Zaken Mamre

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ZAKEN MAMRE (Heb. זָקֵן מַמְרֵא; lit., "rebellious elder"), a scholar who disobeys a decision of the supreme bet din in Jerusalem. Its basis is to be found in the Bible: "If a case is too baffling for you to decide… you shall promptly repair to the place which the Lord… will have chosen and appear before the levitical priests, or the magistrate… and present your problem. When they have announced to you the verdict… you shall act in accordance with the instructions given you… And should a man act presumptuously and disregard [them]… that man shall die" (Deut. 17:8–12). There were three courts in Jerusalem; one used to sit at the entrance of the Temple Mount, another at the door of the Temple court, and the third in the Chamber of Hewn Stone (in the *Temple). Each of the first two courts consisted of 32 members, and the third was the supreme bet din – the Great *Sanhedrin of 71. If a scholar gave a decision and his colleagues in his town disagreed with him, he and his colleagues were obliged to go to Jerusalem for direction. At first they went to the court at the entrance to the Temple Mount, and each one expressed his opinion. If possible, they reached a decision, but if not, they turned to the second court. If this could not give a decision either, they and the members of the court which had not reached a decision appeared before the Great Sanhedrin in the Chamber of Hewn Stone. If the scholar then returned to his town and ruled or acted in opposition to the view of the supreme bet din, he was considered a zaken mamre and liable to the death penalty; however, if he merely taught as heretofore but without giving a practical decision, he was exempt (based on the text, "And should a man act presumptuously" (Deut. 17:12; Sanh. 11:2)).

A zaken mamre was not liable to the death penalty unless he was an ordained scholar, who was fit to pass judgment and whose decision had validity. His defiance of the supreme bet din had to be in a matter which if done willfully carried with it the penalty of *karet, and if done inadvertently a sin-offering, or in a matter that if done deliberately would lead to a transgression carrying with it the same penalties, for instance, a disagreement on the intercalation of the year that would lead to leaven being eaten during Passover (Sanh. 87a; Maim., Yad, Mamrim, 3:5, 4:2). A zaken mamre is liable to the death penalty when he disagrees about a matter whose basis is in the written Torah and whose explanation is from the *soferim ("scribes"), or about a halakhah given to Moses at Sinai, or about something derived from the 13 hermeneutical principles (see *Hermeneutics) whereby the Torah is interpreted, but not when he disagrees on a law of rabbinic provenance which has no basis in the Torah (Maim., ibid., 1:2).


et, 12 (1967), 346–64.

[Abraham Arzi]