Animals on Trial

Sanhedrin (1:4) | Yisrael Bankier | 10 years ago

This week we began a new masechetSanhedrin. The Tosfot (2b) explains that having just learnt the dinimcovered by the three “Bava”s, we start to learn how they a judged or more specifically, how many judges are required to rule on the different sections of law. The first perek covers a very broad range of laws and specifies for each one whether a Beit Din of three, twenty-three or seventy-one judges are required. The fourth Mishnah mentions that twenty-three judges are required to rule on capital offences.

We learn that even the sentencing of an animal can require a Beit Din of twenty-three. One such case is an ox that kills a person and will be sentenced to skila. The Mishanh learns this from the pasuk that teaches that “…the ox is stoned and the owners shall also die.” In truth the owner is not sentenced to death for the offence of his ox. The pasuk however teaches that the sentencing of the ox is the same fashion as if the owner was sentenced.

The Mishnah then continues with a debate regarding a list of wild animals – wolf, lion, bear etc. The Tana Kama maintains that a Beit Din of twenty-three are required. R’ Eliezer however says, “kol ha’kodem la’horgan zacha” – who ever kills the animal first merits; in other words a Beit Dinis not required.

A debate ensues in the Gemara (15b) regarding the opinion of R’ Eliezer. Reish Lakish understands that the discussion in the Mishnah is only regarding a case where these animals have killed someone. R’ Yochanan however understands that this case is even if they have not killed anyone.

The Gemara understands that according to Reish Lakish, these animals can be domesticated whereas R’ Yochanan disagrees. Rashi explains that if they can, then one is allowed to raise them since they can be trained not to cause damage. Consequently, they are considered owned and not hefker. If however they kill someone, it proves that they could not be tamed and R’ Eliezer understands that the involvement of Beit Din is not necessary. R’ Yochanan however maintains that R’ Eliezer understands that these animals can never be tamed and even if they have not killed, anyone can kill them.

Returning to Reish Lakish’s understanding of R’ Eliezer. Recall that Rashi explains that if they killed, it is evidence that the animal could not be tamed. The Yad Rama however disagrees with this explanation since we find that R’ Eliezer also rules accordingly in cases involving horses, donkeys and other animals that can be domesticated. R’ Eliezer position is based on the pasuk “you shall remove evil from your midst” – the animal is a danger and it should be prevented from causing damage. According to R’ Eliezerthe case of the ox as specified by the Torah is an exception. The debate between R’ Eliezer and the Tana Kama is therefore whether we learn from the ox (much like in Shabbat) to other animals as well.


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