Mi Yodeya is a question and answer site for those who base their lives on Jewish law and tradition and anyone interested in learning more. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

The laws of capital crimes elucidated in Sanhedrin and elsewhere make conviction very unlikely. Makkot 1:10 famously tells us that a court that executes once in seven years is bloodthirsty, R. Eliezer b. Azariah ups this to once in seventy years, and R. Tarfon and R. Akiva say they never would have permitted it at all. My question: how many times did rabbinic courts carry out executions?

share|improve this question
Note that these metrics apply to a single court. When counting executions across all of Israel, you could get one or two every year, even if all courts held to the 1/70 standard. And this doesn't account for judge turnover. – Barry May 24 '11 at 16:35
up vote 26 down vote accepted

In Tanach I find the following cases (there may be others I've missed):

  • Moshe's court executing the blasphemer (Lev. 24:23)
  • ...and the Shabbos violator (Num. 15:36)
  • Yehoshua's court executing Achan for taking from the spoils of Jericho (Josh. 7:25)
  • Navos being executed by the court of Jezreel on charges of blasphemy and cursing the king (I Kings 21:13). The charges were trumped up at Jezebel's orders, and the court itself was corrupt, but they did follow the technical protocols for his trial.

In the Talmud we have the following cases that I know of. Three of them are in the era of Yehudah ben Tabbai and Shimon ben Shatach (early 1st century BCE).

  • Yehudah ben Tabbai and his court executing a false witness whose testimony was impeached (huzam) (Chagigah 16b and Makkos 5b)

  • Shimon ben Shatach and his court executing eighty women for practicing witchcraft (Sanhedrin 45a, and more details in Rashi ibid. 44b, from Yerushalmi Chagigah 2:2 and Sanhedrin 6:6)

  • ...and then having his own son convicted (based on false testimony) and executed (Rashi ibid., from Yerushalmi Sanhedrin 6:3)

  • Someone being executed "in the days of the Greeks" for riding a horse on Shabbos (Yevamos 90b, Sanhedrin 46a)

  • Yeshu Hanotzri, also known as Ben Stada and Ben Pandira, who was executed on Erev Pesach (Sanhedrin 43a and 67b, uncensored editions). A lot of ink has been spilled on the question of whether this person is identical with the founder of Christianity.

None of these are really typical cases, though - each of them is mentioned because of some unusual feature. There may have been many other cases where people were executed judicially, which are not recorded because nothing out of the ordinary happened.

  • The first three were at Hashem's direct command.
  • The case of Navos was instigated by Jezebel (and she and Ahab were duly punished for it).
  • Yehudah ben Tabbai was trying to make a point against the Sadduccees (to demonstrate the halachah that false witnesses are punished only if their intended victim had not yet received his punishment), but it turned out to be a mistake on his part (false witnesses are not supposed to be killed unless both of them are impeached, and here only one was).
  • Shimon ben Shatach executed eighty women on the same day, where normally a court is not supposed to carry out more than one death penalty at a time.
  • The witnesses who testified against his son eventually recanted their testimony, but it was too late.
  • Riding a horse on Shabbos is not normally punishable by death, because it is prohibited only by Rabbinic law. In this case he was executed "because the times required it" (Rashi: it was a time of Greek persecution and people were being careless with mitzvos).
  • Announcements of Yeshu's impending execution were made forty days in advance, to give people a chance to come forward in his defense, "because he was close to the government."
share|improve this answer
Thank you for all of these. (I had meant to omit cases in torah which, as you said, were directly commanded, and had wondered if there were cases where a court so ruled.) – Monica Cellio May 24 '11 at 2:12
I miss your bekiyus :( – Shmuel Brin Sep 12 '13 at 6:22
Christian account of Jesus execution is that the trial was very swift. Also Christians' Jesus has little government connection. He did have some Pharises' friend, like Nicodemus, though often argue against Pharisees in general. Paul, a pharisee then pretty much make pharisee duked it out the Sadducee by pointing out that differences between those 2 sects are bigger than differences between him and jews. Also christians' Yeshu/Jesus/Yehoshua/Yeshua/etc. was crucified rather than stoned. – Jim Thio Oct 11 '13 at 6:30

Rabbi Yonatan claims (Sanhedrin 71a) to have seen a ben sorer u'moreh and sat on his grave. There are difficulties taking this at face value (this is part of a machloket about whether ben sorer u'moreh ever happened. Also, Rabbi Yonatan was a cohen), but if we do take it at face value, it implies that the sanhedren at one point executed a ben sorer u'moreh.

In the same sugya, Rabbi Yonatan also claims to have seen an idolatrous city, and sat on its ruins.

share|improve this answer
Interesting -- I thought the rabbis had agreed that a ben sorer u'moreh was never executed, but I guess not. – Monica Cellio May 24 '11 at 2:08
In theory, Rabbi Yonatan may be saying that it was a close relative of his who was executed as ben sorer u'moreh (son or brother presumably). It could also be that there were multiple Rabbi Yonatans. – Ze'ev Felsen Sep 22 '11 at 22:53
@Ze'evFelsen: Interesting point. – Chanoch Sep 23 '11 at 0:16
@Ze'evFelsen No. A kohein can't sit on a relatives grave. He buries them and leaves right away. – Double AA Mar 25 '15 at 18:53
@DoubleAA, whether a kohen may make himself tamei on the same day that he was tamei to a close relative is a machloket Rambam & Raavad. I can look for citation. – Ze'ev Felsen Mar 26 '15 at 20:18

There were two cases in chumash. The mekallel (at the end of parshat Emor, Vayikra 24), and the mekosheh etzim (Parshat Shelach, Bemidbar 15:32-36).

share|improve this answer

On Gittin 57a a father and son are put to death for sleeping with a betrothed young woman on yom kippur. The words 'a father and son... Yom kippur' are used again in Bava Metzia 83b

(I asked a question on this site about whether or not this set of words is a saying or a literal statement.)

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.