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Mishnat Hashavua: Sanhendrin 3:7

Should internal court deliberations be public or secret?

Once the [judges] reached a verdict they would bring in [the defendant]. The senior judge would say, “Mr. Doe, you are innocent,” or, “Mr. Doe, you are guilty.” What is the source [for the practice] that when one of the judges goes out [of the court] he must not say, “I exonerated [you] but my colleagues found you guilty; what can I do since they are in the majority?” Regarding this it says (Lev. 19:16), “Do not go talebearing among your people,” and it says (Prov. 11:13), “the talebearer reveals a secret.”


Rabbinic law does not use peer juries, but rather relies on courts of sages. The smallest court consists of three judges. Ancient Jewish cities maintained courts of twenty-three judges. In Jerusalem, the great Sanhedrin of seventy-one judges ruled on matters of national significance. All courts had an odd number of judges to prevent a deadlock. Although unanimous opinions were not required (indeed a unanimous opinion to execute a criminal was considered suspect), our Mishnah indicates that the internal deliberations of the court were considered secret.


  1. Does this Mishnah imply that all court deliberations are to be kept secret, or only the actual vote record?
  2. According to this text, a judge must defend a verdict that he himself opposed. What are the positive and negative consequences of such a policy?
  3. Does the public have a right to know what arguments were used in finding a verdict, even if the identity of the voters is kept secret?