What roles would a re-established Sanhedrin perform in the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem, and what functions would such a body perform in regulating worship? Would such a body be necessary today? Undoubtedly fulfill the regulatory needs of today as they did in the past, what authority did they have?
A Quick History
What was the Sanhedrin? The Sanhedrin was a body of scholars that regulated both religious and civil courts in ancient Israel. These functions were divided into the Great Sanhedrin which oversaw religious regulations, and the lesser Sanhedrin which regulated civil affairs. Most likely there was one body which oversaw both functions originally. The ideal number of members is set at 71, fewer members having made up the membership in times past.
Over the years various writers have described the body in different ways showing that it differed in function as needs arose and political leaders permitted. For an example: Napoleon appointed a 71 member “French Sanhedrin” to oversee relations between the French government and the Jewish population. Until recently, the body has been all but a dim memory.
Although the term “Sanhedrin” applies primarily to the body sitting from the Roman occupation of the Holy Land until about four hundred years after the destruction of the Temple, the concept traces back to the appointment of judges under Moses (Numbers 11:16 “[Yahweh] answered Moses, ‘Assemble seventy elders from Israel, men known to you as elders and officers in the community; bring them to me at the Tent of the Presence, and there let them take their stand with you.”.) These seventy elders, plus Moses, is the reason given for there being 71 members. Jewish scholars state that Moses’ laying on of hands upon Yahshua the son of Nun was the beginning of the Sanhedrin. Such notables such as Yahshua, Ezra and Nehemiah are believed to have been ordained into the Sanhedrin. That secular authorities have had their influence is not denied; Jehoshaphat’s appointment of Levites, priests and heads of fathers houses to hold court (2 Chronicles 19:8 “In Jerusalem Jehoshaphat appointed some of the Levites and Priests and some heads of families by paternal descent in Israel to administer the law of [Yahweh] and to arbitrate in lawsuits among the inhabitants of the city,”) is an example. The Talmud states that King Saul was the president (Nassi) and his son Jonathan was vice president (Av Beis Din) during King Saul’s reign.
Upon their return from Babylonian captivity, it was determined that there was a need for a Great Assembly (Knesset HaGadolah). This Sanhedrin consisted of many of the prophets of that time. Their undertaking of translating the Tanach into Aramaic was, and is, the authoritative version; it being “sealed” so that nothing can be added to nor deleted from it. Their ordinances, some of which can be read in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, set the various methods of worship we see to this day. The prayers, methods of prayer, times of prayer, and many aspects of everyday life were hammered out over the years by the Sanhedrin Sages.
It was during the Second Temple period that the power of leadership was divided into two separate entities. This was due to politics being used for monetary gain, the Sages of the time feeling it wise to dilute the power so that no one person could be influenced in such a way as to corrupt the entire system. The office of Av Beis Din was given authority over halachic matters, while the political power resided in the office of the Nassi. Everything from bribery to murder was employed by both Jewish and the various Gentile occupying authorities; transforming the Sanhedrin into a theater of conflict between the Sadducees and Pharisees. The Pharisees were eventually ousted from the Sanhedrin but retained power and influence among the people.
Where did the Sanhedrin officially meet at this time? It was in a building supposed to be on the North wall of the Temple, half of the building outside the Sanctuary and the other half extending into the Sanctuary. The reasoning was that the members of the Sanhedrin were not permitted within the Temple itself, and yet they had to be accessible to the priests at times when the priests were not permitted to leave the confines of the Temple. It was only in this chamber that they could render decisions on capital offenses; until 28 C.E. when they gave over such authority to the Romans.
The year 425 C.E. is the date given for the abolition of the Sanhedrin, it having fallen into great disfavor with the Roman authorities. Later attempts to re-establish it lead to necessary changes in how the Sanhedrin was to be formed and function. An example is the matter of ordination “semicha.” Originally the ordination of leadership was to have been an unbroken line originating from the installation of Yahshua ben Nun by Moses. This obviously could no long be claimed due to the centuries long prohibition by the Romans lasting from 425 to about 1180 C.E. The Rambam (1135-1204 C.E.) taught in Hilchos Sanhedrin 4:11,12 that a person could be ordained as leader of the Sanhedrin by consensus of all the Chachomin in Eretz Yisrael, and that person could then ordain others, and so forth.
Post World War 2 has seen the re-emergence of the attempt to reconvene the Sanhedrin. Rabbi Moshe Halberstam became the first person ordained (samukh) under this understanding. Rabbi Dov Levanoni, along with several rabbis held a ceremony in October 2004 in which they claim to have re-established the Sanhedrin.
Although not recognized as an official, legal body by the Israeli government, the body has been consulted in secular court and has had input about the Bible and Scriptures in the curriculum via discussion with the Ministry of Education. This body is active in the Temple Mount Movement, a movement trying to prepare for the rebuilding of the Temple on the original site.
What Decisions Were Made?
The quick answer would be “just about anything civil or religious.” Ideally the Sanhedrin was comprised of the High Priest and Levites (Deut. 17:9 “There you must go to the Levitical priests or to the judge then in office; seek their guidance, and they will pronounce the sentence.”); however it is valid without even one in the membership.
One decision that affected everyone in Israel then, and all who hold to recognizing the beginnings of months (and thereby observance of the Holy Seasons) by a visible New Moon today, was ‘Is today the day of the New Moon?’ There is controversy and indecision in some circles today due to there being no recognized governing body over such issues in Israel today. While it is true that the law will go forth from Zion in the future, (Isaiah 2:3 “For instruction issues from Zion, and out of Jerusalem comes the word of [Yahweh]”; Micah 4:2 “For instruction issues from Zion, and out of Jerusalem comes the word of [Yahweh]”) was it necessary that the New Moon be seen in Jerusalem? The answer is, no! If weather conditions were unfavorable in Jerusalem, there were already “spotters” on the dominant heights who would report the sighting to Jerusalem. Nowhere can I find that the New Moon HAD to be sighted in Jerusalem, or even the immediate environs for that matter. The New Moon would then be sanctified by authority of the Sanhedrin and the decision signaled via trumpets, signal fires, etc. (of course woe-be-it to anyone who made a false report.)
Relevance for Today?
In order for a rebuilt Temple to be valid there will have to be a recognized body of scholars to confirm that all is in accordance with Torah directives. Confirmation of a High Priest, his assistants, all implements and all proceedings will also have to pass muster before they can officially function. This body of scholars will, by definition, be the Sanhedrin. No Sanhedrin, no valid Temple.
The Messiah, as a king, must be recognized by a duly ordained Sanhedrin!
It is a given, by the observant, that the Messiah, as a king, must be recognized by a duly ordained Sanhedrin. It is they who will investigate any Messianic claims and it is they who will either reject or accept the claimant. It was the Sanhedrin under Caiaphas who rejected Yahshua; and it will be the re-newed Sanhedrin who will accept the person claiming Messianic/Davidic authority in the coming rebuilt Temple: the one often referred to by non-Jews as “The anti-Messiah.”
A re-newed Sanhedrin is a necessity for Judaism and it’s adherents to function in the near future, if not already. We are now well past the start-up stage for such a body to come to the forefront, there already being such an organization in Eretz Ysrael today. This body only needs to fill the necessary membership needs and to be openly consulted for enforced rulings. It is already active in the Temple Mount Movement and is being consulted in civil cases.
One such function which can occur without a Temple being built is the sanctification of New Moons. With today’s technology observations can be gathered from sights scattered throughout the globe, the observers interviewed and pictures sent in near-live time. An observer in Alaska can send a picture and be questioned as he is seeing the New Moon, and a decision rendered by the Sanhedrin within seconds.
Rebuilding of the Temple is once again gaining momentum. A recognized body must be available to sanctify the Red Heifer (for cleansing) and the building sight. Once the Temple has been rebuilt and is functioning the way will be cleared for the ordination of a king-messiah and rulership to be implemented. For the Jews this will be a time of great rejoicing; for others a time of great trepidation.
At long last even this Sanhedrin and their king-messiah will be overthrown by the true Messiah. He will rule and finally establish what we could call the true Sanhedrin (Revelation 20: 4-6 “ Then I saw thrones, and upon them sat those to whom judgment was committed. I could see the souls of those who had been beheaded for the sake of [Yahweh’s] word and their testimony to [Yahshua], those who had not worshipped the beast and its image or received its mark on forehead or hand. These came to life again and reigned with [the Messiah] for a thousand years, though the rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were over. This is the first resurrection. Happy indeed, and one of [Yahweh’s] own people, is the man who shares in this first resurrection! Upon such the second death has no claim; but they shall be priests of [Yahweh] and of [the Messiah], and shall reign with him for the thousand years.”)
Yours in Messiah,
AKA The Mick
AKA The Mick
Bible quotes from “The New English Bible” [Sacred Names inserted by author]
Excerpt from Handbook of Jewish Thought by Rabbi Kaplan
Unger’s Bible Dictionary
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