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When speaking to Jews and Noahides about Jewish Noahide Law and the American law which endorses them, Public Law 102-14 (here), you will often find they have a dense maze of arguments and counter-arguments against the very objection to having Jewish supremacist laws in the United States. They use slippery logic and vague “history” to try to dissuade your concerns about Jewish Noahide Law, but the goal is always the same, to prevent criticism of Public Law 102-14. No topic related to Noahide Law is more of an open target for our opponents than the issue of the Sanhedrin (supreme Jewish court). According to the Babylonian Talmud, it is the Israeli Great Sanhedrin which has jurisdiction over non-Jews and the power to determine where they live or die, though non-Jews are instructed to operate their own Noahide courts to carry out executions themselves, these orders enforced by converted Noahides (here) and now it would also seem the sword of Islam (here), the wealth of the Vatican (here) and the secrecy of Freemasonry (here).
The Great Sanhedrin argument is the focus of counter-measures by Noahide apologists because it speaks to our logic that one would need the supreme Jewish court in order to make the Noahide system work, the reality, however, is that this is not the case. We have already discussed how claims that a Sanhedrin is needed to enact Jewish Noahide Law is false and that regardless the Israeli government has made it its prerogative to act as the Sanhedrin when needed (here). Even though no Great Sanhedrin is needed, many Jews and Noahides will argue “the Sanhedrin never killed anyone”. This argument is often followed by learned Jews and Noahides with the following quote from the Babylonian Talmud :
The Sanhedrin that executes one person in seven years is called “murderous.” Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah says that this extends to one execution in seventy years. Rabbi Tarfon and Rabbi Akiva say, “If we had been among the Sanhedrin, no one would ever have been executed.” Rabbi Simon ben Gamliel responds, “Such an attitude would increase bloodshed in Israel.” – Babylonian Talmud, Makkoth 7a
The implication here is that the Sanhedrin disapproved of executions, and some persons even go so far as to say that the Sanhedrin never executed anyone. But this statement is more speculative and less factual; it is really nothing but a ploy to dull the senses of aware non-Jews and chide them into submission, dampening their fervor to repeal Public Law 102-14; and the statement that the Sanhedrin never killed anyone is just plain false, the Sanhedrin did execute people. When analyzed in full the quote above shows the Rabbis were not disapproving of execution in general but only in cases where there could have been the possibility of false memory on the part of old witnesses and judges. Additionally, for the vast majority of its history, the Great Sanhedrin was dominated by foreign rulers and were forbade from practicing independently which would have severely limited the number of executions possible, this is not the case with modern Israel.
THE SANHEDRIN DID EXECUTE PERSONS
The statement that you will often hear “the Sanhedrin never executed anyone” is a lie. According to the Jewish Virtual Library, while it is likely that much of the Sanhedrin’s discussion on execution was “theoretical”, there were at least four instances where execution did occur and at least two others where conflicting testimonies about executions were given by the Rabbis. While it is stated that perhaps two of these verified executions were “extrajudicial”, we are still left with at least 2 verified executions by the Sanhedrin. The Talmud does not state whether or not other executions took place or how often, but just because the Talmud did not record them does not mean they didn't happen; the statement “The Sanhedrin Never Executed Anyone” is not true.
It is of extreme difficulty to determine whether the modes of capital punishment given above, and based on the detailed discussion, mainly in the tractate Sanhedrin, reflect actual practice, or whether they were academic discussions, as, for instance, are the detailed discussions on the sacrifices. Thus the law of the “stubborn and rebellious son” covers five mishnayot (Sanh. 8:1–5) and four folios of the Babylonian Talmud (68b–72a), and it is laid down that he is put to death by stoning and then hanged (ibid., 46a). Yet it is stated that “It never happened and it never will happen” and that the law was given merely “that you may study it and receive reward” (for the pure study; Tosef., Sanh. 11:6; Sanh. 71a), though on the other hand in the talmudic passage R. Jonathan protests “I saw him and sat on his grave.” The same statement is made in the case of the death penalty for communal apostasy (Tosef., Sanh. 14:1) and the same reason given for its study…
…All that one can do is to assemble the available evidence. That the Sanhedrin had the power of inflicting the death sentence and that they exercised it is historically attested. Herod was arraigned before it on a capital charge, although he was enabled to escape and avoid the penalty (Jos., Ant., 14:168–70). Judah b. Tabbai admitted that he had wrongly sentenced a perjured witness to death (TJ, Sanh. 6:4, 23a–Tosef., Sanh. 6:6). The son of his colleague, Simeon b. Shetaḥ, was also wrongly condemned to death through false witness, and when the witnesses confessed their perjury the condemned man refused to take advantage of it lest his father, the head of the Sanhedrin, be accused of favoritism, and he went to his death, though innocent (TJ, loc. cit.). It is also clear from an incident vividly described by Simeon b. Shetaḥ that the laws of evidence were strictly adhered to (Tosef., Sanh. 8:3). One anonymous case is cited in the same context. “It happened that a man was being led to his execution. They said to him, ‘Say, “May my death be an atonement for all my sins.'” He replied ‘May my death be an atonement for all my sins, except for this one (for which I have been sentenced to death). If I am guilty of it, may my death not be an atonement, and the Bet Din and all Israel shall be guiltless'” (the version in the Babylonian Talmud adds “but may the witnesses never be forgiven””). When the matter was reported to the sages, their eyes filled with tears, but they said, “It is impossible to reverse the decision, since the matter is endless; [he must be executed] but his blood is on the necks of the witnesses” (TJ Sanh. 6:5, 23a). Nevertheless, in none of those cases is the manner of execution given and the remarkable fact emerges that in the two cases cited where the mode of execution is explicitly stated the verdicts were extra-judicial. One was the action of Simeon b. Shetaḥ in sentencing 80 women in Ashkelon to hanging for witchcraft (Sanh. 6:4, cf. Sanh. 46a. Derembourg suggests that Simeon b. Shetaḥ is a mistake for the Hasmonean), while of the other it is stated: “It once happened that during the Greek period a man was sentenced to death by stoning for riding a horse on the Sabbath. Not that he was liable to death, but because the special circumstances of the time demanded it” (Sanh. 46a).
– Capital Punishment, Jewish Virtual Library, Retrieved From https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/capital-punishment
THE OLD SANHEDRIN EXISTED ALMOST ENTIRELY UNDER FOREIGN RULE AND WAS NOT INDEPENDENT
Another important fact to take into consideration is that if the Great Sanhedrin did only speak about executions in a “theoretical” manner and only a few were carried out, this could have been because for most of the Sanhedrin’s history it was under foreign rule (Greece and Rome) and even had its power to inflict capital punishment removed by the Romans, the only reason to remove the Sanhedrin's power to inflict capital punishment would be because the Great Sanhedrin was executing people. The reviving Sanhedrin in Israel today and the Israeli Chief Rabbinate are not under foreign rule as it was in ancient days.
The earliest record of a Sanhedrin is by Josephus who wrote of a political Sanhedrin convened by the Romans in 57 B.C.E. Hellenistic sources generally depict the Sanhedrin as a political and judicial council headed by the country’s ruler….In about 30 C.E., the Great Sanhedrin lost its authority to inflict capital punishment.
– Sanhedrin, Jewish Virtual Library, Retrieved From https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/the-sanhedrin
the right of imposing capital punishment having been taken from the Sanhedrin by the Romans a century before, “40 years before the Destruction of the Temple” (Sanh. 41a; TJ, Sanh. 1:18a).
– Capital Punishment, Jewish Virtual Library, Retrieved From https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/capital-punishment
SLIPPERY TALMUDIC LOGIC
“The Sanhedrin that executes one person in seven years is called “murderous.” Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah says that this extends to one execution in seventy years. Rabbi Tarfon and Rabbi Akiva say, “If we had been among the Sanhedrin, no one would ever have been executed.” Rabbi Simon ben Gamliel responds, “Such an attitude would increase bloodshed in Israel.” – Babylonian Talmud, Makkoth 7a
The above Talmudic quote is often thrown at those who oppose Public Law 102-14 to silence them, as if the above mentioned is a good reason to leave a law that commands the death of non-Jews in the American legal system in the first place. However, the logic used by Jewish Noahide Law supporters here is deceptive. It was actually used upon our own Supreme Court by the Jewish Legal organizations IAJLJ and COPLA to have them consider the Talmudic form of execution required under Noahide Law, decapitation (here).
The Mishna2 in the tractate Makkoth (7a) declared:
The Sanhedrin that executes one person in seven years is called “murderous.” Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah says that this extends to one execution in seventy years. Rabbi Tarfon and Rabbi Akiva say, “If we had been among the Sanhedrin, no one would ever have been executed.” Rabbi Simon ben Gamliel responds, “Such an attitude would increase bloodshed in Israel.”
This exchange among rabbis living in the first and second centuries reflects differences over the deterrent value of capital punishment that continue among legal scholars to this day. Some rabbis of the Mishnaic period (such as Rabbis Tarfon and Akiva) were unwilling to participate in a process that would take human life, while other rabbis (like Rabbi Simon ben Gamliel) believed that capital punishment had a deterrent effect that permitted it to be employed.
- -BRYAN V. MOORE, COLPA & IAJLJ Briefing
However, when read in full, the Talmudic text shows that the Rabbis are not condemning the death penalty but are debating on whether or not slack execution laws in terms of witnesses would increase bloodshed in Israel by increasing the number of murderers. The statement is not a statement against the death penalty but a question as to where the death penalty would increase or decrease murders in Israeli society. When the text is put in context, we see that in this instance the Rabbis are speaking about a very special case whereby a criminal has been convicted, flees the land, and is then returned to the Sanhedrin (Jewish Court) for trial once again, but this time the original witnesses to the crime are no longer available. In this case, two witnesses to the trial must state that the criminal was tried and they must say who the original witnesses were. One Rabbi states that such a judicial procedure done every seven or even every seventy years would make the Sanhedrin “murderous”… yet the text shows the Rabbis are confused by this statement and don’t know whether or not this is meant to be a condemnation or a simple statement of fact. The Rabbis then discuss a way to test whether the two witnesses to the trial (not the original witnesses to the crime) are sound; they simply pose questions about the trial to the two witnesses, if they are unable to answer simple questions to prove they witnessed the trial it is recommended the person is not put to death. This is a very special case being discussed here, it is not a general rule or morality which the Sanhedrin is applying'
(Babylonian Talmud, Makkoth 7a)
MISHNAH. IF ONE FLED AFTER HAVING BEEN CONVICTED AT A COURT AND AGAIN COMES UP BEFORE THE SAME COURT, THE [FIRST] JUDGMENT IS NOT SET ASIDE. WHEREVER TWO WITNESSES STAND UP AND DECLARE, ‘WE TESTIFY THAT N. N. WAS TRIED AND CONVICTED AT THE COURT OF X AND THAT Y AND Z WERE THE WITNESSES IN THE CASE,’ THE ACCUSED IS EXECUTED. A SANHEDRIN HAS JURISDICTION WITHIN THE LAND [OF PALESTINE] AND OUTSIDE IT. A SANHEDRIN THAT EFFECTS AN EXECUTION ONCE IN SEVEN YEARS, IS BRANDED A DESTRUCTIVE TRIBUNAL; R. ELIEZER B. AZARIAH SAYS: ONCE IN SEVENTY YEARS. R. TARFON AND R. AKIBA SAY: WERE WE MEMBERS OF A SANHEDRIN, NO PERSON WOULD EVER BE PUT TO DEATH. [THEREUPON] RABBAN SIMEON B. GAMALIEL REMARKED, [YEA] AND THEY WOULD ALSO MULTIPLY SHEDDERS OF BLOOD IN ISRAEL!
GEMARA. … A SANHEDRIN THAT EFFECTS AN EXECUTION ONCE IN SEVEN YEARS IS BRANDED A DESTRUCTIVE TRIBUNAL; R. ELIEZER B. AZARIAH SAYS, ONCE IN SEVENTY YEARS. The question was raised whether the comment [of R. Eleizer b. Azariah was a censure, namely] that even one death-sentence in seventy years branded the Sanhedrin as a destructive tribunal, or [a mere observation] that it ordinarily happened but once in seventy years? — it stands [undecided].
GEMARA. [IF ONE FLED . . . AND AGAIN COMES UP BEFORE THE SAME COURT . . .] This wording implies [that the first judgment] is not to be set aside in the same Court, but may be setaside In another Court, whereas in the next clause we read: WHEREVER TWO WITNESSES STAND UP AND DECLARE, ‘WE TESTIFY THAT THIS MAN WAS TRIED ANDCONVICTED AT THE COURT OF X AND THAT Y AND Z WERE THE WITNESSES IN THECASE’ THE ACCUSED IS EXECUTED [which conveys a contrary impression]! — Said Abaye:That presents no difficulty; [there are two domains in regard to Court decisions], one has reference to a Palestinian Court, the other to an extra-Palestinian Court, as it is taught: R. Judah b. Dosithai says [in the name of R. Simeon b. Shetah] that if a fugitive from Palestine went abroad, his sentence is not set aside; from abroad to Palestine, his sentence is set aside, on account of Palestine’s prerogative.6
A SANHEDRIN HAS JURISDICTION WITHIN THE LAND . . . AND OUTSIDE IT.
What [Scriptural] authority is there for this? — Our Rabbis taught: [From the text,] And these things shall be for a statute of judgment unto you throughout your generations in all your dwellings,7 we learn that a Sanhedrin has jurisdiction both in and outside Palestine. If that be so, what is the import of [the limitation in] the text, Judges and officers shalt thou make thee in all thy gates which the Lord thy God giveth thee tribe by tribe?8 — [It means that] in your [own] gates you set up tribunals in every district as well as in every city, whereas outside the Land [of Palestine], you set up tribunals only in every district but not in every city.9
A SANHEDRIN THAT EFFECTS AN EXECUTION ONCE IN SEVEN YEARS IS BRANDED A DESTRUCTIVE TRIBUNAL; R. ELIEZER B. AZARIAH SAYS, ONCE IN SEVENTY YEARS.
The question was raised whether the comment [of R. Eliezer b. Azariah was a censure, namely] that even one death-sentence in seventy years branded the Sanhedrin as a destructive tribunal, or [a mere observation] that it ordinarily happened but once in seventy years? — It stands [undecided].
TARFON AND R. AKIBA SAY, WERE WE MEMBERS OF A SANHEDRIN, NO PERSON WOULD EVER BE PUT TO DEATH.
How could they [being judges] give effect to that [policy]? Both R. Johanan and R. Eleazar suggested that the witnesses might be plied with [intimate] questions such as, ‘Did you take note whether the victim was [perchance] suffering from some fatal affection or was he perfectly healthy?’ R. Ashi [enlarging on this] said: And should the reply be, ‘Perfectly healthy’, they might further be embarrassed by asking, ‘Maybe the sword only severed an internal lesion?’10
And what would be asked, say, in a charge of incest? — Both Abaye and Raba suggested asking the witnesses whether they had seen the offenders as intimate as ‘kohl-flask and probe’?11
Now [with regard to] the Rabbis,12 what kind of evidence [in such a charge] would they deem sufficient to convict? — According to Samuel’s maxim; for Samuel said that being caught in the attitude of the unchaste is sufficient evidence.
(6) Cf. Tosef. Sanh III, 11, ‘R. Dosithai b. Judah (J. Mak. I has ‘R.D.b. Jannai) says that fugitives who had been convicted to death, having fled from Palestine abroad, are put to death forthwith; and those who fled to Palestine from abroad are not put to death (forthwith), but are sent to trial as in the first instance.’ ‘Dos, b. Judah’ seems the better reading; also the bracketed part is missing in many good MSS.
(7) Num. XXXV, 29 (in reference to manslaying). The wording makes the provision operative everywhere and always.
(8) Deut. XVI, 18, i.e. in Palestine only, after the distribution and occupation of the land by all the tribes.
(9) No city was entitled to a Sanhedrin of twenty-three judges unless it had at least 120 residents (another view 230), cf. Sanh. 17b.
(10) The juridical point involved in asking such intimate questions is this: that if the witnesses could not be absolutely certain on any material point in the evidence, they could not be expected to take a lead in the actual execution of the offender, as required by law. (Deut. XVII, 6-7.) Thus capital punishment fails.
(11) A euphemism for carnal intimacy.
(12) I.e., those others who do not share the views of R. Tarfon and R. Akiba in regard to capital punishment.
(13) I.e., accidentally, without premeditation.
(14) Eastern roofs are flat; they are plastered to make them water-tight and give them the necessary slope. The levelling is done by a log (or smooth flat stone) to which a long handle attached, by which it is pushed backwards and forwards. Cf. M. K. 11a and Vergil, Georgics, I, 178, area cum primis ingenti aequanda cylindro.
Whether or not the Sanhedrin ever killed anyone is not the point, the point is that Jewish supremacist laws should not be part of the American federal legal system. However, the statement that “the Sanhedrin never executed anyone” is blatantly false, and so is the idea that the Sanhedrin was opposed to executions in general. We must also take into account that the old Sanhedrin was often under foreign rule and even had its right to inflict capital punishment removed, this is not the case however with the Sanhedrin revival movement or the Chief Rabbinate in Israel today. This sort of logic used by Jews, Noahides, and their supporters is disingenuous and really nothing more than a maneuver to distract us away from the bigger question of why Jewish Noahide Law has been endorsed by the USA in the first place and how to repeal Public Law 102-14.