A King Does not Judge
הרב מרדכי גרינברג
The Gemara Sanhedrin (19a-b) records that the Sages decreed that a king, "should not judge nor be judged, should not testify nor be testified against," based on an incident with King Yannai and Shimon b. Shetach. The Rambam codifies this halacha in Hil. Melachim 3:7, "The Sages decreed that kings of Yisrael do not judge and are not judged, do not testify and are not testified against, because they are haughty and it will lead to harm."
The Rambam writes that kings are disqualified from judging and testifying only because of the rabbinic decree. Rashi, however, writes in Shavuot 31a that they are not fit to testify from the Torah based on the pasuk of "Som tasim alecha melech" -- his awe should be upon you. Some explain that the decree only relates to the fact that he does not judge and is not judged, whereas not testifying is from the Torah. This is difficult, however, on two counts: 1) The Gemara itself says about the incident of Yannai, "At that time they decreed ... he does not testify." If the king is disqualified from the Torah, why is there a need for a decree? 2) In Hil. Edut (11:9) the Rambam talks only about testimony, and nonetheless mentions the reason, "because they are strongmen and do not submit to the yoke of the judges."
Where is source that a king need not testify from the Torah? There is a law of "shevuat ha'edut." If a person knows testimony that can be of value to his friend, he is obligated to testify on his behalf. If he falsely swore (or was placed under oath by the litigant) that he does not know any testimony, he must bring a "korban shevua." The Mishna (Shavuot 31a) writes that the halacha of shevuat edut does not apply to women, relatives, or people who are disqualified to testify, but "only applies to those who are fit to testify in court." What does the last phrase come to exclude? Rav Papa answers that it comes to exclude a king. Rashi explains that he is not fit from the Torah, based on the pasuk of "Som tasim," and it is degrading to the king to have to stand up before the judges. Rav Acha b. Yaakov answers that it excludes a gambler. The Gemara concludes that according to Rav Papa only a king is excluded, but not a gambler, since a gambler is only disqualified miderabanan. The clear implication is that a king is disqualified from the Torah.
The Rambam (Hil. Shevuot 10:1) rules like Rav Acha b. Yaakov, that one who is disqualified from testifying miderabanan is exempt from shevuat edut. He similarly writes that a king is exempt. This seems to contradict what he writes in Hil. Shegagot (10:7), that a king is required to bring a korban edut! The Kessef Mishneh answers that in Hil. Shevuot the Rambam talks about a king of Yisrael, whereas in Hil. Shegagot he talks about a king of Beit David. This answer is very difficult. We only find this distinction between kings of Yisrael and of Beit David in regards to judgment, but regarding testimony, all kings are exempt from the pasuk of "Som tasim!"
In addition, Rav Papa's position is difficult according to this distinction of the Kessef Mishneh. What kind of king is Rav Papa talking about? On the Torah level there is no difference between kings of Yisrael and of Beit David, and both do not need to testify. And although there may be a difference on the derabanan level, Rav Papa does not pay attention to a derabanan disqualification! So how can we differentiate within Rav Papa's position?
Furthermore, there seems to be a contradiction between two Mishnayot in Horayot (8b). In the first, R. Akiva says that a king ("nasi") is exempt from a korban edut because he does not judge nor testify. In the next Mishna is says that a king is obligated. What is the dispute about? R. Akiva gave a clear rationale to exclude a king!
The Rambam in Hil. Shegagot, who obligates a king in a korban shevua, must rule like the second Mishna, as the Kessef Mishneh writes. But what about the contradiction between the sugyot and other Rambam in Hil. Shevuot?
To explain this issue, we must introduce a "chakira" of the Achronim, discussed in Dvar Avraham (vol. II, #32): Who is obligated in a korban edut? One possibility is that only a person who is required to testify and swears falsely must bring a korban, whereas one who is not obligated is exempt even if swears. Or, perhaps, it depends if the testimony is valid and will help the litigant, even if the person is not obligated to testify. The "nafka mina" (practical difference) is a kohen gadol or talmid chacham, who is not required to testify due to his honor, but can forego his honor and testify. Clearly, Beit Din will then accept his testimony as valid and rule accordingly. Thus, if he denied knowledge of the case and swore falsely, if korban edut depends on an obligation to testify -- since the talmid chacham is not required to come to court to testify he would not have to bring a korban. However, if korban edut depends on the testimony having value to the litigant -- the testimony is valid, and he would have to bring a korban.
This chakira is essentially a dispute between the Rambam and the Rashba. In Gemara Bava Kamma 56a it says that one who withholds testimony from his friend (without swearing) must pay bedinei shamayim (i.e., he has a moral obligation). The Gemara asks, if there were two witnesses -- clearly they must pay based on the pasuk "im lo yagid venasa avono," so what is the chiddush? Tosfot and the Rashba ask, however, that the pasuk is talking about a case where he denied under oath. Where do you see, though, a responsibility if there is no oath at all? The Rashba (in his second answer) explains that the pasuk also refers to a case where the witness did not answer "Amen!" and yet he must bring a korban. Now, if a person is obligated to testify, it is understandable that the litigant can "force" an oath upon the witness, and obligate him in a korban. But if there is no obligation at all to testify, how can the litigant obligate the witness in a korban without his active acceptance of the oath? It must be that there is already an obligation to testify, and thus, if the litigant puts the witness under oath, he can require him to bring a korban. It is evident from Rashba that korban edut depends on an obligation to testify.
The Rambam, however, writes (Hil. Shevuot 10:1) that people who are not qualified to testify are exempt from a korban edut because "even if they were to testify, they would not obligate money." We see that korban edut depends on whether the testimony is of value.
Thus, whether a kohen gadol or talmid chacham are obligated in a korban edut depends on this dispute. According to the Rashba he is not, whereas according to the Rambam he is. What about a king? Certainly a king is not obligated to testify. If he testified, nonetheless, is his testimony valid? The Rambam (ibid.) writes that a king "is not fit to testify," and that we would not obligate money based on him. Where did he learn this from? It would seem that his source is from our original question -- why was there a need for a decree that a king should not testify, since anyway he is exempt from the Torah based on the pasuk of "Som tasim!" Therefore, the Rambam concluded that his testimony is valid from the Torah, and the decree was to disqualify his testimony (unlike a kohen gadol and talmid chacham). However, the decree was only applied to kings of Yisrael, not to those of Beit David.
Thus, is a king obligated in korban edut? If he is a king of Beit David -- his testimony is valid, and, according to Rambam, this is critical factor and he has to bring a korban. But a king of Yisrael, whose testimony is disqualified, is not obligated in a korban. According to the Rashba, however, no king would be required to bring a korban edut.
This chakira also resolves the contradiction between the Mishnayot in Horayot. The two Mishnayot argue about the same dispute of the Rashba and the Rambam. In the first Mishna, R. Akiva says that a king is not obligated to testify (even though quotes the phrase from Sanhedrin), and thus there is no korban. The second Mishna holds like the Rambam that it depends if the testimony is valid, and talks about a king of Beit David whose testimony is valid, and therefore he must also bring a korban. The Rambam rules like the second Mishna and therefore when he says in Hil. Shegagot that a king is not obligated in a korban, it refers only to a king of Yisrael, as the Kessef Mishneh writes. Thus the distinction between Hil. Shevuot, where he says a king (of Beit David) is obligated, and Hil. Shegagot, where he writes that a king (of Yisrael) is not.
What king is Rav Papa talking about? He holds like R. Akiva, that a king is not obligated to testify even from the Torah and is therefore exempt from a korban, whether a king of Yisrael or of Beit David. But R. Acha b. Yaakov maintains that korban depends on whether the testimony is valid or not, and therefore it depends on the "bottom line" -- taking into account even rabbinic disqualifications such as a gambler. Thus, a king of Yisrael would not be obligated in a korban.
To summarize, a king is not obligated to testify from the pasuk "som tasim" and the decree was not to accept the testimony of king of Yisrael. The testimony of a king of Beit David is accepted and he is thus obligated in korban edut according to the Rambam, and this is the distinction of Kessef Mishneh. Rav Papa, however, didn't differentiate between types of kings because he held like the Rashba that it depends on whether he is obligated to testify or not.
קוד השיעור: 4026
Rav Meir Orlian