The mishna in Sanhedrin 6:2 explains how, when the condemned is being led out to be executed, they urge him to confess so he can have a portion in the world to come. This mishna ends:

רַבִּי יְהוּדָה אוֹמֵר, אִם הָיָה יוֹדֵעַ שֶׁהוּא מְזֻמָּם, אוֹמֵר תְּהֵא מִיתָתִי כַּפָּרָה עַל כָּל עֲוֹנוֹתַי חוּץ מֵעָוֹן זֶה. אָמְרוּ לוֹ, אִם כֵּן, יְהוּ כָל אָדָם אוֹמְרִים כָּךְ כְּדֵי לְנַקּוֹת אֶת עַצְמָן:

Rabbi Judah said: “If he knows that he is a victim of false evidence, he can say: may my death be an expiation for all my sins but this.” They [the sages] said to him: “If so, everyone will speak likewise in order to clear himself.”

The sages object because it will look like he's clearing himself, but so what? His confession, in whatever form, is so that God will judge him favorably, and God of course knows whether he speaks truly.

The g'mara's response is unsatisfying; it says that they object so that the condemned cannot bring discredit upon the court and witnesses. But hasn't the condemned been proclaiming his innocence all along? 5:4 says that he can argue for his acquittal during the trial, and 6:1 says that when they lead him out and call for people who can speak in his defense, he himself is allowed to. If the people hearing his confession didn't believe him during the trial, why would they suddenly believe him now? How does somebody saying "I didn't do it" all the way to the end discredit the court that convicted him, given that his saying it before the verdict apparently didn't discredit anyone?

  • Imagine the Sanhedrin executing one person a day, day after day, and each one says he's innocent. How long will such a Sanhedrin last?
    – Al Berko
    Aug 19, 2019 at 7:33
  • This question reminded me of a certain memorable movie scene from the 1938 Hollywood classic Angels with Dirty Faces.
    – user18041
    Aug 19, 2019 at 8:45
  • I can only offer my own understanding. Rabbi Yehudah says that we suggest to the accused that he state his innocence, and the Chachomim feel this is a bad suggestion, because it will encourage the guilty to speak against the court. This isn't more believable now verses in court, it's just more public.
    – Mordechai
    Aug 24, 2019 at 23:44

1 Answer 1


What is the problem with the simple understanding of the Minshna?
The Minshna is saying that we must try to get people to do Teshuva.
Having the ability to say a statement which has the meaning that "I am not guilty I am just a victim"
Which will make people understand this behavior that really this person is not guilty (since this person had the ability to confess and be clean in the eye of G-d (since he is being killed anyway) and he does not, it must be that he is innocent)
in Rabbi Judah's opinion this is OK (since he holds a person in this predicament does not care about people's opinion only G-d's)

But the Sages hold that

“If so, everyone will speak likewise in order to clear himself.”

Meaning that people even in this predicament do care about the opinion of others (even right before getting killed) and will lie just to clean their name in the eyes of the people
This will be a hinderence for people to do Teshuva (to return to G-d Almighty)

  • You're arguing that a guilty person will give up Olam Haba to make a good impression on the people watching his execution? And that this would deter others from teshuva? That seems like a stretch to me. Clearing himself in front of people does nothing for him; he's about to be dead and go before the heavenly court, with or without teshuva -- his choice. Aug 19, 2019 at 0:35
  • @MonicaCellio it seems Rabbi Judah's opinion is closer to your heart
    – hazoriz
    Aug 19, 2019 at 0:36
  • @MonicaCellio see the end of this sefaria.org/English_Explanation_of_Mishnah_Sanhedrin.6.2.3
    – hazoriz
    Aug 19, 2019 at 0:38
  • Which is why I'm trying to understand Chazals'. I want to understand both sides of the issue and I only understand one. Aug 19, 2019 at 0:38
  • "Rather, if he will not confess to this crime he is not allowed to confess to any crime" from your link is interesting. Any idea what they base that interpretation on? Aug 19, 2019 at 0:39

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