כ״ח באדר ה׳תשע״ה (March 19, 2015)

Ketubot 45a-b: The Defamer is Flogged

One of the common punishments meted out by Jewish courts of law is malkot – lashes. According to the Torah, most sins that are committed by performing a forbidden action will be punished by a public flogging (see 25:1-3). interpret the passage to mean that once convicted, the individual receives 39 lashes in sets of three. A physician is on hand throughout the process to ensure that the lashes will not kill the person, and the punishment will be stopped if such a concern exists.

Our Gemara discusses the case of a motzi shem ra – someone who defames or falsely accuses his wife of having committed adultery between their betrothal and marriage (see 22:13-19). According to the Torah, if the investigation shows that his wife is innocent, he will be punished by malkot, paying a penalty of 100 kesef and will not be allowed to divorce her.

Rabbi Yehuda is quoted in a baraita as saying that under all circumstances the husband gets malkot, a statement that is interpreted by the Gemara to mean that whether or not the husband and wife have had sexual relations, he will get malkot if he is found to be a motzi shem ra; if they had relations they will be biblically mandated malkot, while if they had not had relations they will be makat mardut mi-derabbanan – lashes applied by a rabbinic decree.

Rav Hai Gaon defines the term mardut as the Aramaic translation of the term mussar – rebuke (see, for example Onkelos’ translation to Vayikra 26:28). The ge’onim explain that this type of malkot do not have the same restrictions as those mandated by the Torah. They are not given in sets of three, they are not necessarily carried out with a double strap, and there is no requirement for constant medical supervision of the situation. Makat mardut mi-derabbanan are given without a specific limit. While the Arukh claims that the individual receiving them was often beaten to death, the Ramah teaches that they were always a third of the lashes mandated by the Torah.

According to the Ritva, there were different types of makat mardut mi-derabbanan. In cases where a person committed a one time forbidden act, they were limited, although they could be more than the biblically mandated ones. In cases where a person repeatedly committed a crime, they might be given with no limit whatsoever.

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