The third perek of Massekhet Makkot begins on today’s daf and as its name – Elu hen ha-lokin (“These are the ones who receive lashes”) – indicates, we are now embarking on the central theme of the tractate by examining the most basic punishment meted out by Jewish courts.
The Torah makes clear (see Devarim 25:1-4) that there are times that the Jewish court will punish a rasha – an “evildoer” – with a punishment of malkot – lashes. What is left unclear is who might be considered to be a rasha. Is anyone who transgresses biblical commandments deserving of lashes, or perhaps only some transgressions will require such punishment?
The first Mishna in the perek lists those individuals who are liable to receive the punishment of lashes, ranging from people who engage in sexual transgressions to those who eat forbidden foods. All of the commentaries note that this is not a full, all-encompassing list of cases whose punishment would be lashes – the Meiri counts a total of more than two hundred forbidden actions for which this punishment would be given – rather they are a collection of cases that we would not have known otherwise or are brought because they are connected with one or another of those cases. Even though Mishnayot that open with the word elu usually give a full list of cases to be included in the topic under discussion, in this case the Mishna was interested in clarifying three general types of negative commandments for which lashes are given. These are:
- negative commandments that will be punished by karet – literally “to be cut off” from the community, a Heavenly punishment
- negative commandments that will be punished with mitah be-yedei shamayim – a Heavenly death sentence
- ordinary negative commandments.
In each of these cases, irrespective of the punishments that are in the hands of God, the beit din will carry out malkot.