Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Tuesday's Thoughts on the Daf - Sanhedrin 88

Sanhedrin 88 contains numerous references to the halachic judicial system which I would like to briefly explore in this post.

On Sanhedrin 88b, the gemara quotes a Beraisa in which R' Yosi discusses the original structure of the process by which a complex question of law would be decided. R' Yosi explains that at first the question would be asked to a local court. If they did not know the answer they would go to a neighboring court and ask their opinion of the question. If the neighboring court did not know, they would then take the question to the beis din which sat at the entry to the Temple Mount. If they knew the answer they would give it, otherwise they would go to ask the beis din sitting at the entry to the azarah. If this beis din did not know the question they would go to the sanhedrin sitting in the chamber of hewn stone. If they had heard the answer they would give the answer. Otherwise they would poll the judges of the sanhedrin and give the answer.

The above system is very similar to the system utilized in American jurisprudence. When an issue of law is presented to a trial court it will attempt to resolve it by applying existing precedent to the facts of the case. If a party feels aggrieved he will take the case up to the first level of appellate court. At this point he will argue that precedent does not support the decision. The loser at the appellate level can then go to the highest level of appeals and argue that the precedent was misapplied or (in a constitutional challenge) that the Constitution does not support the application made by the lower court.

Another point on the daf which struck my fancy (especially in light of the news that Elena Kagan had been nominated to fill the seat soon to be vacated by Justice Stevens) was how judges were chosen. The above beraisa notes that the Sanhedrin established qualifications for trial level judges. The candidate must be wise and humble and the people of the city must like him on a personal level. Once this judge has been appointed and sat on the local level, he is eligible to be selected to take a seat on the court sitting at the entrance of the temple mount upon the death of one of those judges. From there he can be elevated to the azarah and finally to the chamber of hewn stone.

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