Sacred Texts  Judaism  Index  Previous  Next 

Tractate Sanhedrin, Herbert Danby tr. [1919], at

The Duties and Restrictions relating to the King.

M. II. 2. The king can neither judge nor be judged, he may not bear witness nor be witnessed against. He may not perform the ḥaliṣa ceremony nor may it be performed in the case of his wife. He may not marry his deceased brother's wife, if she be childless, nor may any of his brothers marry his widow. R. Jehuda said: If he were willing to perform the ḥaliṣa ceremony or to marry his deceased brother's wife, it would be remembered to his credit. It was answered: If he were willing he should not be listened to. No one may marry his widow. But R. Jehuda holds that a king may marry a king's widow, since it is written: AND I WILL GIVE THEE THY MASTER'S HOUSE, AND THY MASTER'S WIVES INTO THY BOSOM. 1

3. If a death occur in his family, he may not leave the palace. R. Jehuda maintains that he may, if he wish, follow the bier, just as David followed Abner's bier, as it is written: DAVID THE KING WENT AFTER THE BIER. 2 But it was said in reply: That was done only to placate the people. 3 When they hold the funeral meal with

p. 49

M.him, all the people sit round on the ground while he sits on the couch.

4. He may undertake an aggressive war by permission of the court of seventy-one judges. He may force a way through (private property) and none may check him; the king's road has no limit. When the people have indulged in plunder they must first give it to him, and he takes his share before others.

HE MAY NOT HAVE NUMEROUS WIVES 1--only eighteen. 2 R. Jehuda holds that he may have many provided they do not turn aside his heart. R. Shimeon asserts: He may not marry even one if she should turn aside his heart; else why should it say, HE MAY NOT HAVE NUMEROUS WIVES, even though they be the like of Abigail?

HE MAY NOT HAVE NUMEROUS HORSES--only such as suffice for his chariot. AND SILVER AND GOLD HE MAY NOT MULTIPLY TO HIMSELF--only such as suffices for wages. HE SHALL WRITE FOR HIMSELF A COPY OF THE LAW; when he goes out to war it shall go with him, and when he comes in it shall be with him. It shall be beside him when he sits in judgment, and when he sits at meat it shall be before him, for it is written: IT SHALL BE WITH HIM AND HE SHALL READ THEREIN ALL THE DAYS OF HIS LIFE.

p. 50

M.5. None may ride on his horse, and none may sit on his throne, and none may wield his sceptre. He may not be seen naked, nor when he is having his hair cut, nor when he is in the bath; for it is written: 1 THOU SHALT SURELY SET OVER THEE A KING whose fear shall be upon thee.

T. IV. 2. The king of Israel may not stand in the row to be consoled, nor to console others; nor may he go to hold the funeral meal with others, but others may go to hold the funeral meal with him, as it is written: AND THE PEOPLE WENT TO HOLD THE FUNERAL MEAL WITH DAVID, 2 etc. If he have transgressed a positive or negative command he is treated as an ordinary commoner in every respect.

He does not perform the ḥaliṣa ceremony, nor is it performed in the case of his wife. He does not marry his deceased brother's wife if she be childless, nor does his brother marry his wife. R. Jehuda says: If he wish to perform the ḥaliṣa ceremony he may. But it was replied: A king's honour must not receive hurt. No one may marry his widow, for it is written: So THEY WERE SHUT UP TO THE DAY OF THEIR DEATH, LIVING IN WIDOWHOOD. 3 He may choose for himself wives wheresoever he please from among the priestly, Levitic, and Israelitish families. 4 None may ride on his horse, or sit on his royal chair, and none may make use of his crown or sceptre or any of the regalia. When he dies these are all buried with him at his burial, for it is written: 5 THOU SHALT DIE IN PEACE, AND WITH THE BURNINGS OF THY FATHERS, THE FORMER KINGS.

p. 51


3. As are the burnings at the burial of kings, so also are the burnings at the burial of princes, but not at the burial of commoners. What is burnt? Their couch and other regalia.

4. When the king is present, all the people stand, and he keeps seated. (And none may sit in the temple courtyard except the kings of the house of David.) And all the people maintain silence when he speaks. He used to address them: "My brethren and my people," as it is written: 1 HEAR YE, MY BRETHREN AND MY PEOPLE: while they address him: "Our lord and our master," as it is written: 2 BUT OUR LORD DAVID THE KING HATH MADE SOLOMON KING.

5. HE MAY NOT HAVE NUMEROUS WIVES--Such as Jezebel; but the like of Abigail are permitted--so R. Jehuda. HE MAY NOT HAVE NUMEROUS HORSES--not even one horse that remains idle, for it is written: LEST HE SHOULD MULTIPLY HORSES. R. Jehuda says, Behold it is written: 3 AND SOLOMON HAD FORTY THOUSAND STALLS OF HORSES, and he did well, since it is written: 4 AND JUDAH AND ISRAEL WERE MANY AS THE SAND THAT IS ON THE SEASHORE FOR MULTITUDE. And since it is written: 5 TWELVE THOUSAND HORSEMEN, it follows that there were some of the horses left idle.

The above prohibitions do not apply to a mere commoner. R. Jose says: All that is ordained in the "paragraph of the king " 6 is permitted. R. Jehuda says: This chapter 7 was only uttered to impress the people with fear, for it is written: THOU SHALT SURELY SET OVER THEE A KING. 8

R. Jehuda also said: Three commands were given to Israel when they entered the land of Israel:--they were commanded to appoint a king,

p. 52


to build them a chosen temple, 1 and to cut off the seed of Amalek. 2 If this be so, why were they punished in the days of Samuel? Because they did so too soon. R. Nehorai 3 says: This paragraph was written in anticipation of future murmurings, for it is written: AND THOU SHALT SAY, I WILL SET A KING OVER ME. 4 R. Eleazar, 5 the son of R. Jose, says: The elders asked according to the Law, as it is written: GIVE US A KING TO JUDGE US; 6 but the common people went and dealt corruptly, as it is written: THAT WE ALSO MAY BE LIKE ALL THE NATIONS, AND OUR KING SHALL JUDGE US AND GO BEFORE US TO FIGHT OUR BATTLES. 7

6. The property of those put to death by the court goes to their heirs, while that of those put to death by the king belongs to the king. But the majority hold that the property of those put to death by the king goes to their heirs. R. Jehuda said to them, It is written: BEHOLD HE (AHAB) IS IN THE VINEYARD OF NABOTH WHITHER HE IS GONE DOWN TO POSSESS IT. 8 They replied: Since he was the son of his father's brother, 9 it was right for him to inherit. Said R. Jehuda, But had Naboth no

p. 53


sons? They replied: Did not the king kill both him and his sons? as it is written: SURELY I HAVE SEEN YESTERDAY THE BLOOD OF NABOTH, AND THE BLOOD OF HIS SONS, SAITH THE LORD; AND I WILL REQUITE THEE IN THIS PLAT, SAITH THE LORD. 1

7. AND HE SHALL WRITE FOR HIMSELF A COPY OF THE LAW--that he be not dependent on that of his fathers, but on his own, for it is written: HE SHALL WRITE FOR HIMSELF--it must be written for himself only; and a commoner may not read therein, for it is written, HE SHALL READ THEREIN-the king, and no other. Also, the copy shall be revised in a court of the priests, and in a court of the Levites, and in a court of the Israelites who are eligible for marriage into the priestly families. When he goes to war, it shall be with him; when he enters in, it shall be with him; and when he goes to the court, it shall be beside him. When he goes to the toilet chamber, it is kept ready for him by the door. And thus David says: I HAVE SET GOD ALWAYS BEFORE ME (AND HE IS ON MY RIGHT HAND). 2 R. Jehuda, says: The book of the Law is on his right hand and the tefillin 3 on his arm.

R Jose said: It was fitting that the Law should have been given through Ezra even if Moses had not gone before him. A going up is mentioned in the case of Moses, and a going up in the case of Ezra; of Moses, as it is written: 4 AND MOSES WENT UP UNTO GOD; and of Ezra, as it is written: AND HE, EZRA, WENT UP FROM BABYLON. 5 As the going up of Moses taught the Law to Israel (as it is written: AND THE LORD COMMANDED ME AT THAT TIME TO TEACH YOU STATUTES AND JUDGMENTS), 6 so the going up of Ezra taught the Law to

p. 54



Also a writing and language was given through him, as it is written: AND THE WRITING OF THE LETTER WAS WRITTEN IN THE ARAMAIC CHARACTER AND INTERPRETED IN THE ARAMAIC TONGUE 2; as its interpretation was in Aramaic so its writing was in Aramaic. And it is written: BUT THEY COULD NOT READ THE WRITING, NOR MAKE KNOWN TO THE KING THE INTERPRETATION THEREOF, 3 showing that it was not made known till the time of Ezra. Moreover it is written: AND HE SHALL WRITE A COPY (mishneh) OF THIS LAW, i.e. a Law which was at a future time to be changed4

And why is the name of the writing called Assyrian? Because it came up with them from Assyria. Rabbi says: The Law was given to Israel in the Assyrian writing, and when they sinned it was changed to Roaṣ5 but when they repented in the days of Ezra it was changed again to Assyrian, as it is written: 6 TURN YE TO THE STRONGHOLD, YE PRISONERS OF HOPE: EVEN TO-DAY DO I DECLARE THAT I WILL BRING BACK THE CHANGE 7 UNTO YOU.

8. R. Shimeon, 8 the son of Eleazar, said in the

p. 55


name of R. Eleazar, 1 the son of Parta, who spoke in the name of R. Eleazar 2 of Modin: The Law was given to Israel in the present writing, for it is written: THE HOOKS (Hebr. "the waws") OF THE PILLARS; 3 that is, waws that are like pillars. And it says: AND UNTO THE JEWS ACCORDING TO THEIR WRITING AND LANGUAGE; 4 as their language has not changed, so their writing has not changed.

Why is it called Assyrian? Because the characters of their writing were made upright5

Why is it written: AND HE SHALL WRITE FOR HIMSELF A COPY OF THIS LAW? TO show that he must write two books of the Law: one with which he goes in and out, and another that is placed for him within the house. The one that goes in and out with him does not go in with him to the bath-house or toilet chamber, for it is written: AND IT SHALL BE WITH HIM, AND HE SHALL READ THEREIN ALL THE DAYS OF HIS LIFE; i.e. it shall only go with him in places where it is possible to read.

And is there not here an argument a fortiori? 6 Since, even of the king of Israel who is entirely engrossed with the needs of the community, it is said: AND IT SHALL BE WITH HIM AND HE SHALL READ THEREIN ALL THE DAYS OF HIS LIFE, still more should the rule apply to the rest of the children of men.

9. Similarly with Joshua: AND JOSHUA THE SON

p. 56



10. A king cannot be appointed outside the land of Israel, nor can one be appointed unless he be eligible for marriage into the priestly families. And kings cannot be anointed except over a spring, for it is written: 4 AND HE SAID TO THEM, TAKE WITH YOU THE SERVANTS OF YOUR LORD, AND MOUNT SOLOMON MY SON UPON MINE OWN MULE, AND BRING HIM DOWN TO GIHON. 5

11. Kings are only anointed when there is a dissension (as to who is the rightful king). Why did they anoint Solomon? Because of the dissension of Adonijah. And Jehu? Because of Joram. And Joash? Because of Athaliah. And Jehoahaz? Because of Jehoiakim his brother, who was his senior by two years.

A king must be anointed, but not one who is the son 6 of a king. Yet a high-priest, even though he be descended from a line of high-priests as far back as ten generations, must be anointed.

Kings are only anointed from a horn. Saul and Jehu were anointed from a pot, 7 because their kingdom was destined to be broken. David and Solomon were anointed from a horn, for their kingdom is an everlasting kingdom.


48:1 2 Sam. 12. 8.

48:2 2 Sam. 3. 31.

48:3 To show that he was not the cause of Abner's death. See 2 Sam. 3. 37.

49:1 Deut. 17. 17. What follows is in the nature of a midrashic excursus on Deut. 17. 16 ff.

49:2 The number is derived from 2 Sam. 12. 8, lit. "I would have added unto thee the like of these and the like of these," which is taken to mean twice as many more. And since David is already spoken of (2 Sam. 3. 2) as having six wives, the total number permissible is therefore eighteen.

50:1 Deut. 17. 15.

50:2 2 Sam. 3. 35.

50:3 2 Sam. 20. 3.

50:4 Israelites of pure descent who are eligible for marriage into priestly families. See Kiddushim IV. I, 4, 5.

50:5 Jer. 34. 5.

51:1 Chron. 28. 2.

51:2 1 Kings 5. 43.

51:3 1 Kings 4. 26.

51:4 1 Kings 4. 20.

51:5 1 Kings 4. 26.

51:6 1 Sam. 8. 11 ff.

51:7 Deut. 17. 14 ff.

51:8 Deut. 17. 14.

52:1 Deut. 12. 11.

52:2 Deut. 25. 19.

52:3 R. Nehorai was a contemporary of R. Jose b. Halafta, and appears to have lived at Sepphoris.

52:4 Deut. 17. 14.

52:5 One of the five sons of R. Jose b. Halafta (see T. 2. I). He accompanied R. Shimeon b. Jochai on his mission to Rome, which succeeded in securing the withdrawal of the persecuting Hadrianic decrees. Though quoted in the Tosefta, he is never mentioned in the Mishnah.

52:6 1 Sam. 8. 6.

52:7 1 Sam. 8. 20.

52:8 1 Kings 21. 18.

52:9 This curious statement has no biblical basis. Although the remark appears to be accepted by R. Jehuda it would appear to be a petitio principii of the crudest kind. It is taken for granted that because Jezebel regarded the death of Naboth as the only obstacle to Ahab's possessing the vineyard, therefore Ahab was Naboth's nearest relation. And since it is possible to show that he was not Naboth's brother, father, or son, he must have been his nephew. According to B. 48 b, he was his cousin.

53:1 2 Kings 9. 26.

53:2 Psalm 16. 8.

53:3 The phylacteries; cf. Matt. 23. 5.

53:4 Exod. 19. 3.

53:5 Ezra 7. 6.

53:6 Deut. 4. 14.

54:1 Ezra 7. 10.

54:2 Ezra 4. 7,

54:3 Dan. 5. 8.

54:4 Deut. 17. 18. Playing on the double meaning of the root Shana, "to repeat " and also " to change."

54:5 Lit., "broken, rugged;" is supposed to refer to the peculiar shape of the letters in the Samaritan script. There is a variant da’aṣ, which might mean "wedge-like," and so refer to the cuneiform writing. See A. E. Cowley in J. Th. S. vol. XI, p. 542. What is in the text called Assyrian writing clearly refers to the modern Hebrew square character.

54:6 Zech. 9. 12.

54:7 R. V. "double;" the same word-play as above.

54:8 R. Shimeon b. Eleazar was a pupil of R. Meir and a contemporary of Rabbi Jehuda ha-Nasi,

55:1 R. Eleazar b. Parta (or Perata), although suffering imprisonment for participating in the revolt of Bar Kokba, survived the resulting persecution.

55:2 R. Eleazar of Modin (or Modaim), whose dictum he hands on, was an elder contemporary who lost his life in the siege of Bethar.

55:3 Exod. 27. 10.

55:4 Esth. 8. 9.

55:5 Playing on the assonance ashshur, "Assyria," and m’ushshar, "upright" or "square."

55:6 This argument kal we-ḥomer (i.e. the inference from a lighter to a heavier necessity) is of frequent occurrence in all rabbinical discussions.

56:1 Deut. 34. 9.

56:2 Exod. 33. 11.

56:3 Josh. 1. 8.

56:4 1 Kings 1. 33.

56:5 A well-known spring near Jerusalem; cf. 2 Chron. 32. 30.

56:6 Presumably the eldest son of a king about whose succession is no possibility of dissension.

56:7 Or "vial." Cf. 1 Sam. 10. 1; 2 Kings 9.

Next: Those who are Eligible and those who are Ineligible as Judges or Witnesses