The laws of a ben sorer u’moreh – a stubborn and rebellious son (see Devarim 21:18-21) – require beit din to carry out capital punishment by means of sekila (stoning), which would place these halakhot in the seventh perek of Massekhet Sanhedrin. Nevertheless, the eighth perek, called perek ben sorer u’moreh, which begins on today’s daf, focuses on these laws, because of the significant differences that exist between this case and other situations of capital crimes in Jewish law.
Under ordinary circumstances, a death penalty is meted out by the Jewish courts as punishment for crimes committed that the Torah views as anti-social and deserving of the most severe punishment. According to all opinions, however, the activities that will bring about the stoning of a ben sorer u’moreh are not so grave as to be deserving of death. The Sages explain that this is a case where the punishment will be given because of future concerns. The behavior exhibited by the ben sorer u’moreh points to a future of anti-social behavior so severe that it will threaten society. The Torah requires that such behavior be prevented, and sekila for a ben sorer u’moreh is essentially “preventative medicine” for society and for himself.
This understanding of the underlying reasons for the laws of ben sorer u’moreh notwithstanding, according to the traditions of the Sages the rules and regulations associated with ben sorer u’moreh are to be understood in such a limited manner that they cannot be practically applied, or will apply only in very unusual circumstances. Nevertheless, examination of these laws is important, both for themselves and in order to understand related issues. We can learn how to relate to laws that have no applicable function in Jewish law and we can also understand the place of punishments whose purpose is not to punish a person for the act that he did but for the greater benefit of society.