(Please follow the idea before finding counterarguments).

The dawn of Judaism - Abraham, Itzhok, Yaakov, the Tribes - most fateful decisions were made almost exclusively on personal basis, without consulting other living authorities. Abraham and Itzhok did not consult Shem and Ever (and Noah), even though they lived in the same time in Eretz Isroel. The Brothers did not consult neither the family (father and grandfather) nor the Shem's Beis Din.

Tanakh: Moses, Joshuah, Judges, Kings - all issued their rulings without, seemingly, consulting the Zkeynim (or any Beis Din). Phrases like "Let me ask the Beis Din!" or "Let the Sanhedrin decide!" are very rare in the Tanakh.

Talmudic times: from Hillel and Shammay and to Amorayim - the great Sanhedrin was fully functioning through the whole epoch, but nevertheless every Rabbi kept his own Braysos and ruled for himself. The situation was so severe, that the next generation Tanoyim or Amoroyim had no idea what the previous generation had in mind. 90% of uncertainties in the Talmud could be avoided if the discussions were brought to the Sanhedrin.

Ever since: Geoynim, Rishoynim, Akhroynim and to the present days Gdoylim , all Halokhos were ruled individually by single persons (with a few exceptions), with no attempts to gather the leading Rabbis of every era and rule Halochos together either to resemble the Torah's idea of the "70 Elders" or simply to seek agreement and acceptance.

As such, they all suffer from extreme lack of systematization, lack of accepted terminology, personal cultural biases, duplicates (hence waste of time), mutual disregard and accusations and more.

How come the original Torah idea of bringing every Makhloykes to a Beis Din was kept overridden in all times? Is this how Judaism is planned to work?

  • 1
    similar judaism.stackexchange.com/q/18332/759
    – Double AA
    Jan 18, 2018 at 18:52
  • I had heard somewhere that the concept of machloket began with Bet Hillel and Bet Shamai. I think I read that this was one of the items that caused the destruction of the 2nd Bet Hamikdash.
    – DanF
    Jan 18, 2018 at 19:21
  • 2
    @DanF Machlokes is documented earlier in the Mishna, by R' Yosef Ben Yoezer and Yosef Ben Yochanan about doing semicha on a korban on Yom Tov. The Talmud reports that machlokes dramatically increased with the students of Hillel and Shamai. Jan 18, 2018 at 20:07
  • @DanF That's not the point, but is a question on its own - "How come Hilel and Shammay that headed the Sanhedrin did not bring their machlokes to voting?". Did somebody ask this question already? Anywhay, I think I should rephrase my question into "Why not follow the Torah's idea of the Sanhedrins"?
    – Al Berko
    Jan 18, 2018 at 20:14
  • 1
    The last Q is a really valid question. Sanhedrin existed for a good while after the destruction of the 2nd B H"m. So, I'm uncertain as to why / who established a ruling that one can't be formed until the next one is built. There's obviously no necessity to have a Bet Hamikdash to have a Sanhedrin. (Sidebar - Different shitot is financially profitable, these days. If we abolished Glatt Kosher, for example, many would go poor :-)
    – DanF
    Jan 18, 2018 at 20:51

1 Answer 1


The preferred method for how halachic rulings are decided is established in the Torah, Devarim 17:8:

כי יפלא ממך דבר למשפט בין דם לדם בין דין לדין ובין נגע לנגע דברי ריבת בשעריך וקמת ועלית אל המקום אשר יבחר יהוה אלהיך בו

When a question arises, the ideal situation was to go to "the place that Hashem chose" to have it answered. The Talmud (Sanhedrin 86b) understands this to be a reference to the highest court which sat in the Lishkas HaGazis of the Beis HaMikdash, from which Torah comes out to the Jewish people:

ב"ד הגדול שבלשכת הגזית שממנו יוצא תורה לכל ישראל שנאמר (דברים יז, י) מן המקום ההוא אשר יבחר ה

The structure of the Sanhedrin involved taking into account the opinion of all members of the body. The entire Sanhedrin would sit together in a semi-circle (Sanhedrin 36b):

סנהדרין היתה כחצי גורן עגולה כדי שיהו רואין זה את זה

The Sanhedrin was meant to engage in discussion, and in fact it was prohibited to appoint a king to the Sanhedrin since others would not be allowed to argue with him (Rambam Hil. Sanhedrin 2:4):

ואין מושיבין מלך ישראל בסנהדרין, שאסור לחלוק עליו ולמרות דבריו

The Rambam, in his introduction to his Mishnah Torah, commonly refers to each Sage as "Rabbi Ploni and his beis din, as the Sages were not making decisions in a vacuum, but rather working with their respective courts. Indeed, the Rambam implies later in the introduction that the Sanhedrins were active until not too long before the compilation of the Talmud - when discussing the post-Talmudic authorities, he writes:

ובית דין הגדול של שבעים בטל מכמה שנים קודם חיבור התלמוד

The Great Sanhedrin of 70 was nullified some years before the compilation of the Talmud

Not only that, but the Rambam describes that the rulings of the Talmud are binding because they were achieved through consensus:

אבל כל הדברים שבתלמוד הבבלי, חייבין כל בית ישראל ללכת בהם; וכופין כל עיר ועיר וכל מדינה ומדינה לנהוג בכל המנהגות שנהגו חכמים שבתלמוד, ולגזור גזירותם וללכת בתקנותם. לה הואיל וכל אותן הדברים שבתלמוד הסכימו עליהם כל ישראל, ואותן החכמים שהתקינו או שגזרו או שהנהיגו או שדנו דין ולמדו שהמשפט כך הוא הם כל חכמי ישראל או רובן

This was the ideal system. However, with the breakdown of centralized Jewish settlement and autonomy, and the difficulty of convening, this system broke down, as the Rambam writes there:

מפני רוחק מושבותיהם, ושיבוש הדרכים

The Rambam discusses a possibility of how this system could be reinstituted in Hil. Sanhedrin ch. 4:

נראין לי הדברים, שאם הסכימו כל החכמים שבארץ ישראל למנות דיינין ולסמוך אותן--הרי אלו סמוכין, ויש להן לדון דיני קנסות, ויש להן לסמוך לאחרים

If all of the Sages of the Land of Israel would unanimously agree to appoint judges, they would reinstitute the chain of semicha necessary to convene a Sanhedrin. However, as the Rambam there continues, this is not a likely situation to occur - as they say, 2 Jews, 3 opinions. (It should be noted that many authorities disagreed with the Rambam's suggestion of how semicha could be revived.)

In conclusion, discussion and consensus is the ideal, but the system became untenable and is not in operation right now.

  • Is the Rambam saying that whenever the Talmud quotes Shmu'el (for example) as saying הלכה כר' פלוני that he is relaying the decision of an entire court rather than his own opinion?
    – b a
    Jan 18, 2018 at 20:55
  • I'm sorry, I don't see how all this answers the question. You said "the system became untenable" - it was seemingly never used as designed. For centuries of working Sanhedrin, it was not used for outlining and deciding on Halakhah. From Hilel and Shammay to Raban Gamliel Hilel Hazaken.
    – Al Berko
    Jan 18, 2018 at 22:46
  • @AlBerko I'm not sure where the miscommunication is here - that is exactly what I am saying. The system was used for deciding halacha for well over a millenium. Jan 19, 2018 at 3:26
  • @ba He is saying that any Nasi who had a beis din was conveying the decision of his beis din. Jan 19, 2018 at 3:27
  • 2
    More than that, R' Chaim Brisker objected to the formation of the Agudah under a Moetzes Gedolei haTorah because the problems that led to our needing the current system have not been fixed, and so centralized authority is a bad idea. His mashal: When we all had kerosene lights, the light was worse. But if one lamp ran out of kerosene, so you could bring over another lamp. With electric lights, the light is much better. But if the power cuts out, no one has light! Jan 19, 2018 at 15:01

You must log in to answer this question.

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