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Shabbat Parashat Balak | 5769

Hemdat Hadaf Hayomi: The Obligation of a Judge to Explain his Ruling

Baba Metzia 64-70

 This week in the Daf Hayomi (69a), the Gemara tells of two business partners who came to Rav Papa twice, to resolve a dispute between them. In both cases, Rav Papa ruled against the same partner. The partner felt that the rulings of Rav Papa were contradictory and that Rav Papa was discriminating against him. Rav Papa, in order to remove this suspicion, explained to the partner the reasoning behind the two rulings. From the wording of the Gemara it appears that only because of the suspicion did Rav Papa explain his reasoning, but in other cases the judge is not required to do so.[1]

The Rishonim question this from the Gemara in Sanhedrin (31b) from which it appears that a person can always request from the judges to write the reasoning for the ruling, so that he will be able to appeal before a court of higher authority. There are a few resolutions to this seeming contradiction.

According to Rabbeinu Tam (Tosafot Baba Metzia 69b d"h Ki), the judge is usually not required to explain his ruling. Only in two cases is he required to do so. The first is where there is suspicion against him, such as in the case of the partners in Baba Metzia. The second is when one of the litigants wanted to go to a court of higher authority, but was forced to come before the local court.  In this case, as well, he can request that the judges write the reasoning behind the ruling, and this is the intent of the Gemara in Sanhedrin.

The Ramban (ibid d"h Kegon) agrees with Rabbeinu Tam but goes even further and claims that even when the judges write their ruling so that the litigant can appeal before a court of higher authority, they need not write the reasoning, but rather it is sufficient that they write the claims, proofs, and their ruling, and the other court will be able to see for themselves if they ruled properly.

The Tosafot (Sanhedrin 31b d"h Ve'im) offer a different approach. They explain that, if one of the litigants requests, the judges are always required to explain their ruling, and this is the intent of the Gemara in Sanhedrin. However, if there is suspicion against the judge, then, even without a request from the litigants, the judge must explain his ruling.

Nowadays, the Chief Rabbinate of Israel instituted that the judges of the Batei Din of the Chief Rabbinate must always explain the reasoning of their rulings in writing. In the Rabbinical Courts of Eretz Hemdah- Gazit, as well, the judges are required to write their ruling with a full explanation.


The Rishonim disagree whether a judge usually has to explain the reasoning behind his rulings, or only in special circumstances such as when there is suspicion against him or when one of the litigants has the right to appeal before a different court. Nowadays, the common practice is to always explain the reasoning behind the ruling.


[1] However, see Tosafot (69b d"h Ki) who suggests another possible explanation to the Gemara, and according to that explanation, there is no proof that Rav Papa explained his ruling only because of the suspicion.

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This edition of Hemdat Yamim is dedicated to the memory of

R ' Meir ben Yechezkel Shraga  Brachfeld


Hemdat Yamim is endowed by
Les & Ethel Sutker of Chicago, Illinois in loving memory of
Max and Mary Sutker

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