Shabbat Parashat Noach| 5765
The Age of Dayanim
In order to be fit to serve as a judge, one needs to be fit to testify in court (Nidah 49b). Therefore, certainly minors (based on age or lack of basic physical development (shtei sa’arot)) cannot be dayanim. The Shulchan Aruch (Choshen Mishpat 7:3) brings an additional opinion that it is not sufficient for a dayan to be a bar mitzva. Rather he must be at least 18 years old. The S’ma (ad loc.) cites the Tur’s reason that only at that age does he have the stature among men to take stands on contentious issues. The Bach says that it is a matter of requiring a certain level of intellectual maturity (in addition to basic knowledge of the topics discussed, which is a requirement irrespective of age). He interestingly notes that it is for this reason that 18 is the age given for marriage. The Beit Yosef also cites an opinion that a dayan should be at least 20.
Yet we find sources elsewhere in which a totally different age is given. The gemara (Avoda Zara 19b) says that the cutoff point for rendering halachic rulings is the age of 40. When confronted with the fact that Rava, who rendered many rulings, did not make it past the age of 40, the gemara says that he was different because there was no one in his city who was greater than he in Torah knowledge (Rashi). For that reason, he was permitted to render rulings at a younger age. The Rama (Yoreh Deah 242:31) rules like this gemara.
Some commentaries deal with the apparent contradiction between the ages suggested by these sources. The Beit Yosef (YD 242) suggests that one may render rulings before the age of 40. The difference is that until 40 one has the right to withhold one’s halachic opinions in deference to the older sages of the town, whereas at 40 one has the obligation to state his opinion. The Ba’al Haitur (cited by the Shvut Ya’akov I, 140) says that there are different ages based on subject matter. The ageof 40 is only for matters of issur v’heter (that which is forbidden or permitted), whereas 18 is sufficient for judging monetary matters. Another distinction which is made (Shvut Ya’akov, ibid.) is between a dayan who rules as a beit din of one and one who is part of beit din of three. In a beit din of three, full-fledged dayanim are not required. In contrast, in the exceptional case of a beit din of one, where only the most qualified can tread and with great care (see Sanhedrin 5a), it is possible that only a 40 year-old should take the responsibility.
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