Re-starting the Jewish heart

Rabbi Hollander sees the establishment of the Sanhedrin as a duty incumbent on the Jewish people.

yeshiva study 88 (photo credit: )
yeshiva study 88
(photo credit: )
The Sanhedrin is the name of the 71-member Jewish court that was alone empowered to rule on such nation-affecting matters as who is or is not a prophet, pass final judgments on capital cases and issue rulings that would affect the religious practice of all the world's Jews. The first Sanhedrin was formed shortly after the giving of the Torah, when God told Moses to "assemble 70 of Israel's elders... the ones you know to be the people's elders and leaders.... I will cause some of the spirit that you possess to emanate, and I will grant it to them. You will then not have to bear the responsibility all alone" (Numbers 11:16). The Lord then "caused the spirit that had been imparted on Moses to emanate, and He bestowed it upon the 70 elders. When the spirit descended on them, they gained the gift of prophecy and did not lose it." These 70, with Moses, comprised the first court. The nation was then commanded to obey all (majority) Sanhedrin rulings, on pain of death: "If you are unable to reach a decision in a case involving capital punishment... where there is a dispute in your territorial courts, then you must set out and go up to the place that God your Lord shall choose. You must approach the Levitical priests, and the supreme court that exists at the time. When you make the inquiry, they will declare to you a legal decision... you must do as they tell you, carefully following their every decision. You must keep the Torah as they interpret it for you, and follow the laws that they legislate for you. Do not stray to the right or left from the word that they declare to you. If there is any man who rebels and refuses to listen to the priest or other judge who is in charge of serving God your Lord there, then that man must be put to death" (Deut. 16:8, Deut. 17). Its mention in Chronicles, Josephus and of course the Talmud proves that this institution was fully functional at least until 70 CE, when the Second Temple was destroyed. Some of the later Sanhedrin members are said to have had divine inspiration, such as the prophets Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi. To become members of the Sanhedrin, initiates had not only to scale the pinnacle of a nationwide educational system, but experience ordination by a laying-on of hands. Some believe that until at least one genuine bearer of the tradition comes forward to anoint the 70 other would-be Sanhedrin members, a modern body cannot be said to have divine approval. That "Judaism's Supreme Court" will in fact reconvene, however, is implicit in God's promise that "I will restore your judges as at the first" (Isaiah 1:26). Of course, even with that authority, Sanhedrin members are merely mortal, and are nowhere described as infallible. The Torah and Talmud thus provided several legal (i.e. God-approved) means of redress in the event of Sanhedrin error. In Jerusalem recently interviewed Rabbi Yeshayahu Hollander, a member of the nascent Sanhedrin responsible for relations with the gentile world and reestablishing the other functions performed by the Sanhedrin. His answers were then vetted and affirmed by Rabbi Yoel Shwartz, head of the beit din (rabbinical court) of Bnei Noah and a teacher at the Dvar Yerushalayim Yeshiva, and Rabbi Yehiel Sitzman, who is active in helping guide gentiles who wish to follow the laws which Judaism teaches they are obligated to observe. Of course, interacting with the gentile world was only one of the Sanhedrin's functions; the larger purpose of "Judaism's Supreme Court" was to act as a unifying influence on the Jewish world. For example, a functioning Sanhedrin issuing authoritative rulings (something which can't happen until the court is situated on The Temple Mount and its rulings earn the approval of a majority of world Jewry) could end Judaism's current division into Reconstructionist, Reform, Conservative, Orthodox and haredi streams, update such things as the halachic position on electricity, Internet, organ transplants and bioengineering, and unify Shabbat observance and standards of conversion. There have been earlier, unsuccessful attempts to revive the Sanhedrin. What makes this attempt different? This is the first attempt to reestablish the Sanhedrin in the Land of Israel at a time when the people of Israel represent the majority of the inhabitants... Today Israel is the center of Jewish life. Thus it has now become a duty for the Jews in the Holy Land to try to establish a Sanhedrin. But even this "new" Sanhedrin did not at first see itself as official. Is this still the case? Yes. To be "official" the basic requirement from a practical standpoint is that the top level of talmidei hachamim [Talmud scholars] either be part of the Sanhedrin or recognize it. Is a certain level of ruah hakodesh (divine inspiration) in at least one member necessary, as in the times of the original Sanhedrin? Maimonides does not list ruah hakodesh as a definite prerequisite. What relationship is envisioned between the Sanhedrin and the gentile world in general? With the Bnei Noah in particular? It is our duty to strive to bring the Torah to all the nations. This is indicated in many places... The nations are already coming to learn, as we see by the developing Bnei Noah movement - those wonderful non-Jews who have taken upon themselves to observe the Seven Noahide Laws [sometimes called "The Noahide Covenant" or more figuratively "The Rainbow Covenant"]. Many Bnei Noah also take on additional commandments. There is a thirst for the word of the almighty, and it is our duty to meet this need. This Word was especially given at Sinai to Israel, whose role is to be "a kingdom of kohanim [priests] and a holy nation" [Exodus 19:6] which means, among other duties, that it is the duty of the Jews to teach the nations, just as it is one of the duties of the kohanim to teach the Jews, as Malachi says: "For the priest's lips should keep knowledge, and they should seek the law at his mouth; for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts" [Malachi 2:7]. Bnei Noah join the Jews in observing Psalm 105:1: "O give thanks unto the Lord, call upon His name; make known His doings among the peoples." What changes would the Sanhedrin be looking to encourage in such things as Christian and Islamic belief and practice? We would try to encourage the acceptance of the message the Almighty sent to mankind at Sinai through the Jewish people, and the understanding that the Almighty has never revoked this message.... [which has been] misunderstood or intentionally distorted by the spokesmen of Islam and Christianity. This misunderstanding must be rectified, the distortions recognized, the true message learned and heeded. And would the Sanhedrin permit or encourage such people if they wanted to live in Israel? There are many other conditions necessary for living in the Holy Land. If and when met, yes, it would be permissible for a non-Jew to settle. What of the Hindu pantheon? The common understanding is that the Hindu pantheon reflects a religion which is not monotheistic. As such, believers in this pantheon are not Bnei Noah. What will be the eventual relationship between the Sanhedrin and such existing authorities as the United Nations, the World Court and the political leadership of the world's nations? We are looking forward to a working relationship with these organizations. The motto of the UN is "they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more." This motto is part of verse 4 in Isaiah chapter 2; it would be proper to consider the whole verse: "And it shall come to pass in the end of days that the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established at the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills, and all nations shall stream unto it. And many nations shall come and say: 'O come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob;' and He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths. For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. And He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide for many peoples, and they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more." It is our firm belief that the vision of verse 4 will become a reality only after the world accepts and internalizes the message indicated in verse 3. Clearly, selecting, training and empowering the worldwide courts and court officials envisioned by the Seven Noahide Laws will be a massive undertaking. What is this going to cost, and how long is it expected to take? We have not put together an "executive summary." The answer depends on many factors. The first and foremost factor is understanding; people must understand that the world is in a very dangerous situation. There is a serious threat of nuclear war. There is a serious threat of moral disintegration. We are being taught that there is no absolute morality, no real "right" and "wrong," only subjective "narratives." When the gravity of the situation is finally recognized, the means will be found. What would be the involvement of already-extant rabbinical courts in this process? One of the Noahide commandments is to set up a social system with a legal framework, including courts. The function of the Jews is to teach and advise, to help the nations do this, mainly by themselves. Would already Bible-believing, Israel-supporting Christian evangelical groups (and/or existing international legal-ethical bodies) be permitted, expected or encouraged to help bring this about? Yes, when they have accepted the Noahide covenant. Would actual Sanhedrin membership be strictly limited to Jews? The Sanhedrin is a Jewish institution which mainly deals with Judaism, but it also has a function regarding non-Jews - to facilitate the spread of the Torah. In this regard we hope for the partnership of leaders from every nation. Each nation can decide how to handle its own affairs. And regarding the Jewish world, once the Sanhedrin is officially recognized as the final authority regarding Jewish belief and practice, where will such things be "set" on the current Reform-to-haredi continuum? In other words, what will be done to establish guidelines that will gain the confidence and support of most of the planet's Jews? When the nations understand the function of Israel and the role of the Torah, so will all the Jews understand their obligations to the whole world, and this will unite the people of Israel. The prophecy is that the world's nations will one day look to Jerusalem (and the Sanhedrin) for guidance. Do you see forces at work today that will help bring such universal admiration? Yes, we do: in the return to Torah by the Bnei Noah, which reflects a longing for the authentic call of the Almighty. This call has to be the basis of action. We are determined to do our part in this cosmic undertaking by preparing suitable people. As you probably know, the very idea of reconstituting the Sanhedrin is being met with a mixture of hostility, ridicule and indifference by both Jews and gentiles. Is more than education required? Certainly any means for bringing people closer to their covenant with the Almighty is of great importance. Education is the first and most important step. But education without action is not enough. Proper education brings action. We attempt to use any vehicle that will help bring people closer to truth.