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Deuteronomy Chapter 17
Genesis
Exodus
Leviticus
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Deuteronomy
Subjects
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34

Blemished Sacrifice
17:1 Do not sacrifice to God your Lord any ox, sheep or goat that has a serious blemish, since to do so before God your Lord is considered revolting.

Penalties for Idolatry
17:2 [This is what you must do] when you discover a man or woman doing evil in the eyes of God your Lord in one of the settlements that God your Lord is giving you. [That person] will have violated [God's] covenant
17:3 by going and worshiping or bowing down to the sun, moon or other heavenly bodies, whose [worship] I prohibited.
17:4 When it is told to you, you must listen and carefully interrogate [the witnesses]. If the accusation is established to be true, and this revolting practice has been done in Israel,
17:5 you shall take that man or woman who did the wicked act out to your gates. You shall then pelt the man or woman to death with stones.
17:6 The accused shall be put to death only through the testimony of two or three witnesses. He shall not be put to death through the testimony of one witness.
17:7 The hand of the witness shall be against him first to put him to death, and only then shall the hand of all the other people [be set against him]. You shall thus rid yourselves of evil.

The Supreme Court
17:8 If you are unable to reach a decision in a case involving capital punishment, litigation, leprous marks, [or any other case] 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.
17:9 You must approach the Levitical priests [and other members of] the supreme court that exists at the time. When you make inquiry, they will declare to you a legal decision.
17:10 Since this decision comes from the place that God shall choose, you must do as they tell you, carefully following their every decision.
17:11 [Besides this, in general,] 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.
17:12 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 [as leader of the supreme court], then that man must be put to death, thus ridding yourselves of evil in Israel.
17:13 When all the people hear about it, they will fear and will not rebel again.

The Monarch
17:14 When you come to the land that God your Lord is giving you, so that you have occupied it and settled it, you will eventually say, 'We would like to appoint a king, just like all the nations around us.'
17:15 You must then appoint the king whom God your Lord shall choose. You must appoint a king from among your brethren; you may not appoint a foreigner who is not one of your brethren.
17:16 [The king,] however, must not accumulate many horses, so as not to bring the people back to Egypt to get more horses. God has told you that you must never again return on that path.
17:17 He [also] must not have many wives, so that they not make his heart go astray. He shall likewise not accumulate very much silver and gold.
17:18 When [the king] is established on his royal throne, he must write a copy of this Torah as a scroll edited by the Levitical priests.
17:19 [This scroll] must always be with him, and he shall read from it all the days of his life. He will then learn to be in awe of God his Lord, and carefully keep every word of this Torah and these rules.
17:20 He will then [also] not begin to feel superior to his brethren, and he will not stray from the mandate to the right or the left. He and his descendants will thus have a long reign in the midst of Israel.



Commentary:

sheep or goat
  The Hebrew seh denotes both.

serious blemish
  See Leviticus 22:22-24.

whose worship I prohibited
  (Septuagint; Megillah 9a; Rashi). Literally, 'which I did not command.'

established
  Nakhon in Hebrew; see Deuteronomy 13:15. Or, 'if the testimony [of the two witnesses] matches' (Rashi; HaKethav VeHaKabbalah).

gates
  That is, the gate of the city where the sin was committed. However, if the majority of the city's population were gentile idolators, the penalty would be carried out within the confines of the court (Kethuvoth 45b; Yad, Sanhedrin 15:2; cf. Targum; Rashi; Sifri; HaKethav VeHaKabbalah).

two or three
  This indicates that if there are three witnesses they must be interrogated the same as two (Ralbag). Moreover, if the testimony of the third witness does not agree with the two, the entire testimony must be rejected (Makkoth 5b; Rashi).

unable to reach a decision
  (cf. Malbim). Pala in Hebrew. Or, 'if it is concealed' (Targum; Rashi), 'separated' (Targum Yonathan), 'with a hidden answer' (Saadia), or, 'too difficult' (Septuagint)

involving
  (cf. HaKethav VeHaKabbalah).

capital punishment
  (Rashi; Rashbam; Ibn Ezra). Literally, 'blood.' Or, '[clean and unclean] blood' (Sanhedrin 87a; Niddah 19a; Targum Yonathan; Ramban); cf. Leviticus 15:19, 25.

leprous marks
  (Targum; Rashi; Rashbam). Nega in Hebrew. Or, 'damages for injury' (Ibn Ezra; Septuagint).

where there is a dispute...
  (Targum; Rashi). Or, 'or any other dispute in your settlements' (Ramban; Septuagint).

Levitical priests
  (Rashi; Ibn Ezra). Or, 'Levites [and] priests,' indicating that both should preferably be members of the supreme court (Sifri; Yad, Sanhedrin 2:2). Cf. 2 Chronicles 19:8. Or, 'the supreme court [associated with] the Levitical priests,' indicating that for the court to have full authority, the priesthood must also be functioning (Sanhedrin 52b; Yad, Sanhedrin 14:11). The priests were associated with the court because they were supported by the community (see Deuteronomy 18:1), and could therefore devote their entire time to Torah study (Abarbanel).

supreme court
  Or, literally, 'judge.' However, by tradition, this is speaking of the council of 70 elders, the first of which was appointed by Moses; cf. Numbers 11:16, 24 (Yad, Sanhedrin 1:3). Also see Exodus 24:1. In Talmudical times, this supreme court was known as the Sanhedrin. Besides being a court, this body also had legislative powers, see Deuteronomy 17:11.

Besides this...
  (Sefer HaMitzvoth, Positive 174; Chinukh 495).

Do not stray
  This is a negative commandment, that also includes legislation (Berakhoth 19b; Shabbath 23a; Sefer HaMitzvoth, Negative 312; Chinukh 496). However, some say that these commandments apply only to decisions and not to legislation (Ramban on Sefer HaMitzvoth, Shoresh 1, 4a ff.)

any man
  Actually, only a man who is duly ordained and fit to sit on the supreme court, and is thus normally able to reach a decision as in Deuteronomy 17:8 (Sanhedrin 87a). Such a person is known as a 'rebellious elder' (zaken mamre).

rebels
  Zyd in Hebrew. Or, 'acts wickedly' (Targum), 'acts purposely' (Targum Yonathan); or, 'acts in haughtiness' (Septuagint).

as leader...
  (cf. Hirsch; Sifri).

shall choose
  Prophetically (Sifri; Yad, Melakhim 1:3.

many horses
  It is thus forbidden for an Israelite king to have more horses than he needs for transportation and war. He may not have any horses merely for pomp (Sanhedrin 21b; Yad, Melakhim 3:3).

many wives
  Although polygamy was permitted, and was common for kings, an Israelite king was forbidden to have more than eighteen wives (Sanhedrin 21b; Yad, Melakhim 3:2).

very much
  That is, the king is forbidden to build up a personal fortune (Yad, Melakhim 3:4).

scroll
  Literally, 'book,' but all books were then written as scrolls.

Levitical priests
  That is, by the Sanhedrin (Tosefta, Sanhedrin 4:4; Yad, Melakhim 3:1). See note on Deuteronomy 17:9.





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