Judiciary duties

Maimonides talks about the mitzvah that bet din hagadol -known as the sanhedrin- have kohanim and levi’im among it’s members;

מצוה להיות בסנהדרין גדולה כהנים ולויים שנאמר ובאת אל הכהנים הלוים. ואם לא
מצאו אפילו היו כולם ישראלים הרי זה מותר

It is a mitzvah that the great sanhedrin have kohanim and leviim (members) as it is said “and you should come to the kohanim, the levi’im”.  And if they didn’t find, even if they where all Yisroelim -this is permitted.

The commentaries to the rambam list the source for this mitzvah in פרשת שופטים;

כִּי יִפָּלֵא מִמְּךָ דָבָר לַמִּשְׁפָּט בֵּין דָּם לְדָם בֵּין דִּין לְדִין וּבֵין נֶגַע לָנֶגַע דִּבְרֵי רִיבת בִּשְׁעָרֶיךָ וְקַמְתָּ וְעָלִיתָ אֶל הַמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר יִבְחַר ה’ אֱלהֶיךָ בּוֹ.  וּבָאתָ אֶל הַכֹּהֲנִים הַלְוִיִּם וְאֶל הַשֹּׁפֵט אֲשֶׁר יִהְיֶה בַּיָּמִים הָהֵם וְדָרַשְׁתָּ וְהִגִּידוּ לְךָ אֵת דְּבַר הַמִּשְׁפָּט

If it becomes wondrous to you, something in judgement, between blood and blood, between verdict and verdict, and between wound and wound, cases of argument in your gates. And you will/should stand and go up to the place wherein hashem your g-d will choose. And you will/should come to the kohanim, the levi’ím and to the judge who will be in those days and you should seek and they will tell you the (proper judgement)

The sifri there explains; מצות בית דין שיהיו בו כהנים ולוים -“it is a commandant to/regarding bet din that it contain kohanim and levi’im”.  Medrash Tannaim quotes the explains the mitzvah as כל סנהדרין שהיא משולשת הרי זו משובחת -“every sanhedrin that is composed of all three (kohanim, levi’im and yisroelim) is praiseworthy”.  Thus, when choosing members of the bet din hagadol, the bet din that decides halacha for the nation of Israel, it is a mitzvah לכתחילה to appoint kohanim and levi’im.  Too, the yisroelim appointed must be “meyuchasim” -verified in their lineage as bnei yisroel to qualify as members of bet din hagadol.

Kohanim levi’im, or kohanim and leviim?

Based on the posuk reading ובאת אל הכהנים הלוים (where the text does not read אל הכהנים והלוים), rashi and targum yonathan imply that the mitzvah is for bet din hagadol to have kohanim (who are a part of shevet levi) in the sanhedrin -“הכהנים הלוים” the kohanim the levi’im.  This changes the mitzvah significantly as only kohanim are part of the mitzvah1)2.  This diyyuk creates a disagreement between the sifri and rambam who both write that the mitzvah includes kohanim and levi’im, whereas targum yonathan and rashi agree that the mitzvah includes only kohanim as the intent of the mitzvah.

The maharsha explains that although the leviim are included in the blessing of יורו משפטיך ליעקב, the kohanim are nonetheless the primary torah-instructors of shevet levi as the posuk reads ובאת אל הכהנים הלוים.  A similar observation is made by the Ralbag in his commentary to Divrei HaYamim.


Chief justice

The ralbag (shmuel 2 20 23) understands that the rosh bet din hagadol be a kohen, he interprets this as the intent of בניהו בן יהוידע’s stature as being appointed as the head of the bet din hagadol in line with the torah’s intent “ובאת אל הכהן” and “כי לא תאבד תורה מכהן“.

Yeshoshafat and Ezra’s bet din hagadol

Upon his return from battle against Aram in the 17th year of his reign2)1, King Yohoshafat reinstated the bet din hagadol.  In it, he appointed Amaryah the kohen gadol as rosh bet din hagadol, and didn’t overlook the requirement to include kohanim and levi’im among it’s members (Divrei HaYamim 2,19 8). The malbim’s commentary to nechemya points out that at the time of the building of the second bet hamikdash,  a third of Ezra’s bet din hagadol was composed of kohanim (see list below).

How many kohanim?

The sifri doesn’t mention a maximal number of how many kohanim and levi’im be appointed.  The Abarbanel interprets that “most” bet din hagadol members where kohanim and levi’im

As mentioned above, The malbim’s commentary to nechemya explains that a third of Ezra’s bet din hagadol was composed of 23 kohanim (and an untold number of levi’im).  The list of kohanim is as follows;

  1. נחמיה התרשתא בן חכליה
  2. צדקיה
  3. שריה
  4. עזריה
  5. ירמיה
  6. פשחור
  7. אמריה
  8. מלכיה
  9. חטוש
  10. שבניה
  11. מלוך
  12. חרם
  13. מרמות
  14. עבדיה
  15. דניאל
  16. גנתון
  17. ברוך
  18. משלם
  19. אביה
  20. מימן
  21. מעזיה
  22. בלגי
  23. שמעיה



References   [ + ]

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