“If you are bedazzled”2 ( Dt.17:8).
This teaches that
the verse speaks [even] of a judicial appointee
of dazzling intellect.3
“Beyond your own [capacities]” (Dt.17:8)—
“By an issue” (Dt.17:8)—
concerning the oral legal tradition.
“Of case-law” ( Dt.17:8)—
that requires adjudication.
“In distinguishing between blood and blood” (Dt.17:8)—
whether menstrual blood,
or a bloody venereal discharge.
“Between judgment and judgment” (Dt.17:8)—
whether monetary judgments,
or judgments [regarding judicial] lashings.4
“Between one plague-sign and another” (Dt.17:8)—
whether those affecting human bodies, clothing, or homes.
“And words” (Dt.17:8)—
[declarations of vows]
concerning the monetary value
of persons, devoted objects, or consecrated gifts (Lv.27:1-34).5
“Of conflict” (Dt.17:8)—
whether the ordeal of the accused adulteress (Nu.5:12ff.),
the rite of the beheaded calf (Dt.21:1-9),
or the purification of victims of Scale-disease (Lv.14:1ff.).
“Within your gates (Dt.17:8)—
whether Gleanings, the Forgotten Sheaf, or Corner-offerings.6
“Then shall you arise” (Dt.17:8)—immediately!
“Arise” (Dt.17:8)—in the court.
On this basis they taught:
Three courts were there:
one at the entrance to the Mount of the Abode;
and one at the entrance to the Courtyard;
and one in the Chamber of Carved Stone.
They would first reach
the one at the entrance to the Mount of the Abode.
And [he presiding justice]would announce:
Thus have I expounded the matter
and thus have my colleagues expounded it.
Thus have I studied the matter
and thus have my colleagues studied it.
If [the judges] had heard a tradition [on the matter],
they would declare it.
But if not, they would go
to the High Court in the Chamber of Carved Stone.
From there would Torah go forth to all Israel,
as it is said:
“From that very place which HASHEM shall choose”7 (Dt.17:10)
“Then shall you arise and ascend” (Dt.17:8)—
this explains that
the Land of Israel is higher than all other lands,
and the Holy Abode is higher than all the Land of Israel.8
- H:189-190; JN2:17-18
- Heb: yipalei; literally: “extraordinary,” “baffling.” Following is the JPS rendering of the first clause of Dt.17:8: “If a case is too baffling for you to decide, be it a controversy over homicide, civil law or assault—matters of dispute in your courts.” The midrashic reading of the verse, presented in my own rendering of Sifre’s text, takes pains to re-signify the verse to make room for characteristic institutions associated with the oral Torah’s institutions of jurisprudence. Cf. Fraade, p.84-85.
- Heb: mufla’. Tannaitic memory recognizes the mufla’ shel bet din as an appointed office (e.g., M. Hor.1:4, T. San.7:1) that should go to the most brilliant judge in the Sanhedrin.
- Heb: dinei makot. I follow RH and Fraade, p. 84 in rendering this phrase. Cf. H:189, “bodily injury law” and JN2:17. “assault.”
- `Arachim, kheremim, and heqdeshot denote vows to offer the monetary value of specific persons or objects to the upkeep of the Sanctuary.
- These are agricultural offerings that remain in the fields unharvested for the exclusive benefit of the poor (see Lv.19:19, Dt.24:19, Dt. 26:12).
- =M. San.11:2; cf. T. San.7:1.
- See Pisqa’ 37.18.