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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106 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.

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