Someone with a chronic illness wants his Orthodox caretaker to remove him from life support.

The sick man invites a pair of witnesses and a bet din of 23 into his hospital room where the witnesses warn him not so light matches on shabbos and he does it. Can the bet din sentence him to death, and can his caretaker remove him from. Life support?

  • 2
    It should be noted that igniting a flame for the sole purpose of getting oneself sentenced to death, would likely be a melakha sh'einah tsrikha l'gufah and would not in actuality render one liable to death. It would not even be a biblical violation.
    – mevaqesh
    Sep 26 '16 at 13:32
  • 2
    Interestingly, Rambam writes in Hilkhot Sanhedrin (18:13) that the Sanhedrin does not mete out punishment to one who incriminates himself since maybe he has a psychological condition that leads him to try to get himself killed. אין ממיתין ולא מלקין, המודה בעבירה, שמא נטרפה דעתו בדבר זה, שמא מן העמלין מרי נפש המחכים למוות: שהן תמיד תוקעין החרבות בבטנם, ומשליכין עצמן מעל הגגות; כך זה יבוא ויאמר דבר שלא עשה, כדי שייהרג
    – mevaqesh
    Sep 26 '16 at 13:43
  • @mevaqesh, it seems you have an answer. Why not post it as such?
    – msh210
    Sep 26 '16 at 15:26
  • @msh210 If you mean Rambam in Hilkot Sanhedrin, that refers to the ta`ama dikra, of the rule that one cannot incriminate oneself. It is not necessarily a halakhic principle on its own; just the motivation for that separate law. Here, however, while the reasoning would seem similar, the case is different since there are actual witnesses.
    – mevaqesh
    Sep 26 '16 at 15:56
  • I was thinking of that also, but primarily of your first comment, actually, @mevaqesh
    – msh210
    Sep 26 '16 at 15:57

You should be aware that removing someone from life support is not one of the four valid methods of execution. Note the story of the mekoshes aitzim who had to be stoned.

Secondly, only an official Sanhedrin can issue the death penalty and (Sanh. 41a; TJ, Sanh. 1:18a) the rabbis agreed that with the destruction of the Temple the Sanhedrin was precluded from inflicting capital punishment. In fact, the Sanhedrin could only impose the death penalty in the Lishkat HaGazit (Chamber of Hewn Stones). Only the full Sanhedrin of 71 could give the death penalty as the Sanhedrin of 23 could not do so.

As a result, the case that you specify would not be allowed to occur, even if the bais hamikdash had been rebuilt and the Sanhedrin re-instituted.

As a citation: The Sanhedrin and its importance to the Torah and Temple

Sanhedrin Ketanah (the Smaller Sanhedrin) sat in the Cheil outside the eastern gate of the Ezrat Nashim (Court of the Women). This court had 23 judges and tried cases not requiring death penalties.


You must log in to answer this question.

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