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Tosfos on Makos 2a (Kol Hazomemin) brings a Tosefta which says that if you can't give someone their destined Arba Misos (meaning the one their Aveira warranted), you can give them a different one, even if it means going from more Chamur (severe), to less Chamur.

דבתוספתא (פי''ב דסנהדרין) תניא אבל הזוממין שאין אתה יכול להמיתן במיתה הכתובה בהן אתה ממיתם בכל מיתה ודריש ליה מן קרא דוּבִֽעַרְתָּ֥ הָרָ֖ע מִקִּרְבֶּ֑ךָ

Tosefta:

חייבי מיתות חמורות שנתערבו בחייבי מיתות קלות ממיתין אותן בקלה שבהן רבי יוסי אומר קלה שבמיתות בחנק וכן היה ר' יהודה אומר נידון בזיקה הראשונה שבאה אליו כיצד הבא על חמותו והיא אשת איש היתה חמותו ואחר כך נעשית אשת איש נדון בשריפה אשת איש ואחר כך נעשית חמותו נדון בחנק עבר עבירה שיש בה ב' מיתות ממיתים אותו בחמורה שבהן כל חייבי מיתות שבתורה שאי אתה יכול להמיתו במיתה האמורה בהן המיתו בכל המיתות בין קלות בין חמורות שנאמר (דברים יז) ובערת הרע מקרבך.

This got me wondering: Are the Arba Misos one Mitzvah called "Death by the Sanhedrin" and just have four different possible parts, or are they four different Mitzvot?

A couple thoughts to stir the problem:

1) If it's one main Mitzvah, then the Tosefta makes sense, since if you can't give the guy the Lechatchila Mitzvah, give him something else. But my question on this would then be, why do we make such a big deal of giving certain aveirot certain punishments?

2) The Rambam learns Arba Misos differently than the Ramban and says that they are four separate Mitzvos (see 226-229). According to the Rambam, I understand why each aveira needs a certain punishment, but then how would the Rambam read the Tosefta?

  • Rambam lists them separately 226-229 mechon-mamre.org/e/e0001.htm , see too 6-9 in his intro to laws of the sanhedrin and their punishments mechon-mamre.org/i/e100.htm – Double AA Nov 23 '15 at 3:34
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    why do we make such a big deal of giving certain aveirot certain punishments - Because if he gets a too lenient death his atonement is incomplete, and if it's too severe, he's being cruelly over-punished for no good reason. – Danny Schoemann Nov 24 '15 at 16:00
  • how would the Rambam read the Tosefta? - Maybe that וּבִֽעַרְתָּ֥ הָרָ֖ע מִקִּרְבֶּ֑ךָ is another Mitzva? – Danny Schoemann Nov 24 '15 at 16:01
  • Closing as unclear what you're asking, as you answer your own question Arba Misos- 1 Mitzvah or 4? and your other 2 questions are not real questions. – Danny Schoemann Nov 24 '15 at 16:02
  • @DannySchoemann I remember learning this too ("if he gets a too lenient death his atonement is incomplete") do you know where to find a source for this? – alicht May 15 at 15:25
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I emailed a Rebbe of mine from YU. He gave shiur on the topic last year in Kesubos. What follows are notes from one of his Talmidim:

רבינו יוסף writes that the חידוש of רוצח is that if you can’t give him סייף you can do whatever you need, and the same is true for גואל הדם, but within the ד' מיתות בית דין you can do whatever you want בדיעבד. But how does רבינו יוסף explain מותרה לדבר חמור?

תוס' explains that the only time there is a דין of כל מיתה is when the person is חייב מיתת ב"ד and he runs away, then you can give him whatever you want to kill him, but in a normal case, if you mixed up נסקלין and נשרפין then you cannot give him whatever מיתה you want.

רבינו יוסף obviously would not accept תוס'’s first answer.

ר' שמואל רוזובסקי explains that this must be a גזירת הכתוב, but in general the מצות מיתת ב"ד is whatever they deserve. There is noגזירת הכתוב for כל מיתה, it’s פשוט, רבינו יוסף clearly understands that there is one מצוה called מיתת ב"ד, and the תורה gives you details about what they should get לכתחילה.

בורח שאני only makes sense according to תוס' as a גזירת הכתוב, but not according to רבינו יוסף. רבינו יוסף did not think this was a קשיא in the first place, for he is חייב מיתה, any of the ד' מיתות is a קיום of his חיוב, and therefore you need התראה and now it’s מותרה לדבר חמור.

But the whole סוגיא of מותרה לדבר חמור sounds like all the ארבע מיתות are separate? If you wanted to say that this was the מחלוקת ר' שישא and ר' אשי, it would be difficult because the same should then apply to מלקות!

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So it's clear in the Sefer Hamitzvos you mention that each Misa is a separate Mitzvah. However, that doesn't attach the punishment to the sin. The Mitzvah is when Beis Din executes that punishment -- regardless of the underlying sin.

Each sin deserves a certain punishment and carrying out that punishment will be fulfilling the Mitzvah. Since we learn that any Misa will do, then by serving whatever Misa they serve they will be fulfilling the Mitzvah of that Misa which they did.

  • The Ramban clearly disagrees and holds that it all one Mitzvah. Is there a way to reconcile the two? – Bochur613 Nov 26 '15 at 17:47
  • @Bochur613 Reconcile which two, the Rambam and Ramban or the Ramban with your question of why we care which he deserves? If you mean the latter, Danny Schoemann addressed that in a comment. – HaLeiVi Nov 26 '15 at 18:52
  • What about the former? – Bochur613 Nov 26 '15 at 20:01
  • @Bochur613 To make them both fully agree? – HaLeiVi Nov 26 '15 at 20:13
  • Fully, partially, maybe there is something specific I am missing that they are arguing about – Bochur613 Nov 26 '15 at 20:18

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