Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Suicide by beit din


"We are biblically instructed that a court may neither execute nor lash a person on the basis of his own admission, without the word of two witnesses... for perhaps the person is not sane in this matter. He may be of those who struggle, with bitter spirit, who wait to die, who stab swords into their bellies and throw themselves from rooves. Perhaps this person will come and say he did something which he did not do, so that he will be killed. In general: This policy is a decree of the King."

גזירת הכתוב היא שאין ממיתין בית דין ולא מלקין את האדם בהודאת פיו אלא על פי שנים עדים... שמא נטרפה דעתו בדבר זה, שמא מן העמלין מרי נפש הוא המחכים למות שתוקעין החרבות בבטנם ומשליכין עצמן מעל הגגות שמא כך זה יבא ויאמר דבר שלא עשה כדי שיהרג וכללו של דבר גזירת מלך היא. 

(Rambam, Mishneh Torah Hilchot Sanhedrin 18:6)

Have a good day,


  1. I see my last attempt to comment didn't make it.

    I am not intending to argue with the Rambam, but I believe this halakhah is more than an incomprehensible gezeiras haMelekh in a second way.

    For someone to be killed in beis din, they have to acknowledge that they're about to sin, acknowledge the potential punishment, even acknowledge the existence of witnesses who say they're willing to go to court.

    By the time someone could be executed by beis din for violating Shabbos (as an example) you are really only killing people who believe so deeply in Shabbos violation that they're willing to be martyrs for the cause. There is more problem in the level of rebelliousness than in the original sin!

    None of which would be true without the witnesses and their obligation to forewarn the sinner.

    (And in the case of a murderer or another danger to society, beis din has the power to jail, use corporeal punishment or execute to keep the public safe. As do Noachide courts. So we're really only talking about halachically mandated punishments, not all punishments. A murderer could be executed on the basis of evidence if beis din rules the death penalty is needed to prevent the proliferation of murderers.)

  2. R' Micha-
    It's an interesting thought, but I think Rambam is talking about someone who admits that he committed a crime with a proper warning. Otherwise, the question of why we reject his testimony would not begin.

    1. RMT,

      I can't picture your case. If he was warned, then we have two witnesses. Our using or not using his own testimony wouldn't impact the outcome, since we would already have sufficient testimony to convict him either way.


    2. R' Micha-
      We don't have the warner(s) in front of us; we only have his word on it.
      For a similar set-up, see Makkos 7a.