed as its head, taking the place of Moses in the first Sanhedrin. His official title was "Head of the Sitting" (Rosh HaYeshiva). Later, however, he was referred to as the "President" (Nasi).
Any judgment issued by the Sanhedrin in the absence of the Nasi was invalid.
The second-ranking sage of the Sanhedrin was appointed as assistant to the Nasi. He was known as the "Master of the Court" (Av Beit Din). Both he and the Nasi were voting members of the Sanhedrin.
The Sanhedrin would sit in a semicircle, so that all its members would be able to see each other. They would also have an equal view of all witnesses testifying.
Out of respect for the Nasi, the Av Beit Din would sit at the extreme right. He would be followed by the Nasi, and then by the rest of the Sanhedrin in order of their capability.
Qualifications for Membership
Every member of the Sanhedrin had to be distinguished in Torah knowledge, wisdom, humility, fear of God, indifference to monetary gain, love of truth, love of fellow man, and good reputation. It is thus written, "You shall provide out of all the people, able men, who fear God, men of truth, disdaining unjust gain, and place them over [the people]" (Exodus 18:21). It is likewise written, "Take from each of your tribes, wise men, with understanding and full of knowledge, and I will make them your leaders" (Deut. 1:13).
Since the Sanhedrin had to be competent to render judgment in all cases that came before it, all its members had to be expert in all areas of the Torah. They also had to have enough knowledge of science and mathematics to be able to adapt Torah law to all possible problems.
Members of the Sanhedrin likewise had to have knowledge of other religions, as well as the teachings of idolatry and the occult arts, so as to be able to render judgment in cases involving these matters. For this reason, even studies which were normally discouraged or forbidden, were permitted to members of the Sanhedrin when these studies were required for judgment.
The Sanhedrin was required to hear all testimony directly, and not through an interpreter. It is therefore preferable that its members be familiar with all the languages spoken by Jews around the world.
When a foreign language is used in testimony, the Sanhedrin must have at least two members who speak that language to examine the witnesses. There must also be a third member who understands the language. These three members then constitute a minor court (beit din) of three, who can report the testimony to the entire body. Once testimony has been accepted by a minor court, it is no longer considered second-hand testimony.
In order that the Sanhedrin command the utmost respect, its members must be of good appearance, and free of bodily defect. Therefore, a person who is blind, even in one eye, cannot be a member of the Sanhedrin.
Age and Lineage
Similarly, the members of the Sanhedrin must command respect as mature individuals. Therefore, it is preferable that each member be at least 40 years old, unless he is incomparable in wisdom and universally respected. Similarly, it is preferable that the head of the Sanhedrin be at least 50 years old. Under no condition should a person under 18 be appointed to the Sanhedrin.
A person who is very old may not sit on the Sanhedrin, since he is apt to be too severe. The same is true of a man who is sterile, or even childless. A Sanhedrin containing any such member is not validly constituted. Therefore, if a member becomes very old or sexually maimed, he must be replaced.
It is preferable that the members of the Sanhedrin be chosen from people of unbroken descent, as in the case of all positions of authority. It is required, however, that all members of the Sanhedrin be of Jewish parentage...
Every member of the Sanhedrin must be of unblemished family, as was the first Sanhedrin under Moses. Therefore a bastard (mamzer, i.e., the son of an adulterous or incestuous union) is ineligible for membership and renders a Sanhedrin invalid...
It is preferable that the Sanhedrin contain Kohen-priests and Levites as members. It is thus written, "You shall come to the Kohen-priest and Levites, and to the judge who shall be in those days" (Deut. 17:9). Nonetheless, a Sanhedrin is valid even without Kohen-priests and Levites.
Every member of the Sanhedrin must be ordained, following a tradition from Moses. It is thus written, "Moses did as God commanded him. He took Joshua... and laid his hands on him, commanding him, as God spoke through Moses" (Numbers 27:22-23). Moses also laid his hands on the other elders, ordaining them as members of the Sanhedrin. These, in turn, ordained others, generation after generation, in an unbroken line of ordination from Moses.
Although Moses ordained the first Sanhedrin with the actual laying of hands, this was a special case, and was only done that one time. All subsequent ordinations were performed orally, granting the subject the title of "Rabbi" and declaring that he is "ordained with the right to judge cases involving fines."
Ordination must be conferred by a court of three, containing at least one ordained member. It can be done either in person, or by messenger or letter. A single court can ordain many individuals at once.
Therefore, as long as a single ordained person is alive, the tradition of ordination can remain unbroken. The ordained person can form a court with two unordained men, and ordain as many others as needed. The unordained members of the court, however, could then never be ordained themselves, since that would give them an interest in the case.
Some authorities maintain that ordination must be performed by day. In this respect, it is no different than any other judgment.
Ordination can only be conferred in the Land of Israel. The entire area included in the First Commonwealth is valid for such ordination. Both the ordaining court and the persons being ordained must be within its borders. If a Sanhedrin was ordained in the Holy Land, however, it can then function in other lands as well.
To qualify for ordination, a man must have all the qualifications necessary for membership in the Sanhedrin. However, if he later becomes disqualified from membership in the Sanhedrin because of age or physical disability, his ordination is still valid.
To qualify for ordination, one must be expert in all areas of Torah law. However, now that the Oral Torah has been committed to writing, it is sufficient that one be familiar enough with all the written authorities to render judgment in all cases.
The greatest Torah scholars of each generation are automatically qualified for ordination. It is thus written, "You shall go to the... judge who shall be in those days" (Deut. 17:9). This indicates that each generation has its own standard.
It is forbidden to appoint a man to the Sanhedrin or any other court if he does not have the necessary qualifications, even if he has other good qualities. To do so is to violate the commandment, "You shall not respect persons in judgment" (Deut. 1:17).
On the Temple Mount
The Sanhedrin originally convened in the Temple area, in the Chamber of Cut Stones (Lishkat HaGazit). This was a chamber built into the north wall of the Temple, half inside the sanctuary and half outside, with doors providing access both to the Temple and to the outside.
The place where the Sanhedrin convened was actually outside the sanctuary area. The Sanhedrin would sit while in judgment, and it is forbidden to sit within the sanctuary area. On the other hand, part of this chamber had to be inside the sanctuary area, since the Sanhedrin judged many things involving priests and the Temple service, and this had to be done within the Temple grounds. Moreover, questions would often arise during the divine service, when it is forbidden for a Kohen-priest to leave the sanctuary area. There was also a requirement that there be direct access from the Great Altar (mizbeach) to the Sanhedrin.
It was only in this chamber that the Sanhedrin could perform all its functions, including the trial of capital offenses.
However, in the year 3788 (28 CE), when the Sanhedrin relinquished its power to try capital offenses, it moved to another room on the Temple Mount, and then into the city itself. When Jerusalem was destroyed in 3828 (68 CE), the Sanhedrin moved to Yavneh. During the ensuing century, the location of the Sanhedrin alternated between Yavneh and Usha. From there it moved consecutively to Shafar'am, Beth She'arim, Sephoris, and Tiberias. It remained functioning in Tiberias until shortly before the completion of the Talmud.
During the persecutions of Constantinius (4097-4121; 337-361 CE), the Sanhedrin had to go into hiding, and it was eventually disbanded. There is a tradition that it will be in Tiberias that the Sanhedrin will be restored.
The traditional ordination (semicha) was thus abolished in the year 4118 (358 CE). The Sanhedrin and other duly constituted courts cannot be established until this ordination is reinstituted.
Jewish Courts Today
What is called "ordination" today is not true ordination, but rather, a certification that the individual is expert in certain areas of Torah law. Moreover, it implies that he has the permission of his teachers to render public decisions; without such permission it is forbidden.
Such ordination, however, in no way implies competence to serve on the Sanhedrin.
Therefore, no rabbinical court today can judge cases on its own authority. The only authority that such courts have is as agents of the earlier ordained courts. In this capacity, they can only judge commonly occurring cases involving actual loss on the part of the litigants. However, infrequently occurring cases, and those involving punitive damages or fines, require duly ordained judges, and therefore cannot be judged in contemporary rabbinical courts.
Some say that like all other positions of authority, ordination can be established by common consent as well as by unbroken tradition. However, only those living in the Land of Israel are counted with regard to matters dealing with authority. Therefore, ordination can be reestablished by the consent of the religious leaders in the Holy Land, even if they represent a minority of world Jewry.
Therefore, if all the religious leaders and authorities living in the Land of Israel were to agree to ordain a suitable individual, he would be considered duly ordained. He would then have the authority to set up a court and ordain others. Thus, the Sanhedrin and other courts could be restored.
It is foretold that the restoration of the Sanhedrin will precede the coming of the Messiah. God thus told His prophet, "I will restore your judges as at first, and your counsellors as in the beginning; afterward you will be called the city of righteousness, the faithful city. Zion shall be redeemed with justice, and those who return to her, with righteousness" (Isaiah 1:26-27). This restoration, however, can only take place in such a time as willed by God.
The Messiah will be a king of Israel, and as such, he can only be recognized by a duly ordained Sanhedrin.
There is a tradition that the Sanhedrin will be restored after a partial ingathering of the Jewish exile, before Jerusalem is rebuilt and restored. There is also a tradition that Elijah will present himself before a duly ordained Sanhedrin when he announces the coming of the Messiah. Like all events in the Messianic drama, the restoration of the Sanhedrin can only occur at the time decreed by God.
Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan was a multi-faceted, prolific exponent of Jewish thought -- skilled in both Kabbalah and Jewish law, as well as the natural sciences (he was listed in "Who's Who in Physics"). He suffered an untimely death at age 48.
This article can also be read at: http://www.aish.com/literacy/concepts/The_Jewish_Court_System.asp
By : Wilhelm Bacher Jacob Zallel Lauterbach
Hebrew-Aramaic term originally designating only the assembly at Jerusalem that constituted the highest political magistracy of the country. It was derived from the Greek συνεδριον. Josephus uses συνεδριον for the first time in connection with the decree of the Roman governor of Syria, Gabinius (57 B.C.), who abolished the constitution and the then existing form of government of Palestine and divided the country into five provinces, at the head of each of which a sanhedrin was placed ("Ant." xiv. 5, § 4). Jerusalem was the seat of one of these. It is improbable, however, that the term "synhedrion" as a designation for the chief magistracy was used for the first time in connection with this decree of Gabinius; indeed, from the use made of it in the Greek translation of the Proverbs, Bacher concludes that it must have been current in the middle of the second century B.C.
The Great Sanhedrin.
In the Talmudic sources the "Great" Sanhedrin at Jerusalem is so called in contradistinction to other bodies designated by that name; and it was generally assumed that this Great Sanhedrin was identical with the Sanhedrin at Jerusalem which is mentioned in the non-Talmudic sources, in the Gospels, and in Josephus. The accounts in the two different sets of sources referring to the Sanhedrin, however, differ materially in their main characteristics. The Great Sanhedrin is designated in the Talmudic sources as "Sanhedrin Gedolah hayoshebet be-lishkat ha-gazit" = "the Great Sanhedrin which sits in the hall of hewn stone"(Sifra, Wayik.ra, ed. Weiss, 19a). The mention of "sanhedrin" without the epithet "gedolah" (Yer. Sanh. i. 19c) seems to presuppose another body than the Great Sanhedrin that met in the hall of hewn stone. For neither Josephus nor the Gospels in speaking of the Sanhedrin report any of its decisions or discussions referring to the priests or to the Temple service, or touching in any way upon the religious law, but they refer to the Sanhedrin exclusively in matters connected with legal procedure, verdicts, and decrees of a political nature; whereas the Sanhedrin in the hall of hewn stone dealt, according to the Talmudic sources, with questions relating to the Temple, the priesthood, the sacrifices, and matters of a kindred nature. Adolf Büchler assumes indeed that there were in Jerusalem two magistracies which were entirely different in character and functions and which officiated side by side at the same time. That to which the Gospels and Josephus refer was the highest political authority, and at the same time the supreme court; this alone was empowered to deal with criminal cases and to impose the sentence of capital punishment. The other, sitting in the hall of hewn stone, was the highest court dealing with the religious law, being in charge also of the religious instruction of the people (Sanh. xi. 2-4).
I. The Political Sanhedrin:
This body was undoubtedly much older than the term "sanhedrin." Accounts referring to the history of the pre-Maccabean time represent a magistracy at the head of the people, which body was designated Gerusia. In 203 Antiochus the Great wrote a letter to the Jews in which he expressed his satisfaction that they had given him a friendly reception at Jerusalem, and had even come to meet him with the senate (ϒερουσια "Ant." xii. 3, § 3) Antiochus V. also greeted the gerusia in a letter to the Jewish people. This gerusia, which stood at the head of the people, was the body that was subsequently called "sanhedrin." The date and the manner of its origin can not now be determined. Josephus calls it either συνεδριον or βουλη, and its members πρεσβ'γτεροι (="elders," i.e. זקנים) or βουλευται (="councilors"), whose number was probably the same as that of the members of the Sanhedrin in the hall of hewn stone, namely, seventy or seventy-one. There are no references to indicate whence the Sanhedrin derived its authority or by whom it was elected, unless it be assumed that the convocation of that body by the high priest and at times by the Jewish king, as mentioned in the sources, refers to the manner of its election. This Sanhedrin, which was entirely aristocratic in character, probably assumed its own authority, since it was composed of members of the most influential families of the nobility and priesthood (comp. Sanh. iv. 2, where there is an allusion to the composition of this body). The Pharisees had no great influence in this assembly, although some of its members may have been friendly to them at various times. Though there are no definite references to gradations in rank among the several members, there seems to have been a committee of ten members, ..., who ranked above their colleagues (comp. Schürer, "Gesch." 3d ed., ii. 201-202).
Place of Meeting.
The meetings took place in one of the chambers of the Temple in order that the discussions and decrees might thereby be invested with greater religious authority. According to a passage in the Mekilta (Mishpat.im, 4 [ed. Weiss, p. 87a]), the Sanhedrin, which was empowered to pass the sentence of capital punishment, sat "in the vicinity of the altar," i.e., in one of the chambers of the inner court of the Temple. It was called "the hall of the βουλευται" because the latter sat there. Subsequently it was called "lishkat parhedrin" = "the hall of the προεδοι" (Yoma 8b). In this hall there was also a private room for the high priest (Yoma 10a; Tosef., Yoma, i. 2). The βουλευται or the προεδοι assembled in this private room (comp. Matt. xxvi. 57; Mark xiv. 63) before they met in the hall.
The Sanhedrin did not, however, always retain this place of meeting; for, according to Josephus, the βουλη was in the vicinity of the xystus ("B. J." v. 4, § 2), hence beyond the Temple mount, or, according to Schürer (l.c. ii. 211), on it, though not within the inner court. In the last years of the Jewish state, therefore, to which the account in Josephus must be referred, the Sanhedrin left its original seat, being compelled to do so perhaps by the Pharisees, who, on gaining the upper hand, would not permit the secular Sanhedrin to sit in the sanctuary. Indeed, while the Sanhedrin still sat in the Temple, it was decreed that a mezuzah was to be placed in the hall of the προεδοι. This was not required in any of the other apartments of the Temple; and R. Judah b. Ila'i, who was otherwise thoroughly informed as to the earlier institutions of the Temple, was unable to assign a reason for the decree (Yoma 10a). It may be explained only on the assumption that it was intended to secularize the sittings of this Sanhedrin. It may have been for the same reason that the body was subsequently excluded entirely from the Temple, inasmuch as the latter and its apartments were intended for the cult and matters connected with it, while the discussions and decrees of this Sanhedrin were political and secular in nature.
Functions and Position.
The extant references to the Sanhedrin are not sufficient to give an exact and detailed idea of its functions and of the position which it occupied. It is certain, however, that the extent of its power varied at different times, and that the sphere of its functions was restricted in various ways by the Roman government. One of these restrictions was Gabinius' above-mentioned division of the Jewish territory into five provinces, each with a sanhedrin of its own, whereby the authority and the functions of the Sanhedrin of Jerusalem were materially diminished. Its power was insignificant under Herod and Archelaus. After the death of these rulers its authority again increased, the internal government of the country being largely in its hands. It administered the criminal law, and had independent powers of police, and hence the right to make arrests through its own officers of justice. It was also empowered to judge cases that did not involve the death penalty, only capital cases requiring the confirmation of the procurator.The high priest, who from the time of Simeon wasalso the head of the state, officiated as president of the Sanhedrin. He bore the title "nasi" (prince), because the reins of government were actually held by him. Subsequently, when they were transferred to other hands, the high priest retained the title of nasi as president of the Sanhedrin. The powers of the latter official were restricted under the procurators, without whose permission the body could not be convened ("Ant." xx. 9, § 1). This Sanhedrin, since it was a political authority, ceased to exist when the Jewish state perished with the destruction of Jerusalem (70 C.E.).
II. The Religious Sanhedrin:
The Great Bet Din.
This body, which met in the hall of hewn stone and was called also "the Great Bet Din" or simply "the Bet Din in the hall of hewn stone" (Tosef., Hor. i. 3; Tosef., Sot.ah, ix. 1; Yer. Sanh. i. 19c), was invested with the highest religious authority. According to Talmudic tradition it originated in the Mosaic period, the seventy elders who were associated with Moses in the government of Israel at his request (Num. xi. 4-31) forming together with him the first Sanhedrin (Sanh. i. 6). The institution is said to have existed without interruption from that time onward (comp. Yer. Sanh. i. 18b, where, in a comment on Jer. lii. 24 et seq. and II Kings xxv. 18 et seq., it is said that Nebuzar-adan brought the Great Sanhedrin to Riblah before Nebuchadnezzar); but the fact that no passage whatever in the pre-exilic books of the Bible refers to this institution seems to indicate that it was not introduced before the time of the Second Temple. Originally it was probably not a regularly constituted authority, but merely a synod which convened on special occasions for the purpose of deliberating on important questions or of issuing regulations referring to religious life. The first assembly of this nature was that held under Ezra and Nehemiah (Neh. viii.-x.), which was called "the Great Synagogue" ("Keneset ha-Gedolah") in Jewish scholastic tradition. Subsequently, at a date which can not be definitely determined, this occasional assembly was replaced by a standing body. The latter, which was called "Sanhedrin" or "Bet Din," was regarded as the continuation of the synods which had previously been convened only occasionally.
Influence of the Pharisees.
It further appears from Ab. i. 2-4 that the Great Bet Din was regarded as a continuation of the Keneset ha-Gedolah; for the so-called "zugot" who were at the head of the Great Bet Din are named after the men of the Great Synagogue, which was regarded as the precursor of the Great Bet Din. This explains why the latter is sometimes called also "synagogue" (; Meg. Ta'an., in Neubauer, "M. J. C." ii. 16). Originally the members of this bet din also were priests belonging to prominent families, probably under the presidency of the high priest. The Pharisees, however, held at various times more or less prominent positions in this body, according as they were the victors or the vanquished in their conflict with the Sadducees. When John Hyrcanus toward the end of his reign turned from the Pharisees ("Ant." xvi. 11, § 1), he seems to have effected their dismissal from the Sanhedrin or bet din and to have formed a Sadducean bet din (Sanh. 52b), or a Sadducean Sanhedrin, as it is called in another passage (Meg. Ta'an. l.c. p. 17). Under Alexander Jannæus, Simeon b. Shet.ah. succeeded in ousting the Sadducean members from the bet din and in reorganizing it so that it was composed only of Pharisees. But the latter lost their prestige in the subsequent quarrel with Alexander, gaining the upper hand again only under his successor, Salome Alexandra, from which time the Great Bet Din was composed exclusively of Pharisees. According to the Mishnah (Sanh. i. 5; Sheb. ii. 2), the bet din, at least during the last years of its existence at Jabneh, where it had been reorganized, consisted of seventy or seventy-one members, according as the president was included in or omitted from the list. Simeon b. 'Azzai (first half of the 2d cent.) says that seventy-two elders ("zek.enim," i.e., members of the Sanhedrin) were present when R. Eleazar b. Azariah was elected president together with Rabban Gamaliel II. (Zeb. i. 3; Yad. iii. 5, iv. 2); this was one more than the usual number, and included probably, besides the seventy other members, the two presidents, Gamaliel and Eleazar b. Azariah.
Appointment and Promotion of Members.
According to R. Jose b. H.alafta, the members of the Great Bet Din were required to possess the following qualifications: scholarship, modesty, and popularity among their fellow men (Tosef., H.ag. ii. 9; Sanh. 88b). According to an interpretation in Sifre, Num. 92 (ed. Friedmann, p. 25b), they had also to be strong and courageous. Only such were eligible, moreover, as had filled three offices of gradually increasing dignity, namely, those of local judge, and member successively of two magistracies at Jerusalem (Jose b. H.alafta, l.c.). R. Johanan, a Palestinian amora of the third century, enumerates the qualifications of the members of the Sanhedrin as follows: they must be tall, of imposing appearance, and of advanced age; and they must be learned and must understand foreign languages as well as some of the arts of the necromancer (Sanh. 19a).
Functions and Authority.
The hall of hewn stone ("lishkat ha-gazit") in which the bet din sat was situated on the southern side of the inner court of the Temple (Mid. v. 4). It was used for ritual purposes also, the priests drawing lots there for the daily service of the sacrifices, and also reciting the "Shema'" there (Tamid ii., end, to iii., beginning; iv., end, to v., beginning). The larger part of the hall was on the site of the court of laymen. There were two entrances: one from the court of the priests, which was used by the latter; the other in the Water gate, used by the laity. The Great Bet Din sat daily, except on the Sabbath and on feast-days, between the morning and evening sacrifices (Tosef., Sanh. vii. 1). On the Sabbath and on feast-days, on which there were no meetings in the hall of hewn stone, the members of the bet din assembled in the schoolhouse on the Temple mount (ib.). According to the accounts given in the Talmudic sources, the Great Bet Din had the following functions, which it exercised in part as a body and in part through committees of its members: It had supervision over the Temple service, which was required to be conducted in conformity with theLaw and according to Pharisaic interpretation. It decided which priests should perform the Temple service (Mid., end). It supervised especially important ritual acts, as the service on the Day of Atonement (Yoma i. 3). It had in charge the burning of the Red Heifer and the preparation of the water of purification (Tosef., Sanh. iii. 4). When the body of a murdered person was found, members of the Great Bet Din had to take the necessary measurements in order to determine which city, as being the nearest to the place of the murder, was to bring the sacrifice of atonement (Sot.ah ix. 1; Tosef., Sanh. iii. 4; comp. Sot.ah 44b-45a). It had also to decide as to the harvest tithes (Peah ii. 6). It sat in judgment on women suspected of adultery, and sentenced them to drink the bitter water (Sot.ah i. 4; see Ordeal). It arranged the calendar (R. H. ii. 5 et seq.), and provided correct copies of the Torah roll for the king, and probably for the Temple also (Tosef., Sanh. iv. 4; Yer. Sanh. ii. 20c). In general it decided all (doubtful questions relating to the religious law (Sanh. 88b) and rendered the final decision in regard to the sentence of the teacher who promulgated opinions contradicting the traditional interpretation of the Law ("zak.en mamreh"; Sanh. xi. 2-4; see Elder, Rebellious).
Two persons were at the head of the bet din: one, the actual president with the title "nasi"; the other, the second president or vice-president, who bore the title "ab bet din" (father of the court). The existence of these two offices is well authenticated from the time following the Hadrianic persecution. R. Johanan (3d cent.) says that in the college which was regarded as the continuation of the Great Bet Din in the hall of hewn stone R. Nathan officiated as second president ("ab bet din") side by side with R. Simeon b. Gamaliel II., who was president ("nasi"; Hor. 13b). In a mishnah (H.ag. ii. 2) five pairs of scholars are enumerated who were at the head of the Great Bet Din at the time of the Second Temple; and it is stated that one of each pair was nasi and the other ab bet din. These five pairs of scholars, who collectively are also designated "zugot" (Peah ii. 6), were at the same time the most prominent representatives of the tradition (Ab. i. 1 et seq.) and at the head of the Pharisaic school. There is therefore no reason to doubt the statement that from the time the bet din came under Pharisaic influence these Pharisaic teachers stood at its head. The fact that the high priest had formerly been the president of this bet din explains why there were two presidents. Since the high priest was probably frequently prevented from presiding at the meetings, or was perhaps not competent to do so, another officer had to be chosen who should be the actual director of the body. The double office was retained when, with the growing influence of the Pharisees, the nasi of the bet din was a scribe and no longer the high priest. The title "nasi," which the president of the bet din bore, may have originated at the time when the high priest—the real prince and the head of the state—acted as president. The following reason also may have determined the retention of the title, even after the high priest no longer officiated as president: The bet din, which, as shown above, was called also (corresponding to the Hebrew ), was identified with the Biblical "'edah" (comp. Sifre, Deut. 41 [ed. Friedmann, p. 59b]; Sifra, Wayik.ra, ed. Weiss, 19a, where it is expressly stated that the Great Bet Din in the hall of hewn stone is the 'edah); and, since only a director of the 'edah is called "nasi" in Ex. xvi. 22 and Num. iv. 34, it may have seemed desirable to retain the title "nasi" for the president of the bet din.
Order of Business.
Business at the meetings of the bet din was transacted according to a certain order. Reliable traditions describing the procedure and the balloting have been preserved in the Mishnah; but it is impossible to distinguish between the regulations obtaining in the bet din at the time of the Second Temple and those obtaining in the school of Jabneh, which was regarded as a continuation of the Sanhedrin. The following are some of these regulations: The members of the bet din sat in a semicircle in order that they might see one another (Sanh. iv. 2; Tosef., Sanh. viii. 1). The president sat in the center (Tosef., l.c.). Two secretaries recorded the various opinions expressed by the members; according to one tradition there were three secretaries (Sanh. l.c.). When a question was raised and a member of the college declared that he was in possession of a tradition according to which the question might be decided, such tradition was decisive. When no member knew of any tradition relating to the question at issue, discussion followed and a ballot was taken (Tosef., Sanh. vii. 1). Three rows of scholars sat in front of the bet din, and filled vacancies in the latter when necessary (Sanh. iv. 4; Tosef., Sanh. viii. 2). This regulation, however, refers only to the school of Jamnia and not to the bet din of the time of the Second Temple; for only such men were appointed to membership in the latter as had previously sat in less important bodies.After the destruction of the Temple at Jerusalem and the downwall of the Jewish state, the Academy of Jabneh was organized as the supreme religious authority, being therefore regarded as the continuation of the Great Bet Din in the hall of hewn stone. The later Jewish academies under the presidency of the patriarchs of the family of Hillel—hence, down to the end of the fourth century—were also regarded as the continuation of that institution (this is the meaning of the sentence "The bet din of the hall of hewn stone went on ten journeys until it finally settled at Tiberias"; R. H. 31a, b); they accordingly retained its organization, and the president bore the title of nasi, the second president officiating side by side with him as ab bet din.
Bibliography: Schürer, Gesch. ii. 188-189, where the literature on the subject is given; Jacob Reifmann, Sanhedrin, Berdychev, 1888; Bacher, art. Sanhedrin, in Hastings, Dict. Bible; Adolf Büchler, Das Synhedrium in Jerusalem und das Grosse Bet Din in der Quaderkammer des Jerusalemischen Tempels, Vienna, 1902, the chief source for the view given above.W. B. J. Z. L.
SANHEDRIN (J. high court)
Also: Great Academy; Great Sanhedrin (Jer.)
SANHEDRIN. Great Sanhedrin usually means the supreme political, religious, and judicial body in Palestine during the Roman period, both before and after the destruction of the Temple, until the abolishment of the patriarchate (c. 425 C.E.). The precise definition of the term Sanhedrin has engaged the attention of historians in the past century, owing to the apparent conflict between the Hellenistic and rabbinic sources as to its nature and functions. While in the Hellenistic sources, in Josephus and the Gospels, it appears as a political and judicial council headed by the ruler, the tannaitic* sources depict it chiefly as a legislative body dealing with religious matters, and in rare cases acting as a court—for instance, to try a false prophet or high priest.
[* tannaitic = pertaining to the Tannaim, the Jewish scholars of the first two centuries of the Common Era]
The first historical mention of the Sanhedrin is in the statement of Josephus that in 57 B.C.E. Gabinius divided the country into five synedria (Ant., 14:91) or synodoi (Wars, 1:170). Most scholars agree that the reference is to a purely political body, as the Romans did not interfere with the religious life of conquered people. Their objective was, as Schalit points out, the prevention of uprisings. The next report describes Hyrcanus, as ethnarch of Judea, presiding over the Sanhedrin trying Herod, the strategus of the Galilee, for political murder (Ant., 14:168–70). Subsequently, when Herod became king, he had the Sanhedrin condemn Hyrcanus for plotting against him (Ant., 15:173), though according to another account, he did so himself without the Sanhedrin (15:176). Josephus' next reference to a Sanhedrin is to one that consisted of Roman high officials, convened at the suggestion of Augustus in Syria, to try the sons of Herod for rebellion against their father (16:356ff.); according to Josephus (Wars, 1:537), this Sanhedrin consisted of Herod's "own relatives and the provinical governors." When the Sadducean high priest, Ananus, "convened the judges of the Sanhedrin" (Jos., Ant., 20:200) to condemn James, the brother of Jesus, his opponents, the Pharisees, took great pains to have him removed. Their plea before the Roman governor that Ananus "had no authority to convene the Sanhedrin without his consent" (20:202) was obviously a pretext. Ananus' Sanhedrin was no doubt a Sadducean one, so that in removing Ananus shortly after this, Agrippa II pleased the Pharisees. On the other hand, the Sanhedrin convened by Agrippa II to permit the levitical singers to wear the priestly linen garments—apparently in accord with II Chronicles 5:12—was a Pharisaic one (Arakh. 11a–b). Josephus' objection to this ruling (Ant., 20:216–18) represents the priestly-Sadducean view. Josephus received his commission as a supreme commander from the Sanhedrin (Life, 62), though he usually refers to it as the koinon (ibid., 190, 309) and describes it as the assembly of the leading people of Jerusalem (ibid., 28, see also Wars, 2:562).
The Gospels describe three trials before the Sanhedrin, all of them presided over by the high priest, but apparently in different locations. Jesus was tried on Passover night, or on the preceding night, in the palace of the high priest (Mark 14:53ff.; John 18:13). His disciples, Peter and John Zebedee were questioned at "eventide," "in Jerusalem" (Acts, 4:3–6). In the case of Paul, the chief priest "and all their Sanhedrin" were ordered to meet in the chief captain's quarters (Acts, 22:25–30). The tannaitic sources, however, depict the Great Sanhedrin as an assembly of sages permanently situated in the Chamber of Hewn Stone in the Temple, meeting daily, only during the daytime between the hours of the two daily sacrifices (approximately 7:30 A.M.–3:30 P.M.) and never at night, on the Sabbaths or festivals, or on their eves. It was the place "where the Law went forth to all Israel" (Sanh. 11:2; Tosef., Sanh. 7:1) and was the final authority on halakhah*; the penalty of contravening its decisions on the part of a scholar—zaken mamre**—was death (Sanh. ibid.). Settling questions of priestly genealogy was also within the province of the Great Sanhedrin (Mid. 5:4; Tosef., Sanh. loc. cit.). Actual cases are recorded of questions being sent to "the sages in the Chamber of Hewn Stone" (Eduy. 7:4) and of Rabban Gamaliel going to the Chamber and receiving a reply to a question which he put (Pe'ah 2:6).
* halakhah = an accepted decision in rabbinic law.
** zaken mamre = rebellious elder.
The competence of the Sanhedrin is listed in tannaitic literature. "A tribe, a false prophet, or the high priest may not be tried save by the court of seventy-one; they may not send forth the people to wage a battle of free choice save by the decision of the court of one and seventy; they may not add to the City [of Jerusalem], or the Courts of the Temple save by the decision of the court of seventy-one; they may not set up sanhedrins for the several tribes save by the decision of the court of one and seventy; and they may not proclaim [any city to be] an Ir ha-Niddahat* [cf. Deut. 13:13–19] save by the decision of one and seventy" (Sanh. 1:5). The Tosefta enumerates still other functions: "They may not burn the red heifer save according to the instructions of the court of 71; they may not declare one a zaken mamre save the court of 71; they may not set up a king or a high priest save by the decision of the court of 71" (Tos., Sanh. 3:4). Elsewhere the Mishnah rules that the rites of the water of ordeals (see Sotah; Sot. 1:4) and the eglah arufah—i.e., the breaking of the heifer's neck in order to atone for the sin of an anonymous murder (cf. Deut. 21: 1–9)—may be performed only under the supervision of the Great Bet Din in Jerusalem (Sot. 9:1).
* Ir ha-Niddahat = "subverted" or "apostate" city....
Another aspect of the conflict between the sources is that whereas the tannaitic documents represent the Sanhedrin as being composed of Pharisaic scholars, headed by the foremost men of the sect—the nasi* and av bet din**—the Hellenistic accounts usually make the high priest, or the king, the president of the body. Thus Samaias and Pollion (that is, probably, Shemaiah and Avtalyon or Shammai and Hillel) and Simeon b. Gamaliel, who are mentioned in Josephus, and Gamaliel I, who is cited in the Book of Acts, are referred to in these books merely as prominent members of the Sanhedrin, though in the tannaitic documents they are represented as the presidents of that body. In the Book of Acts, moreover, the Sanhedrin is depicted as being "one part Sadducees and the other Pharisees" (Acts, 23:6).
[* nasi = "president."]
** av bet din = vice president of the supreme court (bet din ha-gadol) in Jerusalem during the Second Temple period; later, title given to communal rabbis as heads of the religious courts.
The historians' answers may be classified into three groups. Some scholars maintain that there was a single Sanhedrin, the supreme political, religious and judicial body, but they differ among themselves as to the other aspects of the reconstruction. Schuerer, who dismisses the rabbinic sources, regards the high priest as the presiding officer. Hoffmann held the highest office to belong to the Pharisaic nasi, though the secular rulers often usurped the role. Jelski, following a middle course, divides the functions of the presidency between the high priest, upon whom he bestows the title nasi, and the Pharisaic av bet din. Similarly, G. Alon believes that the Sanhedrin was composed of Pharisees and Sadducees, each dominating it by turns. Chwolson thinks that the Great Sanhedrin of the rabbinic documents was nothing but a committee on religious law appointed by the Sanhedrin (so, too, Dubnow and Klausner). Common to all these theories is the erroneous assumption that there can be only one Sanhedrin in a city. In reality, a Sanhedrin can be the king's or ruler's council, a body of high officials; a congress of allies or confederates, a military war council, etc. (see Liddell-Scott, Greek-English Lexicon, s.v. suneqrion).
Another group of scholars believes that there were in Jerusalem three small Sanhedrins, each of a different composition and task—priestly, Pharisaic, and aristocratic—each consisting of 23 members. A joint meeting of the three Sanhedrins headed by a nasi and av bet din, constituted the Great Sanhedrin of 71 (Geiger, Derenbourg, etc.). This imaginary reconstruction flounders on the Tosefta (Hag. 2:9 and Sanh. 7:1) and the Jerusalem Talmud (Sanh. 1:7, 19c), according to which, contrary to the Babylonian Talmud (Sanh. 88b), the small Sanhedrin consisted only of three. The third group of scholars is agreed that there were two supreme bodies in Jerusalem, a political and a religious, but disagree on almost everything else. Buechler thinks that the religious body was properly called Bet Din ha-Gadol she-be-Lishkat ha-Gazit ("Great Bet Din in the Chamber of Hewn Stone"), and the application to it of the term Sanhedrin was a misnomer. Zeitlin points out that there is no evidence that the political Sanhedrin was called "Great," but his view that the division between the political and the religious authorities dates back to Simeon the Hasmonean is questionable. More likely the separation was the result of the fact that the political views of the religious Sanhedrin were not sought by Hyrcanus and Aristobulus, the sons of Salome, nor by Herod, nor by the high priests who were appointed by Romans.
The opponents of the theory of the double Sanhedrin base themselves mainly on three arguments: no proof exists that the nasi headed the Sanhedrin in the days of the Temple; the priests' authority to "declare" the law is scripturally prescribed (Deut. 17:9), so that the high priest must have at least formally headed the religious Sanhedrin, as he did among the Qumran sect; and in Judaism there is no division between the religious and the secular. As against these arguments, it has been pointed out: the law concerning the assignment of one's property to the nasi (Ned. 5:5), which dates from Temple days, assumes that the nasi headed the Sanhedrin, just as he did in the post-destruction era; the Pharisaic exegesis dispensed with the need of priests in issuing legal decisions, the Pharisees basing their ruling on the superfluous words "and to judge" (Deut. 17:9; see Sif., Deut. 153); and the Pharisees did not voluntarily relinquish their right to judge on political matters. The political rulers simply did not consult them. After the destruction of the Temple the religious Sanhedrin was reconvened in Jabneh, and, under the presidency of the nasi, it now became also the supreme political instrument for all the Jews of the Roman Empire. When Judea was destroyed as a result of the failure of Bar Kokhba, the Sanhedrin moved to Galilee. At first it met in Usha, then in nearby Shefaram, subsequently, in Judah ha-Nasi's time, in Bet She'arim and Sepphoris, and in the end in Tiberias. The Romans apparently withdrew their recognition of the Sanhedrin when they dissolved the patriarchate.
(Encyclopaedia Judaica, CD-ROM Edition, 1997)
Hear ye, hear ye: Sanhedrin seeks David's scion as king
Yaakov Katz, THE JERUSALEM POST
Jan. 12, 2005
Will Jews begin proclaiming "Long live the king" in the near future?
According to a group of 71 Jewish scholars who met this week in the Old City of Jerusalem in the form of a modern-day Sanhedrin – a duplicate of the religious tribunal which convened during the time of the Second Temple – a coronation day is growing closer.
As one member of the group put it, "We would have liked it to happen yesterday. But we are willing to wait until tomorrow."
There hasn't been a genuine Sanhedrin in Israel for nearly 1,600 years; the last one to be proclaimed was in France, by Napoleon, for political gain. Shortly after the establishment of the State of Israel, religious affairs minister Judah Leib Maimon raised the notion of reinstituting the ancient body, to no avail.
The group composed largely of Kahane sympathizers that gave itself the name Sanhedrin in October, however, met Sunday to discuss the creation of a Jewish monarchy in the State of Israel.
For the past several years a group called the Monarchists has conducted extensive research into the lineage of several families in an effort to discover who has the closest bloodline to the biblical King David – a requirement for any future Jewish king.
Rabbi Yosef Dayan from Psagot, known for his recent threats to place a death curse on Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, is said to be a leading candidate to become the "king of Israel."
"Dayan has the best lineage to King David," several members of the Sanhedrin told The Jerusalem Post. They say he has two documented ancient sources which draw a direct line between him and the males in his family to King David some 3,000 years ago.
"Many people can show they are descendants of King David, but they cannot show that the line is only male," one Sanhedrin member explained. "That makes Dayan the leading candidate to become king."
The Monarchists have consulted with non-Jewish experts on lineage. They concurred that, without a doubt, Dayan is a direct descendent of the House of David.
The only question now is how to establish the Jewish monarchy in spite of the presiding democratic government.
"There are two possibilities," Dayan explained. "The first is that the nation or a majority from within will want the monarchy and will uproot the presiding democratic government."
The second, more realistic option, he said, is "the one cited by Maimonides – and that is that no one will know how it will be until it happens."
Some of the other ideas discussed at the Sanhedrin meeting included the construction of an altar on the Temple Mount to be used for the Passover Offering during the upcoming holiday.
One of the ideas, members said, is to climb the Mount and build the altar within minutes and sacrifice the lamb before security forces can stop them. Another, said leading Sanhedrin member Baruch Ben-Yosef, is to pray for a tsunami-like disaster on the Mount.
"In one second, God wiped out 150,000 people," he said. "Who knows? Maybe he'll help us if we show him we are ready."
Participants also discussed Ben-Yosef's idea of reinstating the Sanhedrin's authority to announce Rosh Hodesh, the beginning of the new lunar month. "It is very important to reinstate the Sanhedrin's authority to announce the month, because it will force people to understand that God gave us the power to control the calendar and our own destiny," Ben-Yosef said.
Sanhedrin Rabbis Discuss Sublime, Procedural Issues
January 14, 2005
The 71 rabbis seeking to fulfill the Biblical commandment of renewing the Sanhedrin continue to meet regularly, solidifying their organizational structure and establishing an agenda of topics. Their most recent meeting was this week, in which they discussed technical and procedural issues, topics for their agenda, and the Halakhic [Jewish legal] and other ramifications of renewing the Passover sacrifice.
The rabbis held a festive ceremony this past October 13th, the 28th day of the Jewish month of Tishrei, inaugurating the Sanhedrin as Judaism's supreme legal body. They stress that by doing so, they are merely fulfilling a Biblical mitzvah (obligation). “It is a special mitzvah , based on our presence in Israel, to establish a Sanhedrin,” Rabbi Meir HaLevi, one of the 71 members of the new Sanhedrin, has explained. “The Rambam [12th-century Torah scholar Maimonides] describes the process exactly in the Mishnah Torah [his seminal work codifying Jewish Law]. When he wrote it, there was no Sanhedrin, and he therefore outlines the steps necessary to establish one."
A religious-legal assembly of 71 Sages that convened in the Holy Temple and for several centuries after its destruction, the Sanhedrin was the highest Jewish judicial tribunal in the Land of Israel. Organizers of the current edition stress that they are still in a transitional phase, and that though today's members are all Torah scholars and experts in many secular and scientific fields, every one of them has agreed to step aside the moment a more deserving candidate should step forward.
Meeting in Jerusalem’s Old City, the Sanhedrin consists of representatives of all stripes of religious Jewish society. Hareidi-religious, Hassidic, national-religious, Ashkenazi, Sephardic, modern Orthodox and university professors sit side by side in a semi-circle, seeking to re-establish Jewish legal tradition after 2,000 years of exile.
"We can make a real difference," said one member, Rabbi Chaim Richman of Jerusalem. "Many cardinal issues are on the public agenda, and our body – which is totally based on Torah, even down to its rules and regulations – is naturally geared to deal with them. Issues such as agunot (estranged women whose husbands refuse to give them a divorce), abortions, traffic safety, economic issues, education, and so much more."
"Not only are we commanded to establish the Sanhedrin," Rabbi Richman told Arutz-7's Yosef Meiri, "but this seems to be the perfect time to do so - a time of Divine will. On the one hand, there is a spiritual void in the 'establishment,' and on the other hand, there is a real thirst among the public for spirituality and guidance."
The Sanhedrin's takanon, document of regulations, is still undergoing final adjustments prior to its official adoption. A permanent Nassi, President, and Av Beit HaDin, literally, Court Father, still must be elected. The continuing role of the Vaad HaMechonen , the founding committee that has led the Sanhedrin thus far, also needs to be determined. But the Sanhedrin is carefully moving ahead, strictly adhering to the guidelines set out by Maimonides, who classified the obligation to reestablish the Sanhedrin as one that is incumbent upon every generation.
“The Sanhedrin is past its greatest initial hurdles,” a spokesman told IsraelNN's Ezra HaLevi, “namely, the return of genuine semikha [authentic rabbinical ordination] to Israel, and the historic meeting in Tiberias in Tishrei, at which 71 rabbis actually convened and officially reinstated the Sanhedrin. We believe these achievements are irreversible.”
Contrary to the expected criticism, Sanhedrin organizers insist that the reinstatement ceremony was neither just a show nor a one-time phenomenon, but is rather Halakhically-sound and a true beginning.
The rabbis were asked to prepare topics they thought the Sanhedrin should deal with, and a fascinating array of topics was produced. In addition to those mentioned above by Rabbi Richman, the list included such issues as:
- uniform kashrut certification
- the precise length of the biblical cubit (with ramifications on many issues, including the location of the altar on the Temple Mount)
- assisting Anousim from Spain and Portugal and others whose ancestors were forced to convert
- lost Jewish tribes from other parts of the world
- unifying Sephardic and Ashkenazi practices on issues such as prayer liturgy, kitniyot (legumes) on Passover, and glass utensils
- the Sanhedrin's decision-making procedures
- foreign workers
- unifying the religious parties
- restoring the Davidic monarchy
- an ethical code for Israel's army (as opposed to the present one, which is based largely on secular sources)
- the establishment of regional "small Sanhedrins"
- the long-missing "t'chelet" blue color
- sending delegations around the country to hear people's concerns, and much more.
Though a lecture on renewing the Paschal offering was delivered at the last meeting, not all of the 71 are yet convinced that the time is ripe for it. Various opinions were put forth, including by those opposed to the renewal of the Passover offering until the exact location of the Temple altar is determined through prophecy.
"The real achievement of the meeting was that rabbis from such diverse backgrounds could sit together to discuss such an issue," said Rabbi Michael S. Bar-Ron, an associate of the Sanhedrin from Beit Shemesh. " It demonstrated that the Sanhedrin is alive, and has begun the long road towards its chief goal of restoring the crown of Torah to its former glory."
As expected, the issue of the disengagement came up, but the acting Nassi refused to allow the discussion until at least one rabbi supporting the plan could be found to present a sincere argument supporting it. No one could be found, and the topic was dropped.
"The Sanhedrin aims to inspire the Jewish people," Rabbi Richman said, "not coerce them. Via 'ways of pleasantness,' we will achieve a renewal of unified Jewish observance and practice."
Members of Reestablished Sanhedrin Ascend Temple Mount
Wednesday, December 8, 2004 / 25 Kislev 5765
Updated: January 20, 2005 / 10 Shevat 5765
In a dramatic but unpublicized move, members of the newly established Sanhedrin ascended the Temple Mount, Judaism’s holiest site, this past Monday.
Close to 50 recently ordained s'muchim, members of the Sanhedrin, lined up at the foot of the Temple Mount Monday morning. [The word s'muchim comes from the same root as s'michah, , rabbinic ordination.] The men, many ascending the Temple Mount for the first time, had immersed in mikvaot (ritual baths) that morning, and planned to ascend as a group. Despite prior approval from the Israeli police who oversee entry to the Mount, the officers barred the group from entering the Mount all together, and allowed them to visit only in groups of ten.
Given the newly-mandated restrictive conditions, many of the s'muchim refused to ascend at all, especially as a group of over 100 non-Jewish tourists filed past the waiting rabbis and up towards the holy site. “It is unconscionable that on the eve of Chanukah, which celebrates the rededication of the Holy Temple, we should once again be barred from worshipping – by our own people,” Rabbi Chaim Richman of Jerusalem’s Temple Institute told IsraelNN’s Ezra HaLevi.
The Sanhedrin, a religious-legal assembly of 71 sages that convened during the Holy Temple period and for several centuries afterwards, was the highest Jewish judicial tribunal in the Land of Israel. The great court used to convene in one of the Temple’s chambers in Jerusalem.
This past October, the Sanhedrin was reestablished for the first time in 1,600 years, at the site of its last meeting in Tiberias.
“There is a special mitzvah [commandment], not connected to time, but tied to our presence in Israel, to establish a Sanhedrin,” Rabbi Meir HaLevi, one of the 71 members of the new Sanhedrin, told Israel National Radio’s Weekend Edition. “The Rambam [12th-century Torah scholar Maimonides] describes the process exactly in the Mishna Torah [his seminal work codifying Jewish Law]. When he wrote it, there was no Sanhedrin, and he therefore outlines the steps necessary to establish one. When there is a majority of rabbis, in Israel, who authorize one person to be a samuch, , an authority, he can then reestablish the Sanhedrin.”
Those behind the revival of the Sanhedrin stress that the revival of the legal body is not optional, but mandated by the Torah. “We don’t have a choice,” says Rabbi Richman. “It is a religious mandate for us to establish a Sanhedrin.”
The Sanhedrin was reestablished through the ordination of one rabbi agreed upon by many prominent rabbis in Israel and approved as “fitting to serve” by former Chief Sefardi Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef and leading Ashkenazi Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv. That rabbi, who is then considered to have received authentic ordination as handed down from Moses, was then able to give ordination to 70 others, making up the quorum of 71 necessary for the Sanhedrin.
“Even Mordechai HaYehudi of the Purim story was accepted, as it is written, only ‘by the majority of his brethren,’ and not by everybody," Rabbi HaLevi explained. "Anyone who deals with public issues can not be unanimously accepted.”
The rabbis behind the Sanhedrin’s reconstitution claim that, like the State of Israel, the old-new Sanhedrin is a work-in-progress. They see it as a vessel that, once established, will reach the stature and authority that it once had.
“The first members requested that their names not be published, so as to allow it to grow without public criticism of individuals,” HaLevi said. “We want to give it time to develop and strengthen the institution, giving a chance for more rabbis to join.” He added that each of the current members of the Sanhedrin has agreed to be a conditional member until a more knowledgeable rabbi joins, taking his place.
Rabbi Richman, also a member of the Sanhedrin, hopes the body will bring about a revolution in Jewish jurisprudence. Declining to discuss exactly what issues are on the Sanhedrin’s agenda, Richman said that one of the main long-term goals of the Sanhedrin is to reunify Jewish observance in Israel. The Sanhedrin includes members of Ashkenazi, Sefardi, Hasidic, National-Religious and Hareidi communities.
“We Jews went into exiles all over the world,” Rabbi HaLevi said. “Every community established its own court. We are talking about more than 50 different legal systems developing separately from one another. Part of our return to Israel is the reunification of our Jewish practices.”
A tradition is recorded in the Talmud (Tractate Megillah 17b, Rashi) that the Sanhedrin will be restored after a partial ingathering of the Jewish exiles, but before Jerusalem is completely rebuilt and restored. Another Talmudic tradition (Eruvin 43b; Maharatz Chajas ad loc; Rashash to Sanhedrin 13b) states that Elijah the Prophet will present himself before a duly-ordained Sanhedrin when he announces the coming of the Messiah. This indicates that despite common misconceptions, a Sanhedrin is a pre-, not post-messianic institution.
'Renew animal sacrifices on Mount' says radical rabbi
Member of Sanhedrin says sacrifices 'were not possible when the people of Israel were in the Diaspora, but now they are.' Adds: Jerusalem Temple should be rebuilt, Israeli government standing in our way
Published: March 1, 2007
Animal sacrifices should be renewed on the Temple Mount, a member of the radical Sanhedrin organization told Ynetnews.
In ancient Israel and Judea, the Sanhedrin served as the highest court in the land, and was made up of 71 top judges. Now, a group of fringe rabbis say they have reformed the group, although the organization has received no recognition from Israel's official religious authorities.
"In the Torah there are around 200 commandments dealing with animal sacrifices," said Rabbi Dov Stein, of the Sanhedrin organization. "The Torah of Israel demands animal sacrifices. When the people of Israel were in the Diaspora, it couldn’t be done. But now, there is the supreme institution, the Sanhedrin, made up of experts, and it can be done. The new Sanhedrin, like the old, will educate the people of Israel on how to keep and safeguard the Torah."
'Democracy was not invented today'
Stein vowed that "we will try to carry out animal sacrifices on the Temple Mount this Passover, as commanded by the Torah."
Asked if his organization sought to rebuild the third Temple, Stein's answer was unequivocal. "We want to establish the Temple again. Unfortunately, standing in our way is a hostile regime, the Israeli government, and rabbis who for political interest don't want this to happen."
Stein even suggested that Muslims would agree to the project, saying: "The Omar Mosque (the Dome of the Rock), built by Khalif Omar, was actually intended to safeguard the site for the Jews. Islam hasn't always been so hostile. Despite its hatred and massacres against us, Islam sees in Judaism a source and a guide. I think the moment will come that Muslims understand the need to build the Temple and go along with us."
Stein outlined his plan for Israel, calling for a king to be appointed democratically. "Democracy was not invented today, the king is elected from a list of candidates. A senior judge, as was done during the days of the judges, can also be appointed," he added.
However, such practices ended 2000 years ago, Rabbi Doniel Hartman was quoted by the Associated Press as saying.
"Around that time, animal sacrifice, as a mode of religious worship, stopped for Jews, Christians and Muslims," said the rabbi from the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, according to AP. "Moving back in that direction is not progress," he added.
According to mainstream Jewish thought, animal sacrifices must not be carried out outside of Temple, which itself cannot be rebuilt by human endeavor, but will be rebuilt upon the arrival of the messiah.
The Sanhedrin’s peace initiative
Jewish group devoted to rebuilding Temple in Jerusalem to send letters to all world leaders, including Arab ones, inviting them to take part in project, attend conference on Temple Mount in Israel
Published: 05.01.07, 20:48 / Israel Jewish Scene
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has been gearing up for an Israeli offensive in recent months, is bound to be surprised by the peace feelers he is set to receive from Jerusalem soon.
Without Saudi mediation or diplomatic procedures, the president will get a “Letter of Love and Peace”, accompanied by a historic invitation to visit Jerusalem, from The Supreme Judicial Court of the Jewish People, better known as the Sanhedrin. After having tried their luck with the High Court of Justice and the government, the members of the Jewish group have set out on a new track in their struggle for the Temple Mount, aimed at rebuilding the Temple in the Jewish capital.
In recent days, the group members have drafted a letter that will be translated into 70 languages and sent to all government institutions in the world, including “the sons of Esau and Ishmael” who do not hold diplomatic ties with Israel.
Jews responsible for world peace
In the letter, the rabbis of the self-proclaimed Sanhedrin warn that the world is nearing a catastrophe, and write that the only way to bring peace among nations, states, and religions is by building a house for God, where Jews will worship, pray and offer up sacrifice, according to the vision of the prophets.
The rabbis also call on the non-Jews to help the people of Israel fulfill their destiny and build the Temple, in order to prevent bloodshed across the globe.
The letter will initially be translated into English, Spanish, Arabic, French and Farsi, and later also into Russian, Chinese and Japanese, and will include an invitation to world leaders to attend a conference dedicated to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem five months from now, during Succot.
Prof Hillel Weiss of the Sanhedrin explained that the Torah and the prophets have tasked the Jewish people with the responsibility for world peace. He stressed that the group’s project was to rebuild the Temple, not a “church for all nations,” but added, “We have all descended from the same father, this is not another primitive and racist approach.”
Israeli Court Refers Case of Jailed Teen to Sanhedrin Court
Sunday, Mar. 16 '08/9 Adar Bet 5768
by Ezra HaLevi
Tzviya Sariel of Elon Moreh, who has been held in jail since December for refusing to recognize the authority of the secular court system, was allowed to testify before a Torah court set up by the nascent Sanhedrin Friday. The Sanhedrin Court for Matters of People and State ordered her immediate release.
The court, headed by Rabbi Yisrael Ariel, heard Sariel's testimony after a judge from Netanya's Magistrates Court ordered that she be allowed to attend the hearing on the limits of the youth's struggle against the Israeli judicial system. It is presumed that Netanya Magistrates Court Judge Smadar Kolander-Abramovitch hoped the Sanhedrin court would instruct Sariel to put and end to her struggle and recognize the civil courts.
The Court For Matters of People and State also heard testimony from the girl's mother, as well as Shmuel Medad of the Honenu legal assistance organization. The court concluded that Sariel's right to refuse to recognize Israel's current justice system is justified and ruled that the only limitation to the struggle is the ability of each individual to withstand the difficulties of prison. The court also ordered that Sariel be released immediately, without any limitations. "Every day and every hour that Tzvia Sariel spends behind bars is a wrongdoing to this girl," Rabbi Ariel ruled. "Justice demands to release her immediately. It is a serious stain on the judiciary system in Israel. According to the Torah law of Israel, we are demanding her immediate release without conditions and to erase the indictment."
The hearing was marked by uncertainty over legal procedure, according to IsraelJustice.com . "Attorneys did not understand what role was given to the rabbinical court in a criminal case and whether the rabbis were granted any authority over the civil court judge who approved the procedure. Usually, Rabbinical courts are only authorized to hear cases that concern marriage and divorce. "There is a question of authorities," Honenu's Meidad explained. Sariel was arrested in December and has been held for three months for allegedly pushing an Arab who entered her town to pick olives. Judges decided to keep her in prison without formal charges after she refused to cooperate with the secular justice system. Sariel, 18, remains in prison even after two Arab men, witnesses called by the prosecution, testified that she was not involved in the alleged physical assault.
Jabber Mahmoud Hussein, called to the stand by the Prosecution, said: "I managed to come to court twice, despite the fact that the accused didn't hit me or do anything bad to us at all...we are prepared to close this case because all we want is to harvest olives in peace."
Precedent: State of Israel Recognizes Sanhedrin
The Sanhedrin court called for the establishment of a committee to act as bridge between the state's law and Torah law, in light of the legal precedent set by the Israeli court's recognition of the court and its findings.
"It is no coincidence that the hearing took place on the anniversary of the passing of Moses our teacher, the father of Hebrew law, and close to the days of Purim, when it is said that the Jews reaccepted and affirmed their commitment to the law of the Torah," a statement from the court said. After the verdict was read, the court's rabbis, wrapped in prayer shawls, stood and recited the special prayers accepting the justice of the Almighty, according to IsraelJustice.com: "Everyone in the courtroom followed in a loud chant to say the words, 'Hear O' Israel, the L-rd is our G-d, the L-rd is One,' despite an attempt by prison guards to prevent supporters, including Ruth Sariel, Tzvia's mother, from entering the hearing."
Following the hearing, the officials present from the Prisons Authority affirmed their commitment to carry out the verdict of the Sanhedrin court. Prisons' Authority warden Hila Furis reportedly told those present: "The Prisons' Authority recognizes the authority of the [Sanhedrin] court and will act to implement the verdict." They removed Sariel's leg restraints and claimed she was being brought to the Ramle Magistrates court, where she would be released before the Sabbath.
Sariel was returned to Neve Tirza Prison, however, where she spent the Sabbath. Her parents say she has been placed in solitary confinement. Rabbi Ariel said the court would continue to follow the case and work for Sariel's release, in accordance with the directives of the Netanya court.
The nascent Sanhedrin, headed by Rabbi Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz, was established in 2004, with the renewal of Semikha (ordination) in order to create the infrastructure necessary to fulfill the Torah obligation of reestablishing the supreme Jewish legal body of 71 Torah scholars. The Court for People and State has been one of the most active projects of the nascent Sanhedrin.
The Sanhedrin court is not, as of yet, universally accepted, even among the many streams of observant Judaism. Those now participating are committed to stepping aside when greater or more prominent scholars take their seats.