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Thursday, February 23, 2012

It's Good To Be King (Part 1: Facts)

The gemara in Sanhedrin 48b states:
ת"ר הרוגי מלכות נכסיהן למלך הרוגי ב"ד נכסיהן ליורשין ר' יהודה אומר אף הרוגי מלכות נכסיהן ליורשין
There is a dispute about who "inherits" the estate of someone executed by the king (harugei malchus).

Tanna Kamma (TK): Their estate goes to the king.
Rabbi Yehuda (RY): Their estate is inherited by their heirs.

Both positions agree that someone executed by beis din, the courts, is inherited by his heirs.

Who is harugei malchus referring to? There are two general classes of people who are executed by the King:
(a) those who rebel against the King;
(b) those who commit murder under conditions under which the beis din cannot execute them (i.e., only one witness).

Which of these classes does harugei malchus refer to? 

Rashi defines harugei malchus as those who are chaiyev meisa (have a death sentence) to the king, i.e., they rebelled against the king.
שנתחייבו מיתה למלכי ישראל כגון שמרדו בו דכתיב (יהושע א) כל איש אשר ימרה את פיך וגו
This would seem to be limiting this halacha to those of type (a) and not those of type (b). This is the way the M'eiri at the of the sixth chapter in Sanhedrin learns the sugya.

It is also possible that Rashi is just choosing the paradigmatic case of sedition, type (a), but means to include all cases where the king executes someone, even type (b). This reading may be supported by the word "כגון", and would appear to be the Rambam's position.

What is the svara (conceptual underpinning) for the disagreement bewteen the TK and RY according to the 2 ways of understanding Rashi?

It is a short machlokes with very little information to go on. What other information should we seek out to help us? What kind of questions should we raise to approach a better understanding of their disagreement?


  1. Possibile Questions:

    1)Why should the king be able to kill someone who doesn't have 2 witnesses?

    2)Why should the king be able to take the inheritance of someone he killed because they only have one eid?

    3) Why should he be able to take the inhertiance of someone who rebelled against him, what does misah have to do with inheritance, especially for example the beis din is not yoresh a person who got killed for violating shabbos, nor does the murdered victims family get the inheritance of the person who got killed for killing their relative.

  2. I like Mio's question #3. The Torah has a system of yerushah whereby when someone dies their inheritors lay claim to their estate. What does it matter whether the person was killed by beis din, the melech, or died of natural causes?

  3. Tentative opening remark:

    Perhaps the common denominator between one who kills with one eid and someone who rebels against the king, is that they are causing disorder to the particular society they belong to. Meaning...when one rebels against a king, he causes a disharmony in the government, and when one kills with the one eid, he could go around doing that all day without any consequences. Therefore through those two acts he has given up his status as a citizen of that particular functioning society. It comes out that he also forfeits his property which are a function of his claim to being a citizen of the klal in eretz yisroel. Therefore the king takes them, who is representative of the klal. This also explains why the king can kill someone who kills with one eid, as he is someone who causes disharmony to society, and the king is empowered and charged to maintain order in his country.

  4. good thoughts...you're going in a good direction


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