4

Are there any rabbinical violations that carry the punishment of kareit (or other death penalty)?

I'm wondering because of this answer--which suggests that the prohibition on relations with a non-Jew may be rabbinical--and the discussion here (especially here), which suggests that punishment for this by death is in some cases appropriate.

I am wondering if there are any laws that are truly rabbinical and truly punishable by death? Is such allowed?

  • 1
    Zaken Mamrei? Technically, the only thing he's doing is contravening the prevailing halachic ruling established by Beis Din. Yes, it's in the Torah, but technically it only exists through a "rabbinical violation..." :) – Isaac Kotlicky Feb 17 '15 at 4:40
  • 1
    @IsaacKotlicky I'm not sure if you're joking but it's actually a major machlokes between the rambam and ramban if there can be a zaken mamre for a din derabanan – הנער הזה Feb 17 '15 at 14:09
  • Note, that "punishable by death" and "better to give up one's life before violating" are not the same thing – הנער הזה Feb 17 '15 at 14:11
  • Yes Matt, I was joking. :) – Isaac Kotlicky Feb 17 '15 at 14:56
  • Do you mean categorically punishable by death, or circumstantially? The Rabbis put people to death for Rabbinical infractions when they saw the need to do such. – Y     e     z Feb 17 '15 at 19:16
3

The links you provide have to do with giving up one's life to prevent committing a sin. I'll answer according to your question on rabbinical violations that carry a death penalty.

There is a baraita found throughout the Talmud (such as Ber. 4b) which states:

וכל העובר על דברי חכמים חייב מיתה

Anyone who transgresses the pronouncements of the Sages is liable to receive the death penalty

This statement does not mean that the courts can impose the death penalty on people who commit such transgressions. Most commentators understand the baraita as a way of underscoring the seriousness of rabbinical pronouncements, to the extent that one is worthy of death if transgressing one.

That said, there are no rabbinical laws punishable by karet. The list of sins punishable by karet can be found in the talmudic tractate devoted to this subject (Keritot 2a), and they all derive from the Torah.

There is a potential caveat, however, that deserves mention. The Rambam appears to indicate that the courts could strike a sinner to death for repeating a rabbinic law:

אסרו חכמים לאכול מצה בערב הפסח כדי שיהיה היכר לאכילתה בערב. ומי שאכל מצה בערב הפסח מכין אותו מכת מרדות עד שתצא נפשו

The Sages forbade a person from eating matzah on Pesach eve, in order for there to be a distinction between [partaking of it as food] and eating it on the evening [of the fifteen as a mitzvah.] Whoever eats matzah on Pesach eve is given "stripes for rebellion" until his soul expires. (Mishneh Torah, Chametz uMatzah 6:12).

Many commentators have used the final clause ("until his soul expires") to understand the extent of rabbinical authority. The Ran, for example, uses Rambam's point to emphasize the first point I mentioned, borrowing language from the Mishnah (San. 11:3):

ולפי דבריהם יש בזה חומר בדברי סופרים יותר מדברי תורה

These words prove that the law is more severe with respect to the words of the Sages than to the words of the Torah. (Ran on Rif, Ketubot 16b)

It is crucial to note, however, that the most authoritative manuscripts of the Mishneh Torah do not have "until his soul expires" in the text. It is a later addition not from the Rambam, and many contemporary publications of the Mishneh Torah do not include it.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .