TALMUD. The 24rd Massekhet – Sanhedrin

In contrast to its name, Tractate Sanhedrin is not solely focused on laws relating to the Jewish court system, rather it is the Tractate of the Jewish State. Massekhet Sanhedrin deals with a broad range of issues that arise in connection with the workings of a Jewish State. All of the basic governmental institutions required by the Torah – and the relationships between them – are discussed in this tractate.

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114 Responses to TALMUD. The 24rd Massekhet – Sanhedrin

  1. Sanhedrin 51a-b: Practical Applications

    Generally speaking, the purpose of discussions that we find in the Talmud is to understand the halakha that is derived from the Sages’ conversations, which lead to concrete conclusions that can be applied in the real world. The focus of our perek on applying capital punishment in cases where such punishment is appropriate according to Torah law appears to have no application in our day-and-age when the Sanhedrin does not operate.

    This issue is raised by the Gemara itself on today’s daf. In the course of a discussion about how Rabbi Eliezer’s ruling about incestuous relationships is to be understood, Rav Naḥman quotes Rabbah bar Avuha in the name of Rav that the halakha follows the interpretation offered by Ravin in the name of Rabbi Yosei the son of Rabbi Ḥanina.

    Rav Yosef objects to this ruling with the exclamation hilkheta le-meshiḥa!? – are you ruling on a matter that will have no practical application until the days of the Messiah when the Sanhedrin will be reestablished? Abaye responds by pointing out that were we to follow that reasoning, we should not study the laws of the Temple sacrifices, since they have no current application. Rather we do this under the category of derosh ve-kabel sakhar – study it to receive reward – i.e. there is intrinsic value in the study of Torah, even if it is not currently applicable. Here, too, there is intrinsic value in the study of these laws.

    Rav Ya’akov Emden suggests that the objection raised by Rav Yosef hints to the fact that even in Messianic times, the ordinary laws will remain in place, and that there will still be a need for the rules and regulations regarding the punishments of beit din (see Yeshayahu 65:20 “…for the youngest shall die a hundred years old, and the sinner being a hundred years old shall be accursed”).

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  2. Sanhedrin 52a-b: Execution by Decapitation

    When must we be concerned lest Jewish practices mimic those of idol worshipers?

    When the Mishna on today’s daf discusses how hereg – death by sword – is carried out, two opinions are offered. The Tanna Kamma suggests that the Jewish court would sever the head of the condemned man just as is done by the non-Jewish authorities. Rabbi Yehuda argued that the proper way to carry out this death penalty was by having the condemned man place his head on a table, where his head would be chopped off with a kofitz – a large knife or cleaver. According to the Mishna, Rabbi Yehuda was told that this could not be the method used, since this is the most revolting of any possible means of death.

    According to a baraita quoted by the Gemara, this conversation continued, and Rabbi Yehuda insisted that he, too, recognized how repulsive it would be to carry out a death sentence in this fashion, but he had no choice since the alternative suggested by the Tanna Kamma is forbidden because of u-beḥukotekhem lo telekhu – it is forbidden to follow the practices of non-Jews (see Vayikra 18:3). The Sages believe that since the law prescribing the death penalty of hereg appears in the Torah, we recognize that we are not borrowing the practice from pagans and there is no prohibition.

    A kofitz is a large knife that is often slightly bent. It was used for both cutting and grinding meat. The Ramah explains that using such a knife would be considered particularly disturbing because its thickness would not only cut but would completely destroy the neck of the condemned. Others suggest that placing the person on what appears to be a butcher’s block is particularly revolting.

    The Meiri explains that the basic problem with “following in the path of non-Jews” is only when the activity has some connection with pagan idol worship. Nevertheless, the Sages extended it to other activities, as well. When the Gemara explains that this law is written in the Torah the intention is not so much that the Torah law came first, so much as the idea that the explanation for this law appears in the Torah so there is no need to be suspicious of the source for this law.

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    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  3. Sanhedrin 53a-b: An Unsuitable Marriage

    Among the biblical prohibitions that would lead to a death sentence according to Torah law are cases of incest. The Mishna on today’s daf lists those situations – like sexual relations with one’s mother, one’s father’s wife or one’s daughter-in-law – that lead to the punishment of sekilah – of death by stoning.

    The Gemara quotes a baraita where Rabbi Yehuda teaches that in the case of incestuous relations with one’s father’s wife, for example, if the marriage was “not suitable,” and it was forbidden for the couple to have married, then the relationship is not considered incestuous.

    What does the baraita mean when it says that the marriage was “not suitable”?

    The halakha recognizes two different types of forbidden marriages. If the prohibition was on a level that the punishment would have been severe – i.e. the punishment would have been karet (being “cut off” – a reference to divine retribution) or mitat beit din (death penalty carried out by the court) – then no marriage can be said to have taken place at all. Any marriage ceremony that is performed, for example, on behalf of a brother and sister, has no meaning whatsoever; he is not her husband and she is not a married woman. A second type is when the prohibition was merely a lav – a simple prohibition. In such cases, e.g. when a kohen marries a divorcee, according to most opinions the marriage does take effect, even though it is incumbent upon the Jewish court to try to force the husband to divorce his wife, since they cannot sanction the couple living together.

    The Gemara suggests that Rabbi Yehuda may agree with Rabbi Akiva who rules that even in the latter case where the prohibition is a mere lav, the marriage is forbidden and has no significance in Jewish law. Were that to be the case, even if the prohibition were a simple lav the marriage would be seen as not have taken effect, and the cases of incest described in the Mishna would not be significant.

  4. Sanhedrin 54a-b: Both the Person and the Animal

    According to the Mishna on today’s daf, one of the biblical prohibitions that would lead to the punishment of sekilah – death by stoning – is bestiality. Thus, sexual relations by a man or a woman with an animal is forbidden by the Torah, and such an act is punishable by death – for both the person and the animal that was involved (see Vayikra 20:15-16 “And if a man lie with a beast, he shall surely be put to death; and ye shall slay the beast. And if a woman approach unto any beast, and lie down thereto, thou shalt kill the woman, and the beast: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.”).

    The Mishna raises an obvious question: Since it is clear that in such a case the instigator of this sexual interaction is the man or the woman we can certainly understand why the Torah requires them to be punished – but why should the animal be punished, as well? Two answers are offered in the Mishna. One possibility raised is that this animal served as a “stumbling block” before the person, which is reason enough to kill it. Another suggestion is that we do not want the animal to be a center of interest, whereby people would see it in the marketplace and comment “that is the animal that led to so-and-so’s being stoned.”

    The Tiferet Yisrael explains these two suggestions as follows. According to the first reason, given that the animal has already served as a “stumbling block” to one person, we are concerned lest another person may choose to sin with it, as well. According to the second reason, even though the person has committed an act that is punishable by death, nevertheless the Torah concerns itself with the person’s honor.

  5. Sanhedrin 55a-b: Committing Blasphemy

    The last Mishna on today’s daf introduces the law that applies to a megaddef – someone who commits blasphemy by cursing God.

    According to the Mishna, a megaddef will not be held liable for his blasphemy until he clearly utters the Name of God.

    According to the Rambam (Sefer HaMadda, Hilkhot Avoda Zara 2:7), uttering the Name of God means saying the four letter name of God and cursing while using one of the Names of God that cannot be erased. The Rambam quotes some opinions that believe that the four letter name referred to here is only the name that appears in the Torah that we do not pronounce – that is, pronouncing the letters yod–heh–vav–heh. The Rambam disagrees with this ruling and suggests that the four letter name is the expression of adnut – referring to God as “Lord” in the manner that we usually pronounce his name. According to the Kesef Mishna, the Rambam believes that a person who curses using either of these names would be liable for sekilah (death by stoning – see Vayikra 24:16), while someone who curses one of the other Names of God would be transgressing a simple lav (biblical prohibition).

    The source for the term megaddef appears in Sefer Bamidbar 15:30, although the simple meaning of the word as it appears there does not refer to cursing or blasphemy – most of the commentaries understand that that is a reference to someone who practices avoda zara – idol worship. The Sages, however, never want to make use of the term “cursing” in the context of cursing God. In fact, the Gemara often uses the expression birkat HaShem – “blessing God” – as a euphemism meaning the opposite. The Ran explains that they apply the more oblique term megaddef since when someone curses they are effectively involved in the hillul HaShem (desecration of God’s name) referred to in the pasuk.

  6. Sanhedrin 56a-b: Obligations for Non-Jews

    We usually think of the Torah as commanding the Jewish People to live according to its laws. What responsibilities and obligations does the Torah command non-Jews to perform?

    The Gemara on today’s daf quotes a baraita that teaches the laws of the sheva mitzvot benei Noaḥ – the seven Noachide laws, including:

    Dinim – the commandment to establish a legal system

    Birkat HaShem – a prohibition against blasphemy

    Avoda Zara – a prohibition against idol worship

    Giluy Arayot – a prohibition against sexual depravity

    Shefiḥut Damim – a prohibition against murder

    Gezel – a prohibition against stealing

    Ever min ha-ḥai – a prohibition against eating from a living animal

    The source for these seven commandments is presented by Rabbi Yoḥanan as stemming from the first commandment given by God to Adam. In Sefer Bereshit (2:16-17) we find that God commanded Adam to eat freely of any of the trees in the Garden of Eden with the exception of the etz ha-da’at tov va-ra – the tree of knowledge of good and evil – which was forbidden to him. By means of a series of homiletical interpretations, the words in these pesukim are understood to refer to the various actions and behaviors that are forbidden.

    In the midrashic compendium Lekaḥ Tov another suggestion is raised regarding the source of the sheva mitzvot benei Noaḥ. Aside from the homiletical interpretation of the verses in Sefer Bereshit, we also find a number of specific references in the Tanakh to punishments given to non-Jews for these types of transgressions. Thus we find that Kayin is punished for killing Hevel (Bereshit chapter 4), Avimelekh is punished for attempting to engage in sexual relations with Sarah (Bereshit chapter 20), the generation of the flood were punished for ḥamas – for stealing (Bereshit 6:11) – and we find in Sefer Iyyov (31:26-28) that idol worship was forbidden to them.

  7. Sanhedrin 57a-b: Abortion and Jewish Law

    One contentious issue in the contemporary world is whether a society that rejects the taking of life can condone aborting an unborn fetus. In the debate that surrounds this question, it is often the Christian religious community that publicly takes the position that abortion should be viewed with the same severity as the taking of human life.

    It is interesting to note that the Gemara on our daf takes a clear position on this question in the context of sheva mitzvot benei Noaḥ – the seven Noachide laws. According to Rabbi Yishmael, if a non-Jew were to abort an unborn fetus it would fall under the category of murder, and the person would be liable to receive the death penalty. The source brought for Rabbi Yishmael’s teaching appears in Sefer Bereshit (9:6), where we find shofekh dam ha-adam ba-adam damo yishafekh – God declares that whoever sheds another man’s blood will be killed. The expression ba-adam is understood to mean “within a man,” that is even in the course of pregnancy.

    Although Rabbi Yishmael teaches this law regarding non-Jews, it should be noted that the halakha is different for Jews. According to Jewish law, a Jew who aborts an unborn fetus will not be liable for the death penalty for doing so; until the fetus is born and is recognized to be a viable, living birth, there can be no death sentence.

    This does not negate the principle that Jewish law does not forbid an activity to non-Jews that remains permissible to Jews, since halakha recognizes that it is also forbidden for a Jewish person to perform abortions. The difference between them relates to the punishment that is given. Although it is forbidden for a Jewish person to perform an abortion, there is no death penalty for doing so; regarding non-Jews, however, aborting a fetus would be treated like murder.

  8. Sanhedrin 58a-b: The Sins of the Non-Jew

    While the Torah anticipates that non-Jews will also follow a legal code of behavior consisting of the sheva mitzvot benei Noaḥ – the seven Noachide laws – the Torah neither requires nor condones non-Jews mimicking the behaviors of Jews.

    According to Resh Lakish, nokhri she-shavat ḥayyav mitah – a non-Jew who keeps the laws of Shabbat is liable to receive the death penalty. Ravina clarifies this statement by explaining that this rule applies even if the non-Jew were to keep the Shabbat laws on Monday, i.e. any other day of the week.

    Furthermore, Rabbi Yoḥanan teaches that nokhri she-osek ba-Torah ḥayyav mitah – that a non-Jew who involves himself in Torah study is liable to receive the death penalty, based on the passage (Devarim 33:4) Torah tziva lanu Moshe morasha – Moses commanded the Torah to us as an inheritance. This is understood to limit the Torah to “us,” that is, to the Jewish people.

    These two statements clearly demand explanation. Regarding Shabbat, the Meiri suggests that the problem is a concern lest Jews see the non-Jew keeping the laws of Shabbat and mistakenly believe him to be Jewish, which may lead them to follow his behaviors in other areas. According to the Ramah, such a person is considered “stealing” since by taking an “unauthorized” vacation he is not fulfilling his obligation to the world.

    As far as Torah study is concerned, the Meiri limits the prohibition to a non-Jew who studies Torah for the purpose of arguing and disproving it. If someone chooses to study Torah in order to learn the moral values contained in it and keep its ethical rules, then such study would not be forbidden. The Rambam, in fact, differentiates between Christians who believe in the written Torah and would be allowed to learn it and Moslems who reject the sanctity of the Torah who would not be allowed to learn it. In any case, a non-Jew who keeps the sheva mitzvot benei Noaḥ will surely be allowed to study those laws that he must keep.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  9. Sanhedrin 59a-b: The Prohibition of Learning Torah

    As we learned in the discussion on yesterday’s daf, aside from keeping the sheva mitzvot benei Noaḥ – the seven Noachide laws – non-Jews are also prohibited from keeping Shabbat or from studying Torah. The latter prohibition is based on the passage (Devarim 33:4) Torah tziva lanu Moshe morasha – Moses commanded the Torah to us as an inheritance.

    On today’s daf the Gemara asks why the prohibition forbidding non-Jews from learning Torah is not included as one of the sheva mitzvot benei Noaḥ. Two answers are suggested, both of them based on the source of the prohibition, the verse Torah tziva lanu Moshe morasha. Some understand the word morasha homiletically to mean me’orasa – like an engaged woman. Thus, the Jewish people have a relationship with the Torah that is special and unique – like an engaged woman who is permitted to a single individual and forbidden to all others. Others understand the word morasha in its ordinary meaning, that is, it is an inheritance. Thus it has been given to the Jewish people as a family heirloom that cannot be taken (i.e. stolen) by anyone else. Both of these explanations would have the prohibition included among the existing sheva mitzvot benei Noaḥ.

    The Gemara points out that the ruling forbidding non-Jews from studying Torah stands in apparent contradiction with the teaching of Rabbi Meir who teaches that a non-Jew who studies Torah should be treated like a kohen gadol. This is based on the passage (Vayikra 18:5) that says that we must perform the laws of the Torah, which “if a man does, he shall live by them” – asher ya’aseh otam ha-adam ve-ḥai bahem – and the terminology used is the generic ha-adam – “a man” – rather than Jewish people, like kohanim, levi’im and yisra’elim. Thus the credit given to someone who studies apparently applies even to non-Jews.

    The Gemara responds that a non-Jew receives such honor and credit only if he studies those parts of the Torah that apply to him, i.e. the sheva mitzvot benei Noaḥ themselves.

  10. Sanhedrin 60a-b: Forms of Worship

    When discussing idol worship, there are certain activities that are considered to be objectively an act of worship and will be forbidden, while other activities may be specific and limited to a certain type of idol. According to the Mishna on today’s daf a person will be held liable for avoda zara – the prohibition against idol worship – when he performs any one of a number of acts of worship. These activities include commonly used methods of veneration including sacrificing or burning incense, offering a libation or bowing down, and even simply saying “you are my god.” Other types of obsequiousness, such as hugging and kissing the idol, washing or cleaning it and so on would be forbidden, but would not serve as true idol worship.

    There are other modes of worship that ordinarily would not constitute an act of avoda zara, except with a specific idol or deity for which that act is a unique form of worship. Thus ha-po’er atzmo le-ba’al pe’or – someone who relieves himself in front of the idol Ba’al Pe’or – or ha-zorek even le-markulis– someone who throws a stone to the idol Markulis – will also be held liable for performing an act of avoda zara, since this is the unique method of worshiping these idols.

    Markulis is the name given by the Sages for the Roman god Mercury, who was also known as the Greek deity, Hermes. Among his many responsibilities, Mercury was the patron of the highways and travelers. This position led many to erect statues of him on crossroads. Oftentimes, these representations presented just the head of the idol and passersby would place stones at the foot of the statue. On occasion the representation was simply a pile of rocks, and travelers who passed by the pile would toss their own stone on it as an offering to the god.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  11. Sanhedrin 61a-b: Because of Love or Fear

    As we have seen on the previous dapim, avoda zara is a serious prohibition, one that could make one liable to receive a death penalty. The Gemara on today’s daf raises a question about someone who performs idol worship me-ahavah u’me-yirah – because of love or because of fear. According to the Gemara, Abaye believes that such worship is considered to be ordinary worship for which a person would be held liable, while according to Rava he would not be held responsible.

    Many approaches are offered to explain what worship me-ahavah u’me-yirah might mean.

    According to Rashi, we are talking about someone who loves or fears the person who is encouraging him to perform this worship. That is to say, the person doing avoda zara does not truly believe in it as a deity, rather they are doing it for another reason.

    The Rambam raises the possibility that this refers to a situation where the person does not actually believe in the idol as a god rather, for reasons of superstition, he likes it or he believes that it can harm him in some way if he does not worship it. The Meiri points out that this is a very difficult position to take, since someone who worships an idol because he believes that it has the power to help or to harm him is effectively performing avoda zara.

    Another suggestion made by the Rambam is that me-ahavah means that the person worships the idol because he is entranced by the beauty of its figure.

    Some suggest that worship based on fear means that he performs acts of worship because he is threatened to be killed if he does not worship this idol. Although halakha ordinarily recognizes that a person cannot be held responsible for acts that he is forced to do, perhaps he added additional forms of worship that he was not specifically forced to do. The Ramban suggests that we may be talking about a case where the worshiper fears a penalty of some sort, but he is not in fear of death.

  12. Sanhedrin 62a-b: Go Teach That Outside

    If someone performs several different acts of avoda zara and he was unaware that they were forbidden – will he be obligated to bring a single sin-offering or one for each act that he performed?

    The Gemara on today’s daf relates that Rabbi Yoḥanan was presented with a baraita that discusses this question in the context of a similar discussion regarding Shabbat. Hearing the baraita, Rabbi Yoḥanan responded pok teni libara – “go teach that outside” – please do not bring unreliable baraitot into the study hall.

    The Gemara succeeds in reconciling the two clauses of the baraita by determining that the first part of the baraita was comparing avoda zara to Shabbat while the second part was comparing other mitzvot to Shabbat. The Gemara explains that Rabbi Yoḥanan rejects this approach to explaining difficult baraitot, quoting him as saying that “if anyone can explain the Mishna of ḥavit (a barrel) according to a single tanna, I will carry his clothing after him to the bathhouse.”

    This statement refers to a difficult Mishna in Massekhet Bava Metzia (41a), where the Gemara explains the discrepancy in the Mishna by saying that the first half of the Mishna follows the opinion of Rabbi Yishmael while the second half of the Mishna follows the opinion of Rabbi Akiva.

    The question of how to reconcile two clauses of a given Mishna is one of the most common issues dealt with in the Talmud. On occasion the Gemara succeeds in working out an apparent contradiction, but when it cannot, there are two methods that most often are suggested:

    1. That there are two different authors of the Mishna, one who wrote the first half and the other who wrote the second half, or

    2. That the Mishna is really talking about two different cases.

    Rabbi Yoḥanan’s position was that dividing up a Mishna or baraita in either of these ways was not an acceptable method of interpreting such a text.

  13. Sanhedrin 63a-b: Mentioning a False God

    As we learned in the Mishna (60b), while various types of idol worship are punishable by death, other interactions with idols are merely lavin – negative commandments – whose perpetrators are liable for lashes.

    One example of the latter type is someone who uses the name of such a deity to take an oath or to fulfill an oath that was taken. According to the Gemara on today’s daf the source for this law is the passage in Sefer Shemot (23:13) ve-shem elohim aḥerim lo tazkiru, lo yishama al pikhah – and the name of a foreign god you should not mention, it should not be heard on your mouth. The first part of this pasuk is understood to forbid even mentioning the name of a false god, for example, to give directions (e.g. “let’s meet near the statue of Zeus”); the second part of the pasuk is understood to forbid using the idol’s name in an oath, or even causing someone else to utter an oath that would be taken in the name of a false god.

    This discussion leads the Gemara to bring a teaching in the name of Shmuel’s father who ruled that it is forbidden to enter into a business relationship with a non-Jew, lest it will lead to a situation where the other party will be obligated to take an oath and will swear using the name of a false god, which, as we have seen, is forbidden by the Torah.

    In codifying these laws, the Shulḥan Arukh (Oraḥ Ḥayyim 156:1) accepts the ruling presented by Shmuel’s father. In his gloss, the Rema points out that it is common practice today for Jews to enter into business partnerships with non-Jews. He explains that the non-Jews with whom the Jewish community interacts are not pagans; these non-Jews believe in the holiness of the Torah and the God of the Jews. Thus, even if they include another false god in the statement of an oath that they make, nevertheless their intention is not to swear with an idol in mind, rather to the Creator, who they believe in.

  14. Sanhedrin 64a-b: Killing the Evil Inclination

    We are well aware that the longing for avoda zara that we find in the stories of the first Temple period in Tanakh, does not affect our community today. What happened to this yearning for idol worship? In today’s world it is difficult to understand the attraction that biblical idol worship held for the Jewish people. The Gemara on today’s daf attempts to answer this question by means of a metaphor.

    The story opens as the Jewish People begin returning from the Babylonian/Persian exile and return to the Land of Israel. We find that Sefer Neḥemiah describes a great prayer and cry to God (see Neḥemiah 9:4) which, according to the Gemara, refers to a cry of concern lest the same situation that led to the destruction of the first Temple, the burning of the Sanctuary, the murder of the righteous and the exile of the Jewish People would recur in the time of the second Temple. That is to say, the yetzer ha-ra of avoda zara – the lust and desire for idol worship – still remained. The leaders reasoned that the point of the existence of the yetzer ha-ra for avoda zara was to give the Jewish People credit for resisting it; they argued that it would be better to destroy this desire, even if it meant losing the credit for resisting it. After three days of prayer and fasting a note fell from heaven with the word emet – “truth” written on it, which was understood to be the word of God agreeing to their request.

    Seeing that their request was accepted, the leadership decided to continue and ask that the yetzer ha-ra for other sins – notably sexual drives and desires – be destroyed, as well. The Gemara relates that this, too was given to them, and that it was imprisoned. After three days they discovered that chickens had stopped laying eggs, and realized that the positive elements of these drives should not be destroyed. The decision made was to blind the yetzer ha-ra, which limited sexual desires somewhat so that lust after incestuous relationships was removed, although other desires remained.

    This description is an allegory for societal changes that took place between the first and second Temples. While desire for idol worship and sexual depravity was commonplace in the earlier period, they were insignificant during the second Temple period.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  15. Sanhedrin 65a-b: Necromancy and Sorcery

    The Mishna on today’s daf introduces the activities of a ba’al ov and a yidoni.

    According to the Torah (Vayikra 20:27) someone who engages in these activities is liable to receive a death penalty; someone who approaches an ov or a yidoni for the purpose of engaging their services is liable to receive lashes (see Vayikra 19:31). The Mishna teaches that a ba’al ov is someone who presents himself as able to tell the future by means of his wizardry. The Rambam describes his activity as follows: the ba’al ov (necromancer) burns incense and holds a myrtle branch in his hands, waving it and reciting a magic formula until the questioner hears what appears to him to be an answer to his request coming from the depths of the ground. Similarly, someone who takes a skull and holds it in a manner that makes it seem as though a voice was coming out from his body. A yidoni (sorcerer) is someone who takes a bone of an animal or a bird and places it in his mouth so that it appears that a voice speaks of the future or of magical things.

    One case of a ba’al ov that is mentioned by the Gemara is described in Tanakh where King Sha’ul – who had eradicated the witches from Israel –searches out an eshet ba’alat ov in order to call up the prophet Shmuel from the dead in order to get his advice (see I Shmuel chapter 28) before a war with the Pelishtim. According to the Gemara, Shmuel did not appear in an ordinary fashion, but spoke through the body of the eshet ba’alat ov.

    While the description in Sefer Shmuel makes it appear as though the eshet ba’alat ov succeeded in actually calling Shmuel from the dead, the Ge’onim suggest that this is a combination of sleight of hand and psychology. The eshet ba’alat ov was trained to understand the personal needs of the clients who approached her. She feigned surprise at the discovery that the man standing before her was King Sha’ul, but the message she delivered – that he would be killed in battle – was not from the prophet, Shmuel, but was her own.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz, as published in the English Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  16. Sanhedrin 66a-b: One Who Curses Their Parents

    According to the Torah (Vayikra 20:9) someone who curses his parents is liable to receive a death penalty. The Gemara on today’s daf teaches that the language of the pasuk – ish, ish asher yekalel et aviv ve-et imo – that repeats the word ish (“a man”) twice teaches that the same rule applies to a daughter, a tumtum or an androgynus.

    When the Gemara discusses an androgynus, it is talking about someone who appears to have both male and female sexual organs; a tumtum is someone who does not appear to be either male or female.

    Medicine recognizes two types of androgynus. A true androgynus has both male and female sexual glands, while a Pseudohermaphrodite has the appearance of both male and female sexual organs, although the individual actually has only one set of sexual glands.

    The Gemara describes a tumtum as someone whose gender cannot be determined. Under certain circumstances, the physical covering that hid the sexual organ may be removed (in the language of the Gemara it is nikra, or “torn” off) and the individual can be identified as male or female. Nevertheless, the likelihood that a man whose testicles have developed within his body will be able to have children is slim at best. This is certainly the case if someone was truly a tumtum, that is to say, that their sexual organs did not develop because of a low level of hormones. In such a case, even if the person’s physical situation improves, he will not be able to father children.

    If we view a tumtum and an androgynusas people of doubtful sexual status, once the Gemara determines that both sons and daughters are included in the prohibition it would appear obvious that these cases should be included, as well. While the Ran argues that there is really no need for this teaching, some suggest that we should not view them as male or as female, but as a separate gender entirely, and we need a separate source to teach the law regarding their status.

  17. Sanhedrin 67a-b: An Inciter

    The Mishna on today’s daf records a second Temple period “sting” operation.

    Ordinarily, Jewish courts are unable to carry out punishments unless there are a pair of witnesses who could testify that they had warned the perpetrator that the act he was about to perform was forbidden and would have consequences when raised in court. One exception is the case of a meisit – an inciter (see Devarim 13:7-11), who does not need to be warned; as long as two witnesses testify that this individual tried to convince someone to worship an idol, he will be punished by the court. According to the Mishna, if the meisit tried to convince a single individual to perform idol worship, the beit din will suggest to the person that he respond by saying that he has friends who might also be interested, so that others will hear, as well. If the meisit is reluctant to do so, then the beit din will recommend that the person who was approached should suggest that the meisit repeat the details to him privately, and arrange for witnesses to sit quietly in the dark and listen while the meisit repeats his call to idol worship. If he responds to the question “but how can we abandon the true God in heaven and worship avoda zara?” by recanting, then nothing will happen to him. But if he says “that is what is appropriate and that is what we are obligated to do” the witnesses will testify in court and he will be punished according to the law.

    A section of the Gemara that does not appear in standard texts recounts that this method was used to convict ben Stada of Lod, who was found guilty and hanged on erev Pesaḥ. The continuation of this Gemara tries to identify this individual and concludes that the person who was hanged was named ben Pandera and that his mother, Miryam Megadla Neshaya (Miriam who braided women’s hair) was also known by the derogatory nickname “Stada.”

    Based on the obvious parallels between this story and Christian traditions, many – including the Christian censor – understood that the character referred to here as ben Stada/ben Pandera was Jesus, which led to the removal of the entire passage from standard Talmud texts. Tosafot view that identification as erroneous based on the chronology of the story as it is presented. Among modern scholars the suggestion has been made that ben Stada was the name of an enchanter who came from Egypt who was also mentioned in Josephus.

  18. Sanhedrin 68a-b: A Stubborn and Rebellious Son

    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.

  19. Sanhedrin 69a-b: Following the Majority

    When faced with a question about a capital crime, do we follow rov – the majority – or not? This question is debated in our Gemara, where Ravina believes that it is obvious that we follow rov – after all, if witnesses differ in their description of an incident by a single day on the calendar, we accept their testimony, following the dictum that most people are not aware of the exact day that the new moon was declared. Rav Huna the son of Rav Yehoshua disagrees, arguing that the biblical passages requiring the Jewish court to do its utmost to find the accused innocent (see Bamidbar 35:24-25) prove that we will not follow the rov in such cases.

    Rabbi Yirmeya of Difti tries to support Ravina’s ruling by quoting a baraita that teaches that a girl who gets married years before reaching physical maturity will be considered married for all purposes. We assume this to be true, even though a minority of girls will be found to be in the category of ailonit whose maturity will be delayed, and whose marriage may be annulled. Ultimately the Gemara suggests that the baraita may only be referring to cases where the husband clearly accepts this woman as his wife, even if she is an ailonit.

    From the detailed discussions in the Gemara – mainly in Massekhet Yevamot – it appears that an ailonit suffers from a genetic defect that does not allow her to have children. This is a different categorization than an akara – a barren woman – whose physical and sexual development is ordinarily normal, but cannot have children because of some other deficiency or impediment. From those descriptions it appears that an ailonit can be recognized by certain unique physical traits, including a lack of secondary sex characteristics, like pubic hairs. Furthermore, it appears from the Gemara that there are different types of ailonit, ranging from women who have an overabundance of male hormones to those who suffer from Turner syndrome, where only one X chromosome is present and fully functioning. Approximately 98% of all fetuses with Turner syndrome spontaneously abort; the incidence of Turner syndrome in live female births is believed to be about 1 in 2500.

    Within Jewish law there are many discussions about the status of an ailonit, mainly because of the lack of secondary female sex characteristics and because they develop at a relatively advanced age. Thus we find questions about when an ailonit is considered to have reached the age of adulthood, which halakha ordinarily defines as physical maturity.

  20. Sanhedrin 70a-b: Drinking and Jewish Law

    When discussing the ben sorer u’moreh – a stubborn and rebellious son who is “a glutton and a drunkard” (see Devarim 21:18-21) – the Mishna on today’s daf teaches that he must have eaten a measure of meat and drunk a log (a unit of volume) or, perhaps, half a log of wine. This statement leads to a lengthy discussion in the Gemara of the ramifications in Jewish law of drinking, opening with Rav Ḥanan’s teaching that wine was created for the purpose of consoling those who are in mourning and to offer a reward in this world to evildoers.

    A more extensive discussion of these matters appears in Massekhet Eiruvin (65a) where we find distinctions made between drinking moderately and reaching “the drunkenness of Lot” (see Bereshit 19:30-36). According to Rabbi Ḥanina, someone who reaches that level of inebriation will not be held responsible for his actions, as he is not merely impaired in his decision-making capabilities, rather he is unable to function as a thinking person. Someone who has not reached that level is still held responsible for his actions, although the halakha will free him from his obligation in prayer – which demands a high level of concentration and reverence.

    Throughout the Talmud, the Gemara points to drinking wine as an activity that can lead to damage, sin, etc. The Ein Ya’akov, written by Rav Ya’akov ibn Habib, explains that this brings to the fore a basic question: If it is so dangerous, why was wine created? This quandary helps explain the closing discussion of the Gemara, which sings the praises of drinking wine responsibly. Included are a number of such statements — some of them based on biblical passages:

    Rabbi Ḥanina – Whoever becomes more open and comfortable with others after having a drink of wine, is walking in God’s footsteps

    Rabbi Ḥiyya – anyone who drinks, but does not get drunk, has the wisdom of seventy sages.

    Rabbi Ḥanina bar Papa – You are not blessed unless wine flows in your house like water.

    The Gemara concludes with Rabbi Ilai’s maxim:

    A man’s character can be recognized by his behavior regarding three things –

    •B’koso – his drinking, does he drink responsibly?
    •B’kiso – his spending, when he has money, does he apportion it correctly?
    •B’ka’aso – his anger, can he control himself, even when angry?

    (note the alliteration in Hebrew “b’koso, b’kiso u’b’ka’aso“).

  21. Sanhedrin 71a-b: Preventative Punishment

    It should be noted that the ben sorer u’moreh – the stubborn and rebellious son who is “a glutton and a drunkard” (see Devarim 21:18-21) – has not committed any capital crimes. According to the Mishna on today’s daf the death sentence that he receives is al shem sofo, yamut zakkai ve-al yamut ḥayyav – he is killed because of where he will end up if he is allowed to continue in his present path. The Torah’s perspective is that he should die while still innocent rather than die when he is already guilty.

    This logic appears to negate what we know from all of the sources – that a person is judged based on his current behavior. Even if God knows what he will eventually do, we can judge him only by what he has actually done. In his Ḥayyim Shenayim Yeshalem Rabbi Ḥayyim Vital explains that we are not talking about a righteous individual whose behaviors are questionable, but a person who is actively sinning and deserves to be punished. The Torah prefers that he die without having performed the severe transgressions that his activities promise will come in due time.

    Furthermore, we must recognize that 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. In fact it appears likely that the laws of ben sorer u’moreh were never carried out.

  22. Sanhedrin 72a-b: If Someone Comes to Kill You

    Judaism does not subscribe to the idea that one should “turn the other cheek” when attacked. In fact, one important rule taught by the Talmud is ha-ba le-horgekha, hashkem le-horgo – if someone comes planning to kill you, you should hurry to kill him first.

    This rule is applied by our Gemara to the case of a ba ba-maḥteret – someone who comes at night to rob someone. According to the Mishna, he can be killed al shem sofo – because of what will happen in the end. Rava explains this to mean that people do not willingly allow others to take their money, so the robber knows that the person he is robbing will defend his property. We assume, therefore, that the robber will be prepared to kill him. Recognizing this, Rava teaches that the Torah instructs ha-ba le-horgekha, hashkem le-horgo.

    While Rava presents this rule as being well established in the Torah, he does not offer a source, and it is not clear where, in fact, does the Torah teach this rule?

    The Midrash Tanḥuma says that we learn this rule from the commandment (Bamidbar 25:17-18) given to Moshe telling the Jewish People to harass and smite the Midianites; the explanation given for this is that they harass and plan against you. Thus we see that their plans make them liable to be fought and defeated.

    The Ramah raises the issue that this case is not a normal case of rodef – someone who is chasing after another person to kill him, who can be killed by anyone – since the robber is not directly threatening the owner of the property; it is only his response to the owner of the property who is defending himself that creates the threat. The Ramah explains that we nonetheless view the robber as a rodef since he knows that his actions will instigate the threat against his own life. We therefore view him as being the one who is threatening.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  23. Sanhedrin 73a-b: Saving One Through Killing

    On yesterday’s daf we mentioned the concept of a rodef – someone who is chasing after another person to kill him, who can be killed by anyone. The Mishna on today’s daf teaches the law of a rodef, and in explaining the law that allows a rodef to be killed uses the terminology matzilin otan be-nafshun – “these people are saved by their lives.”

    This enigmatic description can be understood in a number of different ways. According to Rashi, the Mishna is explaining that given the severity of the crime about to be committed, we save the perpetrator from sinning by killing him. The Arukh and Rabbeinu Yehonatan suggest that it means that we save the life of the person who would have been murdered by killing the perpetrator. The Ran points out that both of these explanations are difficult linguistically and that perhaps we must accept both of them, depending on the circumstances.

    What is the source for this ruling?

    The Gemara argues that most obvious source – lo ta’amod al dam re’ekhah – neither shall you stand idly by the blood of your neighbor (see Vayikra 19:16) – cannot be used to teach this law, since it is needed to teach the simpler rule that a person cannot ignore his neighbor’s needs if he is drowning, for example. Rather the source is a passage that connects the laws of murder with the laws of a woman who is raped in a field (see Devarim 22:26-27) where the Torah frees her of any culpability, since there was no one around to come to her defense. In the study hall of Rabbi Yishmael this was understood to imply that if anyone could have helped her they would have been required to do so – in any way that they could, including killing the potential rapist.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  24. Sanhedrin 74a-b: Whose Blood is Redder?

    According to Rabbi Yoḥanan quoting Rabbi Shimon ben Yehotzadak there are only three mitzvot that are so severe that a person should give up his life rather than perform the forbidden acts. Those mitzvot are:
    1.avoda zara (idol worship)
    2.gilui arayot (forbidden sexual relations)
    3.shefikhut damim (murder)

    The Gemara presents Biblical passages as the source for this rule regarding Avoda Zara and Gilui Arayot. When it comes to Shefikhut Damim the Gemara argues that no proof-text is necessary, as it is a sevara – a logical argument – that murder cannot be permitted to save a life. To illustrate the sevara, the Gemara tells of a person who approached Rabba with the following question:

    “The ruler of my village came to me and said ‘kill that person, and if you do not then I will kill you.’ Can I follow his order so that I will be able to save myself?”

    Rabba responded:

    “Allow yourself to be killed, but you may not kill another. Who says that your blood is redder than his? Perhaps his blood is redder than yours.”

    On a simple level, Rabba’s argument is that we cannot tell whose life is more valuable, so we will not allow you to save your life at the expense of another.

    Rabbeinu Yehonatan explains Rabba’s answer by arguing that really the laws of the Torah are so important that we would not allow them to be “pushed aside” even at the expense of human life. The reason the halakha permits someone to transgress a serious prohibition – like Shabbat – in order to save a life is because we weigh that single ḥillul Shabbat (desecration of Shabbat) against the potential Shabbatot that the person will observe in the course of his lifetime. In our case the argument is that we cannot possibly know “whose blood is redder” i.e. who will live longer and perform more mitzvot.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  25. Sanhedrin 75a-b: The Cure for Love Sickness

    On yesterday’s daf we learned that there are only three mitzvot that are so severe that a person should give up his life rather than perform the forbidden acts: Avoda zara (idol worship), gilui arayot (forbidden sexual activities) and shefikhut damim (murder). As a continuation of the discussion regarding gilui arayot the Gemara relates the following story.

    Rav Yehuda quoted Rav as telling of a man who fell in love with a certain woman and became love-sick in his desire for her. After consulting physicians he was told that he would only be cured if he engaged in sexual relations with her.

    The Sages forbade relations, even if it meant that he would die.

    The suggestion was raised that she appear before him naked.

    The Sages forbade that, as well.

    Yet another suggestion was raised, that he converse with her privately.

    The Sages forbade that, as well.

    Two opinions are offered in the Gemara as to whether the woman was married or not. The Gemara asked why, if she were unmarried, were the Sages so concerned about the relationship. Rav Pappa suggested that the concern was for the family’s honor; according to Rav Aḥa son of Rav Ika the concern was that Jewish girls would be seen as promiscuous. Furthermore, the Gemara argues that even marrying her would not have satisfied his desires, based on Rabbi Yitzḥak’s teaching that the passage in Mishlei (9:17) mayim genuvim yimtaku – stolen waters are sweet. According to the Talmud Yerushalmi, the woman did not want to marry him because of her social status.

    In ancient medical texts – like that of Galen – we find references to “love sickness.” It was physicians whose knowledge was based on these works who made the suggestions that were rejected by the Sages in this story.

  26. Sanhedrin 76a-b: Leading to Licentious Behavior

    While Jewish law encourages sexual relations only within the framework of marriage, is there any real prohibition against unmarried, consenting adults engaging in relations?

    The Gemara on today’s daf points to the passage in Sefer Vayikra (19:29) that teaches that a man should not give his daughter to harlotry and suggests that it refers to someone who gave his daughter for sexual relations outside the framework of marriage. How to understand this teaching is the subject of a disagreement between the rishonim. According to the Rambam (Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot Na’ara Betula 2:17) any act of sexual relations outside of marriage is forbidden; others limit the prohibition only to cases where there is a specific forbidden sexual relationship that exists, but consensual sex between two people who are permitted to one-another would not be forbidden – although even so, it would be prohibited to make oneself available to anyone for casual sex.

    Other approaches to this pasuk are suggested in a baraita brought by the Gemara. Rabbi Eliezer applies it to a case where a father arranges for his daughter to marry an old man; Rabbi Akiva applies it to a case where a father leaves his daughter unmarried even when she has become a bogeret (an adult who is old enough to marry).

    The Sefer Ḥasidim points out that the problem with arranging a marriage for a girl with an old man would apply only if it were done without her consent. If she agrees, however, there is no reason to refrain from such a marriage. Others suggest that the only problem would be if the old man could no longer engage in marital relations, causing her to be dissatisfied and engage in adultery. According to the Iyyun Ya’akov, the problem in Rabbi Akiva’s case would only be if the father has already accepted kesef kiddushin – a full agreement of marriage – on his daughter’s behalf, but he is not allowing her to complete the marriage. This could lead her to engage in licentious behavior.

  27. Sanhedrin 77a-b: Liable For Murder

    The Mishna (76b) taught that one of the people who is liable to receive a death penalty and would be killed by sword is a murderer. The Mishna gives examples of who would be considered a murderer and who would not. If someone held someone else under water or in a fire, he would be considered a murderer, but if the second person could easily get away, then he would not be considered a murderer. Similarly, if someone encouraged a dog or a snake to attack he would not be considered a murderer, although if he actually held the snake and caused it to bite then Rabbi Yehuda would consider that to be a direct attack, and he would be considered a murderer.

    The Gemara brings a number of cases where it tests whether a person’s actions are considered to be a direct cause of death, which would make him a murderer in the eyes of Jewish law, or if what he does is only considered an indirect cause and he will not be liable to receive a death penalty. For example, when someone throws a rock against a wall and it bounces back and kills a person, Rava rules that it is considered to be a direct cause and the person who threw the rock will be liable.

    A similar halakha was taught by a tanna regarding someone who threw a ball that bounced off the wall and killed someone. Given the fact that people who play ball are knowledgeable in how it will ricochet, such a throw will be considered the direct responsibility of the one who threw it.

    During the time of the Talmud there were a variety of different games that were played with balls. From the description in the Gemara it appears that we are talking about a game where a very heavy ball was thrown against a wall, and the ball had to bounce back at a certain angle and distance.

  28. Sanhedrin 78a-b: Killing One Who Is Already Dead

    Rava teaches that if someone kills a tereifa – someone with a physical defect that is so severe that we know he will die within a relatively short time – he will not be considered a murderer, since the dead man was essentially considered to be dead already.

    The concept of a tereifa appears in the Torah in the context of an animal that has been attacked and killed (see Shemot 22:30) that cannot be eaten. In the Talmud – and in common language today – the concept has been broadened beyond an animal that is attacked by a predator to include any animal that has a physical defect severe enough to hasten its death. The term should be understood similarly when used in reference to a human being – a person who has a serious physical condition that we know will lead to his death within a specific time frame – a year or less. In the case discussed in our Gemara it appears that we are talking about a situation where the condition that makes the man a tereifa is obvious and apparent, since we do not assume that any given person has a condition that would make him a tereifa.

    Although Rava states that no one disagrees with his ruling on this matter, Rav Yaakov Emden points out that we find a story in Tanakh where it appears that someone is killed for murdering a dying man. In the first chapter of I Shmuel we find that King David executes a na’ar (youth) Amaleki when he discovers that he killed King Sha’ul. From the descriptions in the navi it seems clear that King Sha’ul’s physical condition was such that he would have been considered a tereifa. It may be, however, that King David did not execute him as a murderer, rather because of King Sha’ul’s high standing, the na’ar Amaleki deserved death for killing the king.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  29. Sanhedrin 79a-b: Intent to Kill

    What is more significant – a person’s intent or a person’s actions?

    This question comes to the fore in the Mishna on today’s daf where many cases are presented where a person’s specific intention is not fulfilled, but a very similar thing does take place. For example, if a person meant to hit a child severely enough so that the child would die, but instead his blow hit an adult, and there was not enough force in the blow to actually kill an adult. In such a case, if the adult died nonetheless, the attacker will not be held liable, since his blow was not strong enough to kill an adult. If, however, he meant to kill the adult with a blow that was sufficient to kill an adult or a child, if he actually hit an adult, he would be held liable as a murderer. The Mishna concludes with Rabbi Shimon’s opinion, that someone who intended to kill one person and ended up killing another will not be held liable for murder.

    The first opinion in the Mishna apparently believes that we look at just one element of the person’s intent – did he mean to kill? If he meant to kill and his action was sufficient to kill, he will be held liable, even if his actions killed someone other than the person he intended to murder.

    Rabbi Shimon, on the other hand, insists that all elements of intent must be in place for a person to be held responsible for his actions, and that he will only be liable if his actions matched his intention. This position, which places much significance to a person’s intentions, is true according to Rabbi Shimon not only in these laws, but in other areas of halakha, as well. There are some places where all agree that we must take into account the person’s intent – e.g. the laws of Shabbat – but Rabbi Shimon applies this idea across the board.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  30. Sanhedrin 80a-b: Advance Warning

    Aside from direct testimony, in order for a Jewish court to carry out a death sentence the witnesses must first warn the perpetrator that the act that he is about to do is forbidden and that the penalty he will receive for doing it is death.

    Must the person who is committing the crime know which of the death sentences he may be liable to receive? Rabbi Yirmeya in our Gemara quotes a baraita that suggests that this question is disputed by the tanna’im. According to the Tanna Kamma the prerequisites necessary for carrying out a death sentence are eidah (a court of 23 judges), eidim (witnesses), and hatra’ah (warning) that includes informing him that he may be liable to receive a death sentence. Rabbi Yehuda requires the witnesses to specify to him which death penalty he would get.

    The source for the opinion of the Tanna Kamma is a clear case in the Torah. The mekoshesh etzim – the individual who was found gathering wood on Shabbat – was brought before Moshe for trial. According to the Torah, Moshe needed divine direction to determine what to do (see Bamidbar 15:32-36). Clearly the implication is that the punishment was not clear, yet what the witnesses warned him about was sufficient for him to be punished. Rabbi Yehuda argues that the story of the mekoshesh etzim cannot be brought as a proof since it was a hora’at sha’ah – it was a provisional edict, a unique ruling appropriate for that time only.

    The Ramah explains this hora’at sha’ah as follows. It was clear that the mekoshesh etzim deserved a death sentence for desecration of the Shabbat. What was unclear was the particular type of death sentence, so at that time the witnesses could not have been so specific in their warning, and the warning that they gave was sufficient. The argument is whether we can learn from that situation and apply it to later cases, as well, or, perhaps, now that the punishments are established a general warning will not suffice.

  31. Sanhedrin 81a-b: Incarceration and Jewish Law

    The common punishments meted out by the Jewish court are malkot (lashes) and occasionally mitat beit din (capital punishment) for severe crimes. Incarceration in prison, the most common form of punishment today, was unknown to the Sages. Nevertheless, there was a type of prison known as a kippa (vaulted chamber) that the Mishnayot on today’s daf discuss.

    The Mishna teaches that if someone murdered his fellow and there were no witnesses (as the Gemara explains, there were witnesses but their testimony was rejected for technical reasons), the court will place the accused in a kippa and feed him bread and water. Similarly, the Mishna teaches, someone who repeatedly commits crimes and is punished is also placed in a kippa where he is fed barley until his stomach bursts. The Gemara explains that we are talking about someone who repeatedly committed crimes for which the punishment is karet – a death sentence left to God. As Rabbi Yirmeya explains in the name of Reish Lakish, since his activities show that he has given up on his life, the court assists him in bringing his life to an end. The Gemara further explains that in both of these cases he is first fed bread and water and then he is fed barley, a diet that will hasten his death.

    Rav Yehuda explains that a kippa is a small and narrow prison. According to Reish Lakish, the source for this punishment is found in Tehillim (34:22) where we find that the end of an evildoer is an unpleasant death.

    The discussion among the rishonim is whether the institution of kippa is an oral tradition from Moshe and works on a biblical level or if it is a rabbinic regulation that was established in order to give the Jewish courts a method of dealing with anti-social behaviors that cannot be prosecuted under the strict laws of the Torah. Such an approach is particularly appropriate in cases of setting a murderer free, where the concerns for society may obligate the courts to act.

  32. Sanhedrin 82a-b: Zealots Strike Him

    The Mishna (81b) offers examples of situations where the Jewish court cannot act, but kana’im pogim bo (“zealots strike him”) – it would be acceptable for an individual who is offended by the situation to step forward and take the law into his own hands.

    The prime example of this behavior is the case of Pineḥas (see Bamidbar chapter 25) who stepped forward and killed Zimri ben Salu, a prince from the tribe of Shimon who was engaged in idolatrous harlotry with Cozbi bat Zur, a Midianite woman. The Gemara on today’s daf offers a detailed midrashic explanation of the interaction that took place.

    According to the Gemara, the tribe of Shimon, whose members were being judged and killed by Moshe for their activities with the daughters of Mo’av and its gods, approached Zimri and demanded that he act to defend them. Zimri then took a group of 24,000 of his men and approached Moshe while bringing with him Cozbi bat Zur. His argument to Moshe was that if she was forbidden, how could Moshe’s wife, Zipporah the daughter of Yitro, the Midianite priest be permitted? Stung by this argument, Moshe had no response, and they stood crying until Pineḥas stepped forward.

    According to Rav Ḥisda, the law of kana’im pogim bo is unique in that someone who asks for a halakhic ruling whether they can take the law into their own hands will not be given permission to do so – the law applies only if the person does it on his own initiative. The Talmud Yerushalmi goes so far as to say that doing so goes against the wishes of the Sages and that had God not supported the actions of Pineḥas he would have been censured by the leadership. Furthermore, as Rabba bar bar Ḥana points out in the name of Rabbi Yoḥanan, had Zimri defended himself and killed Pineḥas he would not have been considered a murderer, since he had every right to defend himself.

  33. Sanhedrin 83a-b: An Argument Between an Amora and a Tanna

    One of the rules upon which Talmudic discussion is based is that the words of the amora’im – the Sages of the Gemara – must always be in agreement with the teachings of the tanna’im – the Sages of the Mishna – who were seen as having reliable oral traditions. Thus, one of the most common questions found in the Gemara is “meitivei” – which brings a tanna’itic source like a Mishna, baraita or tosefta that seems to contradict the words of the amora. In his defense, the amora will have to explain how the statement of the tanna can be understood as being in agreement with his own, or else show that there is another tanna with whom the amora agrees. If the amora cannot reconcile his statement with the teaching of the tanna’im, the Gemara will conclude “teyuvta” – the statement is disproved.

    Can an amora ever argue with the tanna’im?

    Our Gemara brings a baraita where we find that among the list of transgressions for which a person is liable to receive a death penalty is someone who is not a kohen who eats teruma – the tithe set aside for the kohanim. In this case, the discussion is not about capital punishment but about mitah bi-yedei Shamayim – a Heavenly death sentence.

    Rav rules that in such a case the penalty is malkot – lashes.

    When the Gemara asks “meitivei” that the baraita contradicts Rav’s ruling, the Gemara responds that a baraita cannot be brought to contradict Rav, since “Rav – tanna hu u’palig” – Rav, who is a first generation amora, has the status of a tanna and can argue with the baraita‘s teaching.

    According to the Ge’onim, there are three times in the Talmud where we find Rav’s opinion included in the baraita itself. In each of these places he is referred to by his actual name, Rabbi Abba. The Ge’onim point out that as one of the Sages of the baraita, Rav can argue with baraitot, although he could not argue with statements of the Mishna. In any case, this answer is given only if no other explanation can be found.

  34. Sanhedrin 84a-b: Death by Choking

    The tenth perek of Massekhet Sanhedrin – Elu hem ha-neḥnakim – begins on today’s daf. According to many rishonim the tenth chapter of this massekhet is Perek Ḥelek, as it appears in standard mishnayot and in the Talmud Yerushalmi (in our Gemara, Perek Ḥelek appears as the eleventh chapter). Among the reasons given for this is that Perek Elu hem ha-neḥnakim concludes with topics that lead into Massekhet Makkot, which, according to many, is the concluding part of Massekhet Sanhedrin. The order of the perakim that we have is likely based on the desire to place Perek Ḥelek – which includes discussions of basic questions of belief, resurrection of the dead and the World to Come – at the very end of Massekhet Sanhedrin. Thus, after the Gemara has taught the different punishments that are meted out to sinners, the tractate concludes with teachings that will help clarify which of those sinners will still merit these ultimate rewards, and who will not.

    Perek Elu hem ha-neḥnakim discusses the different cases where someone receiving capital punishment will be killed by choking. Two cases that appear in the list in the first Mishna in the perek are discussed at some length due to their importance: zaken mamre – an elder Sage who rebels against the decision of the Sanhedrin – and navi sheker – a false prophet.

    Both of these situations demand careful definitions of what constitutes an act that would lead to the death penalty, since these activities may weaken the essence of the laws of the Torah, even as both of these individuals are operating based on the system of Jewish law. In the case of the Sage who deviates from the agreed upon decision of the Sanhedrin, we must recognize that every Sage is expected to study the Torah and reach his own conclusions and that we expect there to be disagreements regarding the law. The prophet operates in a setting where the Jewish people are obligated to listen to him, even in situations where he calls for an abrogation of the accepted laws of the Torah.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  35. Sanhedrin 85a-b: Striking One’s Parents

    Among the transgressions for which a person may be liable to receive ḥenek – the punishment of death by choking – is someone who hits his mother or his father (see Shemot 21:15) or curses them (see Shemot 21:17). According to the Mishna on today’s daf such a punishment will only be given if the child actually injures one of his parents and not if he simply makes physical contact with them.

    If the parent is to receive a punishment of lashes, can that punishment be carried out by the child? That is to say, if the child works for the beit din and as part of his job he fulfills the court’s rulings and gives malkot to people who are found guilty of actions that would bring upon them a penalty of lashes, could the child perform his job in the face of the prohibition against hitting one’s parents?

    This question was presented to Rav Sheshet, and the Gemara tries to respond to it in a number of different ways. The Gemara’s conclusion is that a child would never be permitted to hit his father or his mother – even under instructions from beit din – except for the unique case of a meisit – someone who convinces others to commit idolatry. In the case of meisit the Torah clearly instructs the court that the meisit must be killed and that no mercy can be shown to him (see Devarim 13:9). This includes even one’s father, as is understood from the term o rei’akhah asher ke-nefshekhah (see verse 7) – that one’s friend who is likened to one’s own soul refers to his father.

    The Ge’onim dealt with a case where there is a business dispute between a parent and a child. Can the child force his father to take an oath, which includes a curse of sorts? Here, too, the recommendation is that the child should pass his claim to a third party so that he is not forced into a situation of cursing his father.

  36. Sanhedrin 86a-b: Kidnapped From Among His Brothers

    Who authored the different mishnaic sources that appear in the Gemara? This question plays an important role in the discussion that appears on today’s daf.

    The Mishna (85b) teaches that someone who kidnaps a person and sells him will be liable for the death penalty of ḥenek (choking), based on the passage in Sefer Devarim (24:7). What if the kidnapper sells the person to his father? The Gemara quotes a baraita – taken from the Midrash Halakha of the Sifrei on Sefer Devarim – that rules that even if the kidnapped person is sold to his father or his brother or another relative, still the kidnapper is liable to receive the death penalty.

    When this baraita was presented before Rav Sheshet he objected to this ruling based on a teaching of Rabbi Shimon who understood the Torah’s emphasis that the person was kidnapped me-eḥav – from among his brothers – to mean that the death penalty would only be meted out if he is removed from his family, which is not the case if he is sold to his father or his brother. Based on Rabbi Shimon’s teaching the Gemara concludes that the baraita must be rewritten to state that if the kidnapper sold the victim to a member of his family, the kidnapper will no longer be liable to receive capital punishment.

    In response to this conclusion, the question is raised that perhaps Rabbi Shimon and the author of the baraita disagree on this point. The Gemara explains that the baraita must have been authored by Rabbi Shimon, since Rabbi Yoḥanan taught that in general an unattributed Mishna is in accordance with the opinion of Rabbi Meir; an unattributed baraita in the Tosefta is in accordance with the opinion of Rabbi Neḥemya; an unattributed baraita in the Sifra (the halakhic midrash on Vayikra) is in accordance with the opinion of Rabbi Yehuda; and an unattributed baraita in the Sifrei is in accordance with the opinion of Rabbi Shimon. And all of them follow the opinion of Rabbi Akiva, as these were his disciples.

    Although the final editing of all of these sources was not done by the people mentioned by name – for example, we know that Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi was the editor of the Mishna – nevertheless, the final editor chose the version of each of these works that was authored by these people rather than other available versions of the oral traditions.

  37. Sanhedrin 87a-b: A Rebellious Elder

    When we talk about moving to Israel, the expression that we use is aliyah – moving up. Where does this concept come from?

    The source for the halakha of zaken mamre – an elder Sage who rebels against the decision of the Sanhedrin – appears in Sefer Devarim (17:8-13), where the Torah teaches that the individual who purposefully rejects the teaching of the High Priest or the judge will be killed. According to the Mishna (86b) the Sage is brought to the courts in Jerusalem where he presents his understanding of the law, which is then clarified by one of the three courts that sit in the area of the Temple. If they disagree with his interpretation and he returns to his community where he offers a practical ruling against that of the court in Jerusalem, he will be punished. If, however, he teaches his understanding as a theoretical matter, then he will not be held liable.

    The Gemara quotes a baraita that describes how this process takes place, basing itself on the pesukim in Sefer Devarim that describe how a difficult legal question will need to be brought to the priests and the judges in the place chosen by God, i.e. to Jerusalem. The language that the Torah uses is ve-kamta ve-alita – that you should rise and move upwards – which the baraita understands to mean that you must go to the Temple in Jerusalem, which is the highest place in Israel, while Israel is the highest place in the world. The Gemara notes that while the Temple is clearly identified as the highest point in Israel based on the command ve-kamta, our view that Israel is the highest land is based on the passage in Sefer Yirmeya (23:7) that describes the ultimate return of the Jewish people up to Israel at the end of days.

    Tosafot note that there are clearly other places in Israel that are higher than the Temple in Jerusalem, and hint to the fact that the concept “higher” may not be a physical elevation, but a spiritual idea of aliyah. Still, given that the Earth is a sphere, it is possible to place Israel at the top of the globe simply by properly choosing where to place one’s reference point when looking at it.

  38. Sanhedrin 88a-b: Torah Essence, Rabbinic Interpretation

    The Gemara continues its discussion of the halakha of a zaken mamre – an elder Sage who rebels against the decision of the Sanhedrin. Under what circumstances will a zaken mamre be liable to receive a death penalty for his rulings? According to the Mishna on today’s daf the situation that would lead to death is very limited.

    The Mishna teaches that for the law of zaken mamre, if the Sage teaches that people should reject a biblical law, he is not considered to be a zaken mamre, since no one will take seriously a ruling that negates a law that is clearly written in the Torah. It is only if he rejects the rabbinic interpretation of a Torah law – what the Mishna refers to as divrei soferim – that he will get that status. The example given by the Mishna is the case of tefillin. If he teaches that tefillin should not be worn, he will not be considered a zaken mamre, since that is a law that is clearly taught in the Torah in a number of places (see Shemot 13:9, 16; Devarim 6:8 and 11:18). If, however, he rejects the rabbinic understanding that there are four totafot – “frontlets” – containing four sections of the Torah, and he rules that there must be five, then he will be considered a zaken mamre.

    In the Gemara we find Rabbi Elazar quoting Rabbi Oshaya as teaching that the only case where someone can become a zaken mamre is a situation where the source of the law is biblical and its details are interpreted by the Sages – divrei soferim – and that adding to their interpretation would ruin the mitzva. Furthermore, the only case where such a situation is found is with regard to tefillin. In response to the Gemara’s question that even if a fifth section was added, perhaps we should view it as an irrelevant addition and focus only on the four sections that make up the tefillin, Rabbi Zeira’s teaching is quoted: If the outer section of the tefillin is covered and is not exposed to the air, then the tefillin are pasul – they are disqualified.

  39. Sanhedrin 89a-b: A False Prophecy

    Another case of someone who will receive the death penalty of ḥenek – choking – is a navi sheker – a false prophet. According to the Mishna on today’s daf, someone who offers a prophecy that he did not hear, one that was not directed to him by God, will be charged and prosecuted by the courts. Other cases of prophecy – e.g., if a navi refuses to share his prophecy (like Yonah) or if someone makes light of a true prophecy, or if the navi does not keep the instructions that he receives as a prophecy – these situations are left for God to mete out punishment.

    How can someone know whether a prophecy that is being told is true or not?

    One example that is offered by the Gemara is the case of Tzidkiyahu ben Kena’anah. According to the story in the Navi, (see I Melakhim chapter 22 and II Divrei HaYamim chapter 18 ) Aḥav, the king of Israel, the northern kingdom and Yehoshafat, the king of Judah, the southern kingdom were poised to join forces in a war against Aram, the northern power. King Yehoshafat suggested that before beginning the attack it would be appropriate to turn to hear the word of God. In response, King Aḥav called 400 prophets and put the question to them: ‘Shall I go against Ramot-gilead to battle, or shall I forbear?’ And they said: ‘Go up; for the Lord will deliver it into the hand of the king.’

    Hearing the words of the prophets, King Yehoshafat asked: ‘Is there not a prophet of the Lord, that we might inquire of him?’

    Before Mikhayahu ben Yimlah could be brought before them, Tzidkiyahu ben Kena’anah stepped forward with horns of iron, and said: ‘Thus said the Lord: With these you will gore the Arameans, until they be consumed.’

    The Gemara explains that King Yehoshafat recognized the falseness of the prophecies based on a principle set out by Rabbi Yitzḥak, that although several prophets may receive and share the same prophecy, no two nevi’im will prophesy using precisely the same language. The Maharsha explains that Yehoshafat could not have known all of the nevi’im brought by Aḥav, so there must have been another reason that he knew that they were false prophets. The Arukh LaNer adds that Tzidkiyahu ben Kena’anah must have been among the original 400 who spoke in unison, but upon hearing King Yehoshafat’s request for a true navi stepped forward to offer a different version of the false prophecy.

  40. Sanhedrin 90a-b: The World-To-Come

    Following the examination of the commandments that relate to capital crimes in Jewish law that appeared in the last several perakim of Massekhet Sanhedrin, the Gemara has taught a broad framework of the mitzvot that are central to Judaism. Nevertheless, the focus of this framework has been on areas of halakha that involve actions and the subsequent intervention of beit din – the Jewish court system. To complete the picture of Jewish life and Jewish law, we must also examine the realm of belief, an area of basic core values that are central to the Torah. The last perek of Massekhet Sanhedrin, which begins on today’s daf, deals with these issues, presenting historical periods and personalities that illustrate these ideals.

    The first Mishna opens with the statement kol Yisrael yesh la-hem ḥelek ba-olam ha-ba – all Jewish people have a share in the World-to-Come. The underlying assumption in that statement is that within the framework of reward and punishment, every Jewish person is guaranteed an eternal spiritual existence whose ultimate purpose is embodied in the Resurrection of the Dead and the World-to-Come. This guarantee relates only to a person who works to remain within the framework of God and Torah. Even if he errs and commits sins, he does not lose this eternal existence, although someone who consciously chooses to remove himself from this structure will lose his share in the World-to-Come and will receive the ultimate punishment – a complete and total death, in which nothing is left of the soul and there is no possibility of resurrection or continued spiritual life.

    As far as the terms themselves are concerned, the Rambam believes that olam ha-ba – the World-to-Come – is the world of the souls, where those deserving souls reside after they are separated from their physical bodies. In that spiritual realm the souls enjoy a deep understanding of – and relationship with – the Creator, together with eternal, spiritual pleasure. In contrast, the Ramban, Ramah and others understand that olam ha-ba refers to the world that will exist after the Resurrection of the Dead, when people will live physical lives, but that it will be a totally different type of existence.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  41. Sanhedrin 91a-b: The Minor Holidays

    The Gemara on today’s daf tells of a Second Temple celebration that took place on the 24th of Nisan, after the people of Afrikiya challenged the Jewish people before Alexander Mokdon, claiming the land of Israel as their own. These people – apparently descendants of the Canaanites who had moved to Africa – argued that the Torah itself testified that the land belonged to the Canaanites (Bamidbar 34:2). In response, the Sages agreed that Geviha ben Pesisa would represent them and he argued that if their proof was from the Torah, then they must accept the Torah’s decree that Canaan would forever be a slave to his brothers (Bereshit 9:25), and that whatever a slave possessed truly belongs to his masters. In recognition of this victory, a minor holiday was established, as recorded in Megillat Ta’anit.

    Megillat Ta’anit is a little known collection of statements about minor holidays that commemorate events which took place during the Second Temple period. On the minor holidays, fasting and eulogies were forbidden. Most of the events that are commemorated are from the period of the Hasmonean monarchy – a prime example being the story of Ḥanukkah – although there are also events from earlier and later periods included, as well.

    This work is set up chronologically, and it includes the date and a brief account of the incident written in Aramaic, followed by a fuller description of the event in Hebrew.

    It appears that this work is the oldest example of the Oral Torah being committed to writing; the Sages of the Mishna do not only discuss the rulings that appear in it, but also the language that was used. (Although it is not part of the standard texts of Talmud, the Steinsaltz Koren Talmud Bavli includes it as an addendum to the volume that contains Massekhet Ta’anit).

    The halakha is that Megillat Ta’anit no longer applies, except for the holidays of Ḥanukkah and Purim (see Massekhet Rosh HaShana 18b–19a).

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  42. Sanhedrin 92a-b: Resurrection of the Dead

    One of the most powerful prophetic images – one that served as an inspiration to Rabbis and preachers through the ages to the time of the early Zionist movement – appears in Sefer Yeḥezkel (chapter 37). There we find that God takes the prophet Yeḥezkel to a valley of dry bones and commands him prophesy to those dry bones, informing them that God would breathe life into them and they would live.

    Did this prophetic vision actually take place? And if it did, what happened to those resurrected people?

    These questions are discussed by the Sages on today’s daf of Gemara.

    In the context of searching for a source for the idea of resurrection, the Gemara asks why the resurrected dry bones of Yeḥezkel could not be used as a source. The Gemara explains that this follows the opinion of Rabbi Yehuda who taught that the story of the dead bones was truly a mashal – an allegory, a prophetic vision experienced by Yeḥezkel – but it did not actually take place.

    Not all of the Sages agree, however. Rabbi Eliezer taught that the dead stood as living beings for a short time, sang a song of praise to God – according to Rabbi Yehoshua their song consisted of the passage “God kills and brings to life, He brings down to the grave and brings up” (I Shmuel 2:6) – and then returned to the dead. Rabbi Eliezer the son of Rabbi Yosei HaGelili taught that the resurrected people moved to Israel, married and raised families. In support of this position, Rabbi Yehuda ben Beteira stood up and identified himself as a descendant of one of those people and showed the tefillin that he had received from his father from them.

    Several positions are offered in the Gemara identifying who these people were before they were resurrected. Rav, for example, suggests that they were from the tribe of Ephraim. According to the midrash quoted by Rashi, the tribe of Ephraim miscalculated the time that they were to be enslaved in Egypt and they planned their own exodus, but were slaughtered in the land of the Pelishtim on their way to Israel, which is why the Torah instructs the Children of Israel to avoid that road when they leave Egypt (see Shemot 13:17).

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  43. Sanhedrin 93a-b: The Messiah Is Able To Smell and Judge

    Gemara on today’s daf relates that Bar Koziva ruled for two-and-a-half years and then approached the Sages declaring himself to be the Messiah. The Sages replied that the Messiah was expected to be able to judge based on smell (see Yeshayahu 11:1-3), i.e. that he would have a unique sense of truth and justice. Finding that he was unable to do so, the Sages rejected his claim and he was killed.

    According to the simple reading of the Gemara it sounds as if the Sages themselves killed Bar Koziva, in contrast with the story that appears in various midrashim (Eikha and others) that report that he was killed by the Roman enemy. The Ra’avad accepts the simple version of our Gemara, but the Rambam rejects it entirely – either because he relies on the other midrashim or, if he accepts our Gemara, views the actions of the Sages as badly mistaken. Thus, the Rambam presents Bar Koziva as the model of what we look for in the Messiah. Some suggest that the Rambam may interpret our Gemara differently, understanding that the Sages rejected him as the Messiah, and without their support he was ultimately killed by the enemy.

    The individual who is known to the Gemara as Bar Koziva is the same person who is known to us – as he was called by Rabbi Akiva – as Bar Kokheva. In letters written by him that have been unearthed in archaeological excavations, we find that he signed his name Shimon bar Kosba. Apparently, the other names that he had “played off” of his actual name. His supporters called him Bar Kohkeva – “the son of the star” – basing themselves on the passage recited by the prophet, Bilam (Bamidbar 24:17), darakh kokhav mi-Yaakov. Those who opposed his revolt – especially after it failed – called him Bar Koziva – “the son of falsehood.”

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  44. Sanhedrin 94a-b: Almost Messiah

    Among the descendants of King David who ruled during the First Temple period there were those who were praised for following in his path and those who were condemned for not doing so. King Ḥizkiyahu was one of the righteous kings, and, according to the Gemara on our daf, God was planning to anoint him as the Messiah.

    Rabbi Tanḥum quotes a homily taught by Bar Kappara in the city of Tzippori: The letter mem in the word lemarbe (see Yeshayahu 9:6) – in a passage that refers to the dynasty of King David and the Messiah – is written in an unusual way. While all such letters are open at the bottom, this one is closed. The explanation offered is that God wanted to anoint King Ḥizkiyahu as Messiah and his attacker, Sanḥeriv as Gog U’Magog – turning their war into the war of the End of Days – but was kept from doing so.

    There are a number of letters in the Hebrew alphabet that appear in two forms – an ordinary letter and the letter as it appears at the end of a word. The letter mem appears as a closed square at the end of a word and with an open space in the middle of a word. The Ramah explains that had the mem appeared as it ordinarily does in this passage it would have hinted to the word Mashi’aḥ – “the Messiah” – but in its closed fashion it indicates that Ḥizkiyahu would not merit that honor.

    The Gemara explains that God chose not to anoint Ḥizkiyahu to be Mashi’aḥ because He accepted the argument put forward by midat ha-din – the heavenly attribute of justice – that Ḥizkiyahu did not deserve the honor since he did not respond to the miraculous victory over Sanḥeriv appropriately by singing praises to God – something that King David did on a regular basis without becoming the Messiah. Why might Ḥizkiyahu have neglected to respond to the victory with song? In his Tzafnat Pa’ane’aḥ, Rav Yosef Razin suggests that with the Ten Tribes already exiled, King Ḥizkiyahu felt that a full song of thanksgiving would be inappropriate, since the miracle had not benefitted the entire Jewish People, but only a single tribe.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  45. Sanhedrin 95a-b: The Attacking Army

    On yesterday’s daf we learned that God had intended to make the war between Sanḥeriv and Ḥizkiyahu into Milḥemet Gog U’Magog – the war of the End of Days – and chose not to do so because of King Ḥizkiyahu’s failure to recognize God’s role in the miraculous victory with a song of praise and thanksgiving. The Gemara on today’s daf offers further Rabbinic traditions regarding the war with Sanḥeriv.

    Rav Yehuda quoted Rav as teaching: The wicked Sanḥeriv advanced against them with a force consisting of forty-five thousand princes, each enthroned in a golden chariot and accompanied by his ladies and harlots, eighty thousand warriors in coat-of-mail, and sixty thousand swordsmen of the front line, the rest cavalrymen. A similar host attacked Abraham (see Bereshit ch. 14) and a similar force will accompany Gog and Magog. A baraita taught: The length of his army was four hundred parasangs, the horses standing side by side formed a line forty parasangs wide, and the grand total of his army two million, six hundred thousand less one. Abaye asked whether the intent of “less one” was less one ribbo [ten thousand], one thousand, one hundred, or one? The Gemara does not reach a conclusion regarding this question.

    Abaye’s question appears to be without meaning, for what difference does it make how many soldiers were in Sanḥeriv’s army when he attacked Jerusalem? In his Melo HaRo’im, Rav Ya’akov Tzvi Yalish suggests that it is important so that if someone vows to give an amount of money to charity that is equivalent to the number of soldier’s in Sanḥeriv’s army he will know how much he owes. The Ḥida wrote similarly, that if such an expression appears in a contract of legal document, we will know what it means.

    Rav’s tradition had Sanḥeriv’s army “eighty thousand warriors in coat-of-mail.” The coat-of-mail consisted of metal scales that were sewn together so that they would protect the soldier while giving him some level of movement and flexibility.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  46. Sanhedrin 96a-b: Boiling Blood

    Our Gemara describes the attack of the Babylonian general Nevuzaradan on Jerusalem at the time of the destruction of the first Temple.

    Rava said: Nebukhadnezzar sent Nevuzaradan three hundred mules laden with iron axes that could break iron, but they were all shattered on a single gate of Jerusalem. Although Nevuzaradan was ready to retreat, he feared that he would be killed as was Sanḥeriv before him. At that time, a heavenly voice called out to him that the time has come for the Sanctuary to be destroyed and the Temple burnt. He had but one axe left, so he went and struck the gate and it opened. Killing Jews as he went, he reached the Temple, which he set afire. He was elated with his triumph, but again a heavenly voice came down saying to him, ‘You have killed a dead people, you have burned a Temple already burned, you have ground flour already ground.’

    Entering the Temple precincts, he saw the blood of the navi Zekhariah boiling. He demanded of the kohanim to be told what this was and they answered ‘It is the blood of sacrifices, which has been spilled.’ He instructed them to bring some animal blood so that he could compare them. He insisted that they tell him the secret, threatening to flay their skin with iron combs. Finally the kohanim told him that this was the blood of a priest and a prophet, who foretold the destruction of Jerusalem to the Israelites, and they killed him.

    Intent on “pacifying” his blood, Nevuzaradan brought the Sages and slew them over him, yet it did not cease to boil. He brought schoolchildren and slew them over him, still it did not rest; he brought the young kohanim and slew them over him, and still it did not rest, until he had slain nine hundred and forty thousand, and still it did not rest. Whereupon he approached him and cried out, ‘Zekhariah, Zekhariah, I have destroyed the worthy among them, do you want me to massacre them all?’ At that time the blood rested. At that time Nevuzaradan decided to repent saying ‘if they, who killed one person only, have been so severely punished, what will be my fate?’ So he fled, and converted.

    In conclusion the Gemara shares a tradition that Nevuzaradan was a righteous convert.

    The threat to flay their skin with iron combs would have been carried out with a harpago, a metal comb that was used as an instrument of torture into the Roman period.

  47. Sanhedrin 97a-b: Righteous 36

    It is a well-known adage that there are lamed-vav tzaddikim – thirty-six righteous individuals – in whose merit the world continues to exist. What is the source for this idea?

    On today’s daf Abaye teaches that there are thirty-six righteous individuals in every generation who merit to receive the presence of God. His source is the passage in Sefer Yeshayahu (30:18) where it says ashrei kol ḥokhei lo – that those who wait for Him are happy. The word lo – for him – is written with the letters lamed-vav and has a numeric value in Gematria of 36.

    The Gemara challenges this teaching, saying that there are clearly many more than 36, for based on a passage in Sefer Yeḥezkel (48:35) Rava taught that the line of righteous people waiting before God is 18,000 parasangs long. The Gemara answers that not everyone will merit the same vision of God. The smaller number refers to people who will see God be’ispaklarya ha-me’irah – by means of a luminous crystal (i.e. they perceive him clearly) while the rest will only see him be’ispaklarya she-einah me’irah – by means of a crystal that is not luminous.

    Even this explanation does not suffice for the Gemara, which quotes Rabbi Shimon bar Yoḥai who laments that he has seen the bnei aliya – those righteous individuals who merit the highest levels of relationship with God – and there are few of them. According to Rabbi Shimon bar Yoḥai’s statement it is possible that there are only one thousand, or, perhaps, one hundred or even just two – his son and himself. The Gemara concludes that there are few that can enter God’s presence without permission, but that there are more who are deserving of this closeness with God, albeit only with permission.

    Some explain that the number thirty-six has other significance, as well. Given that the members of the Sanhedrin number seventy individuals, this number of righteous individuals makes up a majority of the Sanhedrin, or, alternatively, half of the Sanhedrin with the addition of the High Priest. At least half of the Sanhedrin must always be in the world in order to guarantee its continued existence.

  48. Sanhedrin 98a-b: Candidates for Messiah

    The Gemara on today’s daf continues its discussion of mashi’aḥ – the Messiah. One of the questions that is dealt with is “What is his name?” Several possibilities are suggested in the Gemara –

    In Rabbi Sheila’s study hall the suggestion was “Shiloh” (see Bereshit 49:10)

    In Rabbi Yannai’s study hall the suggestion was “Yinnon” (see Tehillim 72:17)

    In Rabbi Ḥanina’s study hall the suggestion was “Ḥanina” (see Yirmiyahu 16:13)

    Another suggestion raised was that he is “Menaḥem ben Ḥizkiyya” (see Eikha 1:16).

    Clearly all of these Sages were suggesting the names of their teachers as potential candidates to be the Messiah – something that we find regarding the names of other Sages in different midrashim, as well. This is, apparently, based on the continuation of the Gemara where it is taught that in every generation there are individuals who are worthy of being the Messiah, but because the time has not yet come he cannot be crowned as such. The students sitting in the various study halls each saw their own Rabbi as being the one most likely to play that role in that generation.

    The Gra suggests that the names listed in the Gemara form an acrostic –





    whose opening letters spell out “Mashi’aḥ.”

    Rav Naḥman is quoted as saying that if the Messiah was someone who was living in his generation, then he – Rav Naḥman himself – would be the obvious candidate. The passage that he refers to in order to support his claim appears in Sefer Yirmiyahu (30:21) where we learn that it is someone already in a leadership position who will be the mashi’aḥ, and Rav Naḥman filled that role.

    Even in later generations it was not uncommon to find Jewish leaders who hinted in their writings to the possibility that they were worthy of bringing the redemption, something that was, on occasion, taken very seriously by their students.

  49. Sanhedrin 99a-b: The Length of Messianic Times

    For how long will Messianic times last?

    This enigmatic question is discussed on today’s daf with the Talmudic Sages offering different suggestions on the matter.

    Rabbi Eliezer says 40 years (see Tehillim 95:10)

    Rabbi Elazar ben Azarya says 70 years (see Yeshayahu 23:15)

    Rabbi says three generations (see Tehillim 72:5).

    Perhaps the most surprising suggestion is made by Rabbi Hillel who says that the prophecies regarding mashi’aḥ were already fulfilled in the time of King Ḥizkiyahu (see daf 94) and therefore there is no future Messiah for the Jewish people.

    How are we to understand Rabbi Hillel’s statement?

    Rashi suggests that this means the future redemption will not be led by a human being, but by God Himself. The Rema in his Torat HaOla argues that this means that the Messiah will not arrive because of the merit of the Jewish people, rather solely for the honor of God.

    Rav David Bonfil explains this discussion as follows. Messianic times will serve as the time when the world generally and the Jewish people specifically will be prepared for Ḥayyei HaOlam HaBa – their lives in the World-to-Come. The issue debated by the Sages is how long will be needed to prepare for the spiritual level necessary for that time. Thus, the shorter the amount of time that is needed for this preparatory stage, the greater the current level of the Jewish people. Rabbi Hillel who says that no time is needed at all assumes that the Jewish people are already on the high level necessary.

    Rav Yosef responds to Rabbi Hillel’s statement by pointing out that the story of King Ḥizkiyahu took place during first Temple times, while prophecies foretelling of the coming of the Messiah are still being told by the prophet Zekhariah during second Temple times (see Zekhariah 9:9).

    Rabbi Hillel who appears in our Gemara is not Hillel HaZaken. It appears that he is the younger brother of Rabbi Yehuda Nesia, the grandson of Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  50. Sanhedrin 100a-b: Outside of the Biblical Canon

    In the Mishna (90a) we find that Rabbi Akiva includes people who read sefarim ḥitzoni’im – books outside the Biblical canon – among those who do not have a share in the World-to-Come. The Gemara on today’s daf offers a baraita that defines these books as sifrei minim – books of heretics – while Rav Yosef teaches that it also includes Sefer ben Sira.

    Sefer ben Sira is one of the earliest books composed after the closing of the Biblical canon. It was authored by Yehoshua ben Sira, a native of Jerusalem, who was a younger contemporary of Shimon HaTzaddik, prior to the Hasmonean era. The book of ben Sira was held in great esteem, and after its translation into Greek by the author’s grandson (in the year 132 BCE in Alexandria ), it because widely known even among those who were not familiar with the Hebrew language. Sefer ben Sira is included as a canonical work in the Septuagint (and therefore is considered such in many other translations of the Bible), and although the Sages chose to view it as one of the sefarim ḥitzoni’im – books outside of the canon – they quote it in a respectful manner throughout the Talmud, sometimes even referring to it as ketuvim. Still, because of confusion between this work and another one that was known as Alfa-Beta d’Ben-Sira, which was a popular – and problematic – work, we find statements in the Gemara forbidding the study of Sefer ben Sira.

    For generations Sefer ben Sira was known only from its translations, but recently parts of it have been found in the original Hebrew (in Masada and elsewhere). Since it was not part of the official Biblical canon it appears that the copyists felt more freedom when working with it and we find several different versions of the same text. When it appears in the Talmud it seems likely that it is being quoted by heart by the Sages, rather than from a written text.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

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