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 101a-b: The Appropriateness of Jewish Music

    Jewish music – with themes based on biblical verses and voices – has found a significant place in the daily life of the modern-day Jewish community.

    Somewhat surprisingly, the Gemara on today’s daf appears to reject the use of biblical passages when composing music.

    Our Gemara teaches a baraita: He who recites a verse from Shir HaShirim and presents it as a type of song, and one who recites biblical verses inappropriately at a party, brings evil upon the world, because the Torah girds itself in sackcloth, and stands before the Holy One, blessed be He, and laments before Him, ‘Sovereign of the Universe! Thy children have made me as a harp upon which clowns play.’

    The baraita continues: He replies, ‘My daughter, when they are eating and drinking, what shall they occupy themselves with?’ To which she replies, ‘Master of the Universe! If they are knowledgeable in the written Torah, let them occupy themselves with the Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings; if they are students of the Mishna, with Mishna, halakhot, and aggada, if students of the Talmud, let them engage in the laws of Pesaḥ, Shavu’ot and Sukkot according to the upcoming holiday.’

    In conclusion the baraita teaches that Rabbi Shimon ben Elazar quotes Rabbi Shimon ben Ḥananya as saying that when a biblical passage is quoted appropriately – in season – then it brings good to the world, based on Sefer Mishle (15:23).

    It appears from the conclusion of the Gemara that great respect must be shown to biblical passages, and when used in song or conversation it is essential that the holiness and spirituality of the biblical text be maintained. When sung or discussed appropriately, however, not only is it permissible, but it is a positive thing to do.

    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 102a-b: The Three Kings

    The Gemara on today’s daf returns to the list of kings that appears in the Mishna (90a), which enumerates three kings that lost their share in the World-to-Come. The three kings listed are Yerovam, Aḥav and Menashe.

    Who were these kings?

    Following King Solomon’s reign, the Jewish people broke into two separate kingdoms – Yisrael in the north and Yehuda in the south (see I Melakhim chapters 11-12). While the southern kingdom was ruled by the Davidic dynasty until the destruction of the first Temple, the northern kingdom suffered from assassinations and upheavals and had a series of different dynasties that ruled until the exile by the Assyrians.

    King Menashe, the son of the righteous King Ḥizkiyahu, was from the Davidic line (see II Melakhim chapter 21).
    King Yerovam was the individual who led the people in their revolt against the Davidic dynasty and established the Northern Kingdom (see I Melakhim chapters 11-12).
    King Aḥav, the son of Omri, led the people in the Northern Kingdom to accept and implement Canaanite idol worship (see I Melakhim 16:23-34).

    Our Gemara discusses what merit Aḥav’s father, King Omri, had that allowed him to become king of Israel. According to Rabbi Yoḥanan, it was his establishment of Shomron, a new city in the Land of Israel, that gave him that merit (see I Melakhim 16:24). An obvious question that is raised in response to Rabbi Yoḥanan’s assertion is that Omri became king before he built the city. The Maharsha explains that since God knew that Omri would build the city, He gave him the opportunity to do so. The Iyyun Ya’akov suggests that Rabbi Yoḥanan’s intent was to explain why Omri merited a dynasty that lasted a number of generations, and building a new city in Israel was reason for him to receive that reward and recognition.

    Read the essay in your browser to access the glossary terms »

    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 103a-b: Repentance and the World-to-Come

    As we learned in the Mishna (90a), King Menashe the son of King Ḥizkiyahu is one of the three kings who lost his share in the World-to-Come.

    The navi in Sefer Melakhim (II Melakhim 21:16) describes that aside from the sins that he encouraged the people of the kingdom of Yehuda to commit, Menashe also killed innocent people. In Bavel that was understood to mean that he killed the prophet Yeshayahu, while in Israel they explained that he built a huge idol that was so large that its weight killed a thousand people every day when they were made to carry it.

    At the same time that Menashe is accused of idol worship and murder, the Gemara also attests to the fact that he was a brilliant Torah scholar. Our Mishna quotes a baraita that teaches that Menashe would teach 55 different approaches in Torat Kohanim – the midrash halakha on Sefer Vayikra – one for every year of his reign. Rashi explains that every year of his reign he would return to this midrash and develop new approaches to its content. Torat Kohanim was chosen both because it deals specifically with issues relating to the Temple and because its contents were considered by the Sages to be particularly difficult. The Maharsha explains that the fact that Menashe was learned indicates that whatever sins he committed were premeditated.

    Having said all of this, Rabbi Yehuda’s opinion in the Mishna is that Menashe does have a share in the World-to-Come, since he did teshuva – he repented – as is indicated in Sefer Divrei HaYamim – (II Divrei HaYamim 33:13). Rabbi Yoḥanan argues that anyone who says that Menashe does not have a share in the World-to-Come weakens the hands of ba’alei teshuva – of penitents. He argues that during the last 33 years of Menashe’s reign he was a ba’al teshuva.

  4. Sanhedrin 104a-b: Who Made the List?

    As we have learned, the Mishna (90b) includes a list of the kings – as well as ordinary individuals – whose activities caused them to lose their share in the World-to-Come.

    The Gemara on today’s daf asks who made up these lists?
    In response, Rav Ashi explains that the lists were compiled by the Anshei Knesset HaGedola – members of the Great Assembly.

    The question of who made up these lists can be understood as follows. The other teachings in the Mishna relate to issues that can be derived by study or logic, so there is no need to ask who established them. Regarding an individual’s rights to the World-to-Come, however, how could any human being be certain of who is deserving to merit this. Rav Yissachar ber Ilenberg in his Sefer Be’er Sheva explains that Rav Ashi’s response was that the last group of prophets – the Anshei Knesset HaGedola – who knew this based on their prophecy, were the ones who were able to compile these lists.

    The Gemara continues by quoting Rav Yehuda in the name of Rav who taught that they wanted to include another king in the list of those who did not merit the World-to-Come. Somewhat surprisingly, they wanted to exclude King Solomon (see I Melakhim chapter 11). The Gemara relates that –
    His father, King David came to appeal their decision, but they paid no attention to him.
    A heavenly fire came and singed their safsalim – the benches that the Anshei Knesset HaGedola were sitting on – but they paid no attention
    A bat kol – a heavenly voice – defended King Solomon’s honor, quoting the pasuk in Mishle (22:29) that indicated that the one who built God’s Temple quickly, giving it priority over his own palace, deserved recognition, but they paid no attention.

    Finally the Heavenly voice quoted the passage in Iyyov (34:33), indicating that the decision of who is invited into the World-to-Come is one made by God and not by human beings.

  5. Sanhedrin 105a-b: And the Intent Will Follow

    According to the Mishna (daf 90a), aside from the categories of people who have no share in the World-to-Come and the three kings who have lost their portion, there are four hedyotot – ordinary people – whose activities will keep them from attaining this ultimate reward. The first of these people is Bilam, prophet to the nations, who was hired by King Balak of Mo’av to curse the Jewish people (see Bamidbar Chapter 22).

    According to the story in Sefer Bamidbar (see Chapter 23), three times Bilam asked King Balak to bring 14 sacrifices – seven bulls and seven rams – in order to appease God and allow Bilam to curse the Children of Israel. In each of these cases, the sacrifices did not succeed and the prophetic words uttered by Bilam were blessings rather than curses.

    Were Balak’s sacrifices totally unsuccessful?

    Rav Yehuda quotes Rav as saying that unbeknownst to Balak, these sacrifices served a very important purpose, so much so that we learn from them a general principle – mi-tokh she-lo lishmah, ba lishmah – that a person should always involve himself in Torah and mitzvot, even without the proper intent, since performing those activities – even without proper intent – will, eventually, bring him to proper intent. In fact, the reward for bringing these sacrifices was the eventual birth of a descendant – Rut HaMoaviyah – who would marry into a Jewish family and produce the line that would become the Davidic dynasty (see Megillat Rut).

    Although Balak’s intentions were certainly negative ones, the commentaries note that the idea of mi-tokh she-lo lishmah, ba lishmah should not be understood as encouraging negative behavior. Thus, we encourage everyone to learn Torah, even if their intention is not pure, but were someone to desire to study Torah in order to disprove or belittle it, we would not allow him to do so.

  6. Sanhedrin 106a-b: Advice Given and Received

    Continuing the Rabbinic traditions regarding Bilam, the prophet to the nations, the Gemara on today’s daf relates that Bilam had a longstanding relationship with Yitro, Moshe’s father-in-law. The Gemara makes use of a homiletical interpretation of the passage (Bamidbar 24:21) where Bilam sees the Keini and offers words of prophecy. The Gemara suggests that this should be understood to mean that Bilam turned to Yitro saying “Keini! Were you not with us when Pharaoh decreed that the boys born to the Israelites should be killed? How did you merit that your descendants would sit with the strong ones of the world?”

    The reference is to a well-known midrash taught by Rabbi Ḥiyya bar Abba in the name of Rabbi Simai, which tells of three famous biblical characters who were brought before Pharaoh and asked to give advice on how to deal with the population explosion of the Children of Israel. Eventually, each received his just deserts, middah ke-neged middah:

    Bilam advised Pharaoh to kill the Jewish children, and he was killed (see Sefer Bamidbar 31:8)

    Iyyov remained silent, and he was punished with suffering (see the book of Job)

    Recognizing that the terrible decree would be carried out, Yitro chose to flee, and his children ended up as members of the Sanhedrin.

    Many raise the question: why did Iyyov’s silence make him deserving of the intense suffering that he endured, unlike Bilam and Yitro, who each received the equivalent of his own advice?

    One suggestion is that his silence was viewed as acquiescence, so, in effect, it was his agreement that sealed the fate of the children who were killed, and thus he was held accountable. According to the Zohar, Iyyov did not remain entirely silent during the discussion. He recommended that the Jewish people should not be killed, but rather should be tortured and have their valuables taken from them – the very sufferings that Iyyov himself eventually experienced.

  7. Sanhedrin 107a-b: A Proper Rebuke

    The Mishna (daf 90a) taught that one of the people who has no portion in the World-to-Come is Geḥazi, the student of the prophet Elisha. In II Melakhim (chapter 5) we learn that Geḥazi was condemned to suffer from leprosy because he accepted a reward from Na’aman, a foreign general whose leprosy was cured by Elisha. The Gemara concludes from this story that a person should always encourage a relationship, even when rebuking a student- le-olam tehe semol doḥah ve-yemin mekarevet – a person should push aside with his weaker hand while bringing closer with his stronger hand. Elisha is presented as having failed as a teacher and mentor, having pushed Geḥazi away with both hands.

    Another example of this kind of fault is the story of Yehoshua ben Peraḥya, who is presented as having pushed aside Yeshu HaNotzri – Jesus — with both hands. The story that is told is that Yehoshua ben Peraḥya was returning to Jerusalem following his flight to Alexandria in Egypt, together with his student, Yeshu HaNotzri. When they stopped in an inn and were treated well, Yehoshua ben Peraḥya mentioned to Yeshu that the service was good. Yeshu responded that the innkeeper was unattractive. This response led Yehoshua ben Peraḥya to ban Yeshu, and Yehoshua ben Peraḥya was unable to change his mind until it was too late and Yeshu had turned away from traditional Judaism.

    In standard printings of the Talmud, this story appears without the name Yeshu HaNotzri, which was removed by censors for reasons of sensitivity to the Christian society in which they lived. It should be noted, however, that the story of Yehoshua ben Peraḥya who was driven from Jerusalem by King Yannai, could not have taken place any later than 76 BCE. Thus the reference to Yeshu HaNotzri cannot be connected with the individual who established the Christian faith. Many commentaries suggest that all of the Talmudic references to Yeshu refer to another person, or else that there is more than one person with that name who lived during the times of the Mishna.

  8. Sanhedrin 108a-b: Life on the Ark

    According to the Mishna (107b), the entire generation of the flood lost their portion in the World-to-Come. This teaching leads the Gemara to discuss the story of Noah in some detail. Among the descriptions that are brought we find a discussion about what life was like on the ark during the full year that Noah and his family shared close quarters with the animals.

    Rav Ḥana bar Bizna described a conversation between Avraham’s servant, Eliezer, and Noah’s son, Shem. Eliezer asked Shem about the passage (Bereshit 8:19) that indicated that the animals left the ark by families, implying that they kept to their normal activities and behaviors while on the ark. How was Noah’s family able to manage the needs and desires of an entire menagerie?

    Shem told Eliezer that life on the ark was very difficult. Noah’s family had to feed the nocturnal animals at night and the diurnal animals during the day. The lion fell ill with a fever, and went for a time without eating, surviving on his body fat. There was one particular animal – the zikita – that they didn’t know how to feed. Once, when Noah was peeling a pomegranate, and a worm fell out, which was immediately eaten by the zikita. Only from that time on did Noah learn to prepare food for this animal.

    What was this zikita?

    According to the Ge’onim, the zikita was a small bird. A more popular identification of the zikita is a chameleon, a common type of lizard that is found around the world. A chameleon can grow to between 20 and 30 centimeters, and its skin color can change according to the light, its mood or the background that it is standing on. It eats insects that it catches with is long tongue (up to 45 cm. long). There are many legends told about chameleons, including the story that it does not eat, rather it lives on air, which may be the reason the Gemara emphasized that Noah discovered that it did need to eat like any other living creature.

  9. Sanhedrin 109a-b: This Too Is For the Best

    Naḥum Ish Gam Zo always believed that whatever happened was for the best.

    The Gemara relates that once the Jewish community needed to send a tribute to the Caesar, and they decided to send it with Naḥum Ish Gam Zo since he was someone for whom miracles occurred. When stopping on his trip, he was queried in the inn regarding his mission and he admitted that he was bringing a tribute to the Caesar. That night, his hosts removed the valuables from his case and replaced them with dirt. Naḥum Ish Gam Zo continued on his way and was shown before the Caesar who was insulted by the gift and ordered that Naḥum Ish Gam Zo be killed. Naḥum Ish Gam Zo’s reaction was simple: “this too is for the best.”

    According to the Gemara, Eliyahu appeared amongst the crowd and suggested that perhaps this is miraculous dirt that the Jews were rumored to have since the days when Avraham fought his enemies with dirt that turned to spears and straw that turned to arrows. They checked it and found that it was true; later they conquered a city with it that they had never been able to conquer before. In appreciation the Caesar sent Naḥum Ish Gam Zo to collect whatever he wanted from the treasury.

    On his way home, Naḥum Ish Gam Zo again stopped in the inn where he told the people that the dirt that he had brought had granted him this reward. Hearing this they brought more dirt to the Caesar, but they were killed for their efforts.

    In his Sefer HaḤayyim, Rabbi Ḥayyim ben Betzalel (the Maharal’s brother) offers the following explanation. Naḥum Ish Gam Zo recognized that his present had been changed, but felt that what was important was not the value of the present, but the idea that a present was offered, so he continued with his mission. Upon arriving before the Caesar he explained that the dirt symbolized that the Jews were surrendering before him and that it was the patriarch Avraham’s dirt, meaning that Avraham successfully fought wars, but he knew when the best policy was not to fight but to humbly negotiate. Taken with this radical concept, the Caesar tried negotiations with the city that he could not capture, and found that he was successful in his efforts.

  10. Sanhedrin 110a-b: Accusations in the Desert

    The Mishna (108a) lists a number of groups who will not merit a portion in the World-to-Come. These include, for example, the biblical spies whose testimony about the Land of Israel caused the Children of Israel to wander in the desert for 40 years. Basing himself on the passage in Sefer Bamidbar (14:35), Rabbi Akiva believes that the entire generation of those who left Egypt lost their share in the World-to-Come, but Rabbi Eliezer disagrees. Rabbi Akiva also suggests that those people who joined Koraḥ’s rebellion lost their share in the Resurrection of the Dead, based on Sefer Bamidbar 16:33, although again, Rabbi Eliezer disagrees.

    This last discussion brings the Gemara to focus on the story of Koraḥ’s rebellion. One passage that is examined is the brief moment when Moshe lost his ability to argue with them, and simply fell on his face (Bamidbar 16:4). What accusation was made against Moshe that led to his despair?

    Rabbi Shmuel bar Naḥmani quotes Rabbi Yonatan as teaching, based on Sefer Tehillim (106:16) that Moshe was accused of adultery. In fact, Rabbi Shmuel bar Yitzḥak taught that when Moshe set up a tent – Ohel Mo’ed – outside of the encampment (see Shemot 33:7), the entire nation began to suspect him of committing adultery with their wives.

    The Riaf explains this simply, that when any member of the community had an issue to discuss, they would turn to Moshe who was in his tent outside of the camp. It is clear that women as well as men would turn to Moshe for direction, and this led to suspicion. The Torah, however, dispels any such claim by emphasizing that Yeshoshua, Moshe’s protégé, never left the tent (see Shemot 33:11). The Margaliyyot HaYam notes that the Ohel Mo’ed was set up outside the camp immediately after the Sin of the Golden Calf, when the women refused to hand over their gold jewelry to build the calf. This led their husbands to suspect that they listened to Moshe more than to their own husbands.

  11. Sanhedrin 111a-b: To Merit the World-To-Come

    How many will be left at the end of days?

    The Gemara on today’s daf presents a series of disagreements between Reish Lakish and Rabbi Yoḥanan on this topic. In each of them, Reish Lakish presented a pessimistic view regarding the people who would merit a future world, while Rabbi Yoḥanan argued that the pesukim should be understood in a less literal sense.

    1. Yeshayahu 5:14 presents she’ol – the netherworld – as swallowing “without measure.”
    Reish Lakish understands this to mean that anyone who misses a single ḥok – a single commandment – will be swallowed up. Rabbi Yoḥanan objects, saying that anyone who learned a single ḥok would be saved.

    2. Zekharya 13:8 teaches that only one-third will survive.
    Reish Lakish suggests that this means that only one third of the descendants of Noah’s son, Shem, will survive. According to Rabbi Yoḥanan it means one-third of the entire world.

    3. Yirmiyahu 3:14 says that only one from a city and two from a family will be saved.
    Reish Lakish takes this literally, while Rabbi Yoḥanan teaches that if there is one meritorious person in a city or two in a family, all will survive.

    In Rav Yosef Albo’s Sefer HaIkarim he explains that the disagreement between Reish Lakish and Rabbi Yoḥanan is dependent on a basic question – when we say that a person’s portion in the World-to-Come is dependent on his fulfilling the mitzvot in this world, is a person required to engage the entire hierarchy of commandments in full, or does every individual commandment contain an element of merit that would bring a person to this level? According to Reish Lakish, someone who is missing even a single commandment will be lacking in spiritual development and would be unable to merit the World-to-Come. Rabbi Yoḥanan, however, believes that every commandment is a whole unto itself, and proper fulfillment of any commandment raises a person spiritually.

  12. Sanhedrin 112a-b: Holy Tithes

    The “taxes” paid by your average farmer during Temple times went largely to the mikdash – the Temple – itself and to the people – kohanim and levi’im – who worked there. The major matanot (literally “presents” but effectively taxes) included:
    •Bikkurim – the first fruits of the harvest that are brought to the Temple and given to the kohanim
    •Teruma gedola – a portion of the harvest given to the kohen. He can use it in his home for normal purposes, but it must be treated as kodshim, preserved (when possible) in a state of ritual purity, only consumed by kohanim, etc.
    •Ma’aser rishon – a portion of the harvest given to the levi. It has no kedusha attached to it and it can be used for any purpose.
    •Ma’aser sheni – a portion of the harvest that is taken by its owner to Jerusalem, where he can eat it on his own or give it to others, but it must be kept in a state of ritual purity and only eaten within the precincts of the city.

    Our Gemara discusses the laws of ma’aser sheni, which was separated by the farmer in four out of the seven years of the agricultural cycle – during years 1, 2, 4 and 5. (In years 3 and 6 it was replaced with a tithe given to the poor; in year 7 – the Sabbatical year – no tithes were separated.) We learn that according to Rabbi Meir, dough made of ma’aser sheni flour will be free of the obligation to separate ḥalla – a portion of dough that is separated and given to the kohen – while the other Sages obligate him to separate ḥalla. This argument points to a basic disagreement about such tithes. According to Rabbi Meir ma’aser sheni is mamon gavoha – it is sanctified property that a person is allowed to eat under specific circumstances. As such, no other tithes need to be separated from it. The Sages, however, believe that it is mamon hedyot – it remains the property of the owner – although the Torah requires that it be eaten only in a specific place and under certain conditions.

  13. Sanhedrin 113a-b: The Symbol of Yeriho

    When the Children of Israel entered the Land of Israel after 40 years in the desert, the first city that they encountered and conquered was Yeriḥo (see Sefer Yehoshua chapter 6). Having defeated this first Canaanite city, Yehoshua declared that the city was to remain a symbol, and no one could rebuild it, cursing anyone who tried to do so with the death of his children (Yehoshua 6:26).

    In fact, the navi later relates that there was a later attempt to reestablish the city of Yeriḥo. In Sefer I Melakhim (16:34) we find that in the time of King Aḥav a man named Ḥiel Beit-HaEli built the city of Yeriḥo, and that when he began his oldest child, Aviram passed away and when he completed the city his youngest son, Seguv, died as well.

    It is interesting to note that the Gemara assumes that the city built by Ḥiel Beit-HaEli was not built on the ruins of the original city of Yeriḥo, rather that he built a different city, giving it that name. According to the Gemara, Yehoshua’s original curse included both a situation where the destroyed city would be rebuilt with another name, or a situation where another city would be built that would be called by the name of Yeriḥo. The Talmud Yerushalmi explains that the Yeriḥo built by Ḥiel could not have been the original city, since Ḥiel was living under the rule of King Aḥav in the Northern Kingdom of Israel, while the original city of Yeriḥo was located in the Southern Kingdom of Yehuda.

    The entrance of Israel into the Land of Canaan was not merely the capture of land from the local tribes, rather it was a total rejection of the values and mores of a Canaanite culture that celebrated cultic religious beliefs that included the murder of children to the god Molekh and ritualistic sexual harlotry in the service of the god Ba’al. The destruction of the city of Yeriḥo and the oath to leave the city in a state of ruin symbolized the aim of the Israelites to uproot these pagan practices. With the reestablishment of Canaanite rituals by King Aḥav, it appears that Ḥiel Beit-HaEli wanted to reject that symbolism by rebuilding the original Canaanite city.

    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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