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Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Sanhedrin

Folio 44a

in the case of Achan, why were they punished? — Because his wife and children knew thereof.1

Israel hath sinned. R. Abba b. Zabda said: Even though [the people] have sinned, they are still [called] 'Israel'.2  R. Abba said: Thus people say, A myrtle, though it stands among reeds, is still a myrtle, and it is so called.

Yea, they have even transgressed my covenant which I have commanded them, yea, they have even taken of the devoted thing and have also stolen [it], and dissembled also, and they have even put it amongst their own stuff.3  R. Ile'a said on behalf of R. Judah b. Masparta: This teaches that Achan transgressed the five books of the Torah, [for the word 'gam'4  is written there five times].

R. Ile'a also said on behalf of R. Judah b. Masparta; Achan was an epispastic:5  Here it is written, They have even transgressed my covenant;6  and elsewhere7  it is said, He hath broken my covenant.8  But is this not obvious?9  — I might have thought that he would not practise a licence in respect of a precept which concerned his own body; therefore he (R. Ile'a) informs us otherwise.

And because he hath wrought a wanton deed in Israel.10  R. Abba b. Zabda said; This teaches that Achan committed adultery with a betrothed damsel: Here it is written, And because he hath wrought a wanton deed in Israel, and elsewhere, it is said, For she hath wrought a wanton deed in Israel.11  But is this not obvious?12  — I might have thought that Achan was not so extremely licentious;13  therefore he gives us this information.14

Rabina said: He was punished as is a betrothed damsel [who commits adultery], viz., by stoning.15

The Resh Galutha once said to R. Huna; It is written, And Joshua took Achan the son of Zerah and the silver and the mantle and the wedge of gold and his sons and his daughters, and his oxen and his asses, and sheep, and his tent and all that he had.16  If he sinned, wherein did his sons and daughters sin? — He retorted: On your view, [one might ask:] If he sinned, how did all Israel sin, that it is written, And all Israel with him?17  But it was to overawe18  them. So here too, it was to overawe them.19

And they burned them with fire and they stoned them with stones.20  By both [forms of death]?21  — Rabina answered: Those suitable for burning22  were burned, and those suitable for stoning23  were stoned.

And I saw among the spoil a goodly mantle of Shinar,24  and two hundred shekels of silver.25  Rab said: It was a silk mantle;26  Samuel maintained: It was a cloak dyed with alum.

And they laid them down27  before the Lord.28  R. Nahman said: He [Joshua] came and cast them down before God, exclaiming, 'Sovereign of the Universe! for these shall a [number equal to a] majority of the Sanhedrin he killed?'29  For it is written, And the men of Ai smote of them about thirty-six men;30  regarding which it was taught, i.e., literally thirty-six: this is R. Judah's view. R. Nehemia said to him; Were there actually thirty-six? Surely, only about thirty-six men is written. But this refers to Jair the son of Manasseh31  who was equal [in importance] to the majority of the Sanhedrin.32

R. Nahman said in Rab's name: What is meant by, The poor useth entreaties, but the rich answereth insolently.?33  — The poor useth entreaties — that refers to Moses;34  the rich answereth insolently, — to Joshua. Why so? Shall we say, because it is written. And they laid them down before the Lord,35  which R. Nahman interpreted, He came and cast them down before God;36  But did not Phinehas do the same? For it is written, Then stood up Phinehas and wrought judgment [wa-yefallel] and so the plague was stayed:37  whereon R. Eleazar said: Not wayithpallel,38  but wa-yefallel is written;39  thus teaching that he had contentions with his Creator: he came and cast them40  before God and cried out, 'Sovereign of the Universe! because of these, shall twenty-four thousand of Israel fall?' As it is written, And those that died by the plague, were twenty and four thousand?41  — Nay it is inferred42  from the following: [And Joshua said, Alas! O Lord,] wherefore hast Thou brought this people over the Jordan.43  Yet Moses too spake thus: Wherefore hast thou dealt ill with this people.?44  — Nay but it is derived from the following: Would that we had been content and dwelt beyond the Jordan.45

And the Lord said unto Joshua, Get thee up.46  R. Shila expounded this: The Holy One blessed be He, said to him: Thy [transgression] is greater47  than theirs,48  for I commanded, And it shall be when ye are passed over the Jordan that ye shall set up [these stones];49  ye advanced sixty mils however, [into the country before setting them up].50  But when he [R. Shila] had gone out, Rab51  set up his interpreter to speak for him, who expounded; As the Lord commanded Moses His servant, so did Moses command Joshua, and so did Joshua; he left nothing undone of all that the Lord commanded Moses.52  What then do the words, Get thee up,53  teach us? — The Lord said to him, Thou hast brought [guilt] upon them:54  and for that reason He said to him with reference to Ai: And thou shalt do to Ai and her king as thou didst to Jericho and her king, [only the spoil thereof and the cattle thereof shall ye take for a prey.]55

And it came to pass when Joshua was by Jericho that he lifted up his eyes and looked … And he said, Nay, but I am captain of the host of the Lord, I am now come. And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and bowed down.56  But how could he do so?57  Did not R. Johanan say: One may not greet his fellow at night for fear that he may be a demon?58  There it was different, for he said; I am captain of the host of the Lord, I am now come, etc. But perhaps he lied? — We have a tradition that such do not utter the name of God in vain.

To Part b

Original footnotes renumbered.
  1. It was therefore no longer secret.
  2. Israel is the name of honour for the people when faithful to God. Cf. Isa. XLIX, 3.
  3. Josh. VII, 11.
  4. Also, or even. [Ms.M. omits bracketed words. The inference that he transgressed the five books will then be deduced from the verse itself: my covenant, referring in Genesis (XVIII); taken of the devoted thing, to Leviticus (XXVIII, 28); stolen, to Exodus (XX, 15); dissembled, to Numbers (V, 5-10); put it amongst their own stuff, to Deuteronomy (XXIII, 25), v. Yad Ramah.]
  5. I.e., he effaced the sign of the Abrahamic covenant in circumcision.
  6. Josh. VII, 11.
  7. With reference to circumcision.
  8. Gen. XVII, 14. Hence covenant' is assumed to have the same meaning in both verses.
  9. Seeing that R. Ile'a himself said earlier that he had transgressed the five books of the Torah; that includes epispasm.
  10. Josh. VII, 19.
  11. Deut. XXII, 21; this refers to a betrothed maiden who committed adultery.
  12. V. n. 8.
  13. As to make himself despised by men also, for having brought shame (in her family, and having made her ineligible to marry her intended husband.
  14. This was probably intended to teach that there is no limit to licentiousness once a man breaks loose from restraint.
  15. He should legally have been burned for taking of the things under the ban. cf. Josh. VII, 15: He that is taken with the devoted things shall be burned with fire.
  16. Ibid. 24.
  17. Ibid.
  18. Lit., 'chastise'. I.e., all Israel were taken to the place of execution to be overawed by his punishment.
  19. Thus, his family was brought there merely to witness the execution.
  20. Ibid. 25.
  21. Surely they were not executed twice!
  22. The inanimate property.
  23. The livestock.
  24. Babylon. Cf. Gen X, 10; XI, 2.
  25. Josh. VII, 21.
  26. Rashi: Woollen.
  27. Lit., 'poured out'.
  28. Ibid. 23.
  29. I.e., of the great Sanhedrin of seventy one.
  30. Ibid. verse 5.
  31. A contemporary of Moses and a descendant of Manasseh by his grandmother and of Judah by his grandfather. His grandmother was probably an heiress and therefore he is reckoned by the tribe of Manasseh (I Ch. II, 5, 22, 23)
  32. The Heb. is [H], and the [H] is translated as a kaf similitatis, 'like,' i.e., one man who was like thirty-six
  33. Prov. XVIII, 23.
  34. Who, when imploring God's mercy for the people, spake humbly. The term 'poor' which is used of Moses in this instance is attributed to the fact that in comparison with Joshua, he was poor in the conquest of the land (Maharsha).
  35. Josh. VII, 23.
  36. Meaning that Joshua threw them down in a challenging or insolent way.
  37. Ps. CVI, 30.
  38. [H], 'he interceded', 'prayed'.
  39. [H], 'he judged'.
  40. Zimri and Cozbi. Cf. Num. XXV, 7ff.
  41. Num. XXV, 9.
  42. That Joshua spoke insolently.
  43. Josh. VII, 7.
  44. Ex. V, 22.
  45. Josh. VII, 7.
  46. Ibid. 10.
  47. Lit., 'harder'.
  48. Deduced from the redundant [H] 'thee', i.e., it is on thy account too that this disaster has happened. 'Theirs' probably refers to Achan's sin.
  49. Deut. XXVII, 4.
  50. The distance between the Jordan and the mountains of Gerizim and Ebal, where the stones were set up, is sixty mils. V. Sotah 36a.
  51. [Rab was then still in Nehardea, the place of R. Shila.]
  52. Josh. XI, 15. I.e., Joshua did not sin as suggested above.
  53. V. p. 288, n. 16.
  54. By forbidding them the spoil of Jericho.
  55. Josh. VIII, 2, thus expressly ordering him not to proclaim a ban.
  56. Josh. V, 13-14. The fact that, as his question implies, he could not distinguish who the other was, shows that it was night time.
  57. I.e., bow to an unknown man.
  58. The customary greeting of Shalom (peace) is held in equal esteem with the name of God (v. Shab. 10b), and therefore may not be extended to a demon; whilst bowing to a demon is most certainly forbidden.
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Sanhedrin 44b

He [this stranger] said to him: 'Yesterday evening, ye omitted the evening Tamid,1  and to-day2  ye have neglected the study of the Torah.'3  'For which of these [offences] hast thou come?' 'I have now come,'4  he replied. Straightway [we read], And Joshua lodged that night in the midst of the vale'.5  Whereon R. Johanan observed: It teaches that he spent the night in the profundities6  of the law.

R. Samuel b. Unia said in the name of Rab: The study of the Torah is more important than the offering of the Tamid, since it is written, I have now come.7

Abaye asked R. Dimi:8  To what do ye in 'the West' relate the following verse: Go not forth hastily to strife, for what wilt thou do in the end thereof when thy neighbour hath put thee to shame. Debate thy cause with thy neighbour, but reveal not the secrets of another?9  — [He answered]: When the Holy One, blessed be He, said to Ezekiel, Go and say unto Israel, An Amorite was thy father, and thy mother was a Hittite,10  the intercessory11  spirit said before the Holy One, blessed be He, 'Sovereign of the Universe! if Abraham and Sarah came and stood before Thee, wouldst Thou say [this] to them and put them to shame?' Debate thy cause with thy neighbour,12  but reveal not the secret of another!13  But has he so much license?14  — Yes, For R. Jose son of R. Hanina said: He has three names: Pisakon, Itamon, and Sigaron.15  Pisakon, because he argues against the Most High;16  Itamon, because he hides the sins of Israel, Sigaron, because when he concludes17  a matter, none can reopen it.18

Hadst thou prepared thy prayer before thy trouble came?19  R. Eleazar said: One should always offer up prayer before misfortune comes; for had not Abraham anticipated trouble by prayer between Beth-el and Ai,20  there would not have remained of Israel's sinners a remnant or a survivor.21  Resh Lakish said: He who devotes his strength to prayer22 below,23  has no enemies [to overcome] above.24  R. Johanan said: One should ever implore mercy that all [sc. Heavenly beings] may support his effort [in prayer] so that he may have no enemies on high.25

AND WHENCE DO WE KNOW THAT HIS CONFESSIONS MADE ATONEMENT FOR HIM etc. Our Rabbis taught: Whence do we know that his confessions made atonement for him? — From the verse, And Joshua said unto him, Why hast thou troubled us, the Lord shall trouble thee this day: [implying] this day art thou troubled, but thou shalt not be troubled in the next world. And again it is written, And the sons of Zerah: Zimri,26  and Ethan and Heman and Calcol and Darda,27  five of them in all.28  Why the phrase: five of them in all?29  — Because all five were equally destined for the world to come. Here he is called Zimri, but elsewhere, Achan.30  Rab and Samuel [differ thereon]: One maintains his real name was Achan; and why was he called Zimri? — Because he acted like Zimri.31  The other maintains, His real name was Zimri; and why was he called Achan? — Because he wound the sins of Israel about them like a serpent.32

AND IF HE KNOWS NOT WHAT TO CONFESS … R. JUDAH SAID … TO CLEAR HIMSELF. Why not let them clear themselves? — In order that they may not bring discredit upon the Court and the witnesses.

Our Rabbis taught: It happened once that a man who was being taken to be executed said: 'If I am guilty of this sin, may my death not atone for any of my sins; but if I am innocent thereof, may my death expiate all my sins. The court and all Israel are guiltless, but may the witnesses never be forgiven.' Now, when the Sages heard of the matter they said: It is impossible to reverse the decision, since the sentence has been promulgated. He must therefore be executed, and may the chain [of responsibility] ever hang on the neck of the witnesses. But is he to be relied on?33  — This holds good only where the witnesses have retracted.34  But even so, of what consequence is it? Once a witness testified — he cannot testify again!35  It is necessary [to state this] even where they [the witnesses] give a reason for their action,36  as happened in the case of Ba'ya37  the tax-collector.



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Original footnotes renumbered.
  1. The daily burnt offerings, one of which was sacrificed every morning, and one towards evening. Cf. Num. XXVIII, 3.
  2. Lit., 'now'.
  3. The conversation took place during the night when fighting was at a standstill and they should have been studying the land.
  4. I.e., I have come to you for the present offence.
  5. The ordinary text reads: among the people instead of: in the midst of the vale. Again, verse 13 of the same chapter in which we do find, in the midst of the vale, begins with, And Joshua went, instead of, And Joshua lodged. It is probable that the Rabbis combined the two verses for the purpose of their exegesis, which is not unusual with them. Cf. Tosaf. Meg. 3a. s.v. [H]; Shabb. 128a s.v. [H]. In a parallel passage in 'Er. 63b, the verse quoted conforms to the Biblical text: And Joshua went, and the text further reads: He went into the depths of the study of the law. BaH mentions another version which reads as follows: And Joshua lodged that night amongst the people; further it is written, into the midst of the vale, — this teaches that he went and spent that night in the depths of the study of the law. V.D.S. a.l.
  6. [H] means 'valley', as well as 'deep' or 'depth'.
  7. I.e., to reprimand you, not on account of the Tamid, but for the present offence, neglecting the study of the law.
  8. R. Dimi often carried Palestine exegesis to the Babylonian schools.
  9. Prov. XXV, 8-9.
  10. Ezek. XVI, 3.
  11. [H] lit., 'an arguing spirit, — an additional name of the Angel Gabriel, who always interceded on behalf of Israel. V. however p. 99, n. 6.
  12. I.e., reproach him alone.
  13. Do not take up anothers' shame.
  14. To reproach God so freely!
  15. [H] from [H] 'to split;' [H] from [H] 'to lock'; and [H] from [H] 'to close'. So at least according to the Talmudic interpretation which follows.
  16. Lit., 'he splits words upwards.
  17. I.e., when his words are of no effect.
  18. No others can successfully intercede. Kohut suggests that they are of Arabic origin. Pisakon denoting shame; Itamon, sin, and Sigaron, pain, an angel being in charge of each of these three things. Hence in his opinion, [H] does not denote Gabriel but the Spirit of Shame. V. 'Aruch Completum, vol. I, p. 63.
  19. [H] Job XXXVI, 19 (E.V.: Will thy riches avail that are without stint.) [H] means 'to prepare', as well as 'to estimate;' [H] means 'prayer,' or 'wealth'.
  20. Cf. Gen. XII, 8: He pitched his tent, having Beth-el on his west, and Ai on the east, and he builded an altar to the Lord and called upon the name of the Lord.
  21. At the Battle of Ai in the days of Joshua.
  22. Lit., 'who strengthens himself in prayer.'
  23. I.e., on earth.
  24. Translating: 'Hadst thou put forth thy prayer (with strength), thou wouldst have had no adversary (above)'.
  25. Translating somewhat similarly: 'When thou canst prepare thy prayer, see that thou hast no enemies (on high, to urge its rejection)'.
  26. According to the Rabbis, he is identical with Achan. Although the latter was a great grandson of Zerah, he is called the son of Zerah in Josh. VII, 24. The four other sons are referred to in I Kings (V. 11) as great men, and the fact that Achan (Zimri) is associated with them is taken as an indication that his confession helped him to enter the world to come in common with the others.
  27. Dara, in I Chron II, 6.
  28. I Chron. II, 6.
  29. Surely the number is obvious and needs no special mention! Therefore it has some other meaning.
  30. Cf. Josh. VII, 24.
  31. I.e., he was licentious. Cf. Num. XXV, 14, and supra 44a.
  32. Cf. Gr. [G].
  33. I.e., is his statement so trustworthy that responsibility may be thrust upon the witnesses? — Such would seem to have been the text before Rashi, v. D.S. a.l. Our reading is: But that is obvious, (for) is he then the sole authority! I.e., why state that the Rabbis did not reverse the sentence! Is he then to have his own way entirely so that we should disbelieve the witnesses.
  34. After the sentence had been promulgated.
  35. Witnesses are not permitted to retract their first statement and make another, since they may have been prompted thereto out of pity for the accused.
  36. In withdrawing their previous statement. E.g., when they say that they have previously testified against him out of hatred. In this case, though the execution is carried out, the witnesses bear responsibility.
  37. According to Kohut 'Aruch Completum, vol II, p. 140, Ba'ya is derived from the Arabic, meaning an informer. In the case in question he had denounced the tax defaulters in the Government, an act which, of course, aroused the enmity of the people. According in Rashi, the subject matter of the text is connected with this name as follows: The funeral of the said collector coincided with that of a very pious man, but accidentally the coffins were exchanged, so that the honour intended for the Rabbi was paid to the other, and vice versa. An explanation of the happening was given by the Rabbi in a dream to one of his pupils who was disturbed at the occurrence, and he also informed him that severe punishment was in store for Simeon b. Shetah in the world to come for the neglect of his duty in tolerating eighty women in Ashkelon guilty of sorcery. Simeon, on being informed about it, took a serious view of the matter and had them executed. The relatives of these women, however, inflamed with a passion for revenge, plotted against his son, charging him with a capital crime, as a result of which he was sentenced to death. On his way to the place of execution the condemned man protested his innocence so vehemently that even the witnesses were moved to admit the falsity of their evidence, giving as ground for their former act their feelings of enmity against Simeon b. Shetah. Yet their latter statement was not accepted, according to the law expounded in the text, that a witness is not to be believed when be withdraws a former statement. The source for Rashi's story is found in J. Sanh. VI, 3; 6, and in J. Hag. II, 2, with slight variations.
  38. In order to hasten his death and lessen the pain (Maim.). The Talmud, however, bases it on Scripture.
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