When is Life Forfeited?
The Eight Chapter of Tractate Sanhedrin
Four primary subjects are dealt with in the eight chapter of Tractate Sanhedrin. We will study them not in the order in which they appear. During the first semester we will focus on ‘rodef / the pursuer principle’ – when does a crime in the process create a situation in which a private citizen is to take the law into his or her own hands and kill the criminal? Following that we will delve into ‘yeharag v’al ya’avor / be killed and do not transgress’ – if one is coerced to violate the Torah under threat of death, under what circumstances is one permitted to transgress and when must one lay down his or her life?
The second semester will begin with study of ‘ben sorer umoreh / the rebellious child’ – are there any disobedient, anti social behaviors that define a minor child as incorrigible and thereby liable to the death penalty? Lastly will come the matter of ‘ba b’machteret / the thief who comes in stealth’ – under what circumstances may a homeowner stand his or her ground and use lethal force against an intruder?
The two-hour Zoom sessions will be divided between hevruta study of the texts on the one hand, and on the other hand, frontal presentation and class discussion. The frontal presentations will deal both with the skills of critical textual analysis and with the philosophical and theological issues suggested by the texts. Effort will be made to find additional Zoom time for personal connection between the students and the instructor.
Note – the first three classes of the year – which will take place before the High Holidays – will study matters relating to Yom Kipur found in the last chapter of Tractate Yoma.