Mourning the Executed

Sanhedrin (6:6) | Yisrael Bankier | 5 months ago

This week's Mishnayot were focused in the different types of capital punishment, with sekila (stoning) dominating much of the focus. At the end of the discussion of the trial and execution, the Mishnah (6:6) teaches that the regular, public morning practices (aveilut) would not be observed by the family of the executed. Inward grieving (aninut) would not however be prohibited. We shall try to understand this law.

The Bartenura provides two different explanations why aveilut was not observed. The first is that the lack of mourning would be degrading to the deceased, and thereby afford him an atonement (kapara). The second answer however is that ordinarily aveilut begins once the deceased is buried. For this individual, his kapara is not achieved until the body decomposes, which is much later. Consequently, the aveilut is pushed off, and therefore delayed indefinitely.

The Tosfot Yom Tov explains that according to this second explanation, it is not that the absence of mourning achieved a kapara, but rather it is inappropriate to this person prior to kapara. This is because the loss of a rasha is to be associated with joy (rina) rather than mourning (Mishlei 11:10). The Tifferet Yisrael however adds that while it is true that mourning is not observed for this reason, one nevertheless does not celebrate his death, since we learn the Hashem does not rejoice at the downfall of reshaim (Megilah 10b). The Tosfot Yom Tov notes that the first explanation is the Rashi's while the second is the Rambam's

The Iyun Yaakov explains that Rashi preferred his explanation because the death of one executed by Beit Din is different to the regular loss of a rasha, because the guilty party performs vidui, confession, prior to execution. Even though full atonement is not achieved until the body decomposes, his performing vidui means that he is no longer defined as a rasha such that mourning his loss would conflict with the above verse from Mishlei.

In short, we find two different approaches to understanding the Mishnah. According to Rashi, refraining from aveilut in this case is beneficial to the deceased as it assists in achieving an atonement. According to the Rambam, aveilut is forbidden until kapara is achieved as he is still defined as a rasha.

The Yad Rama (46b) explains that the end of the Mishnah that nonetheless permits aninut can be understood according to both explanations. According to the first, aninut is permitted since it is not an outward show of respect. In other words, refraining from aninut would not contribute to achieving a kapara and is therefore permitted. According to the second approach, the Yad Rama suggest two explanations. Either that since aninut is something internal, it is not perceived as conflicting "the loss of reshaim is joy" and therefore permitted. The Yad Rama however also suggests that perhaps since aninut is expressed solely in one's heart – it is emotional – it would be too difficult for one who lost a relative to supress.

Interestingly, the Iyun Yaakov raises a difficulty on the Rambam. If the executed individual is indeed still defined as a rasha then even aninut should be prohibited. The Rambam rules (Avel 1:10) that the death of one that separates himself from the people (poresh mi'darkei tzibur) is marked as a happy event with people wearing white clothing. Perhaps one can suggest an answer based on the Iyun Yaakov's own explanation above. This case is different to one that is poresh mi'darkei tzibur since the individual performs vidui prior to kapara. As the Iyun Yaakov explained, according to Rashi, that is enough for him to no longer to be defined as a rasha. Perhaps according to the Rambam, even though the passuk from Mishlei still applies, aninut is still permitted and we do not rejoice, since his kapara will ultimately be achieved.

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