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Home -- Content: Series 7 (Laws) -- Translation: English -- Book: 1 (Tora) -- Part: 1 (Positive) -- Command: 174 -- Text
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The Sharia of Moses in the TORA
Part 1 - The 248 Positive Commandments of the Tora

174 - OBEYING THE GREAT COURT


Deuteronomy 17:11 -- “According to the sentence of the law in which they instruct you, according to the judgment which they tell you, you shall do; you shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left from the sentence which they pronounce upon you.”

According to the Mishnah: “three courts of law were there (in Jerusalem): one used to sit at the gate of the Temple Mount, another at the gate of the Temple Court, and the third in the Chamber of Hewn Stone. They used to come first to the court that was at the gate of the Temple Mount, and the one party would say, ‘In this way have I expounded and in that way have my fellows expounded; in this way have I taught and in that way have my fellows taught.’ If (this first court) had heard a ruling on the matter, they told it to them; otherwise they betook themselves to the court that was at the gate of the Temple Court, and the one would say, etc. If the court had heard a ruling on the matter, they told it to them; otherwise they both came in to the Great Court in the Chamber of Hewn Stone, whence the Law goes forth to all Israel, as it is written, in that place which the LORD chooses. (Deuteronomy 17:10)*

* Sanh. 86b

Maimonides says: “The Great Court of Jerusalem (i.e. the Great Sanhedrin which presided in the Chamber of Hewn Stone in the Sanctuary Court) constitutes the chief (authority) of the Oral Law. They are the pillars of law, and from them statutes and ordinances go forth to all Israel. It was to them that the Torah had reference when it said, According to the sentence of the law in which they instruct you… you shall do (Deuteronomy 17:11), which is one of the positive commandments. He who has faith in Moses our Teacher and in his Torah, is under obligation to base all conduct in the sphere of religious law upon the (Great Sanhedrin) and to show trust in them.”

“… Whether (the decision of the Great Court) involve matters which they learned from Tradition, namely the Oral Law, or (whether it involve) matters which they arrived at of their own accord by any of the ways in which the Torah is expounded, it being apparent to them that such should be (the sense of the Law); or whether (the decision) be intended as a fence around the Torah in accordance with some exigency, namely, as decrees, ordinances, and usages – in respect of each of these three types of decision to obey them is (to fulfill) a positive commandment, and anyone who disregards them transgresses a negative commandment.”

“When Scripture declares (with reference to the Great Court), According to the sentence of the law in which they instruct you, it means the ordinances, decrees, and usages, in the observance of which they instruct the multitude with a view to strengthening the faith and as a precaution for the general good; when Scripture further declares, according to the judgment which they tell you, (Deuteronomy 17:11) it means the decisions which they arrive at by logical deductions by any of the ways in which the Torah is expounded; and when Scripture says, You shall do according to the sentence which they pronounce upon you (Deuteronomy 17:10), it means the Tradition which they have received by word of mouth from generation to generation.”

“Matters of Tradition can never admit of any division of opinion (among the sages); and wherever you find a division of opinion (among them) it becomes apparent that (the subject of the disputation) is not a Tradition handed down from Moses our Teacher. In respect of decisions which they arrived at by logical deduction, (the procedure was as follows): where all (the judges of) the Great Court were in agreement, the decision was unanimous; where there was a division of opinion among them, they had to follow the majority, and render decision accordingly. Likewise (in matters affecting) decrees, ordinances, and usages, if a number of (the judges) thought it right to authorize a decree, or to institute an ordinance, or to permit the maintenance of a practice, while others did not think it right to authorize the decree, or to institute the ordinance, or to permit the practice, the two sides discussed and debated the issues, and afterwards adopted the position of the greater number, and proclaimed a decision according to the opinion of the majority.”*

* Mishneh Torah, Shoftim, Hilchoth Mamrim I, 1- 3

Another of the chief functions of the Great Sanhedrin was to pass judgment on the descent, qualifications, and physical fitness of the priests who were to minister in the sanctuary.*

* Mid. V, 4; Mishneh Torah, Abodah, Hilchoth Biath Ha-Mikdash VI, 2

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