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Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Sanhedrin

Folio 56a


GEMARA. It has been taught: [The blasphemer is not punished] unless he 'blesses' the Name, by the Name.2  Whence do we know this? — Samuel said: The Writ sayeth, And he that blasphemeth [nokeb] the name of the Lord … when he blasphemeth the name of the Lord, shall be put to death.3  How do you know that the word nokeb4  [used in the Hebrew] means a 'blessing'? — From the verse, How shall I curse [Ekkob]5  whom God hath not cursed;6  whilst the formal prohibition is contained in the verse, thou shalt not revile God.7  But perhaps it means 'to pierce,'8  as it is written, [So Jehoiada the priest took a chest,] and bored [wa-yikkob]9  a hole in the lid of it,10  the formal injunction against this being the verses, Ye shall destroy the names of them [idols] out of that place. Ye shall not do so unto the Lord your God?11  — The Name must be 'blessed' by the Name, which is absent here. But perhaps the text refers to the putting of two slips of parchment, each bearing the Divine Name, together, and piercing them both? — In that case one Name is pierced after the other.12  But perhaps it prohibits the engraving of the Divine Name on the Point of a knife and piercing therewith [the Divine Name written on a slip of parchment]? — In that case, the point of the knife pierces, not the Divine Name. But perhaps it refers to the pronunciation of the ineffable Name, as it is written, And Moses and Aaron took these men which are expressed [nikkebu]13  by their names;14  the formal prohibition being contained in the verse, Thou shalt fear the Lord thy God?15  — Firstly, the Name must be 'blessed' by the Name, which is absent here; and secondly, it is a prohibition in the form of a positive command, which is not deemed to be a prohibition at all.16  An alternative answer is this: The Writ saith, [And the Israelitish woman's son] blasphemed wa-yikkob17  [and cursed],18  proving that blasphemy [nokeb] denotes cursing. But perhaps it teaches that both offences must be perpetrated?19  You cannot think so, because it is written, Bring forth him that hath cursed,20  and not 'him that hath blasphemed and cursed', proving that one offence only is alluded to.

Our Rabbis taught: [Any man that curseth his God, shall bear his sin.21  It would have been sufficient to say], 'A man, etc:' What is taught by the expression any man?22  The inclusion of heathens, to whom blasphemy is prohibited just as to Israelites, and they are executed by decapitation; for every death penalty decreed for the sons of Noah is only by decapitation.23

Now, is [the prohibition of blasphemy to heathens] deduced from this verse? But it is deduced from another, viz., The Lord, referring to the 'blessing' of the Divine Name.24  — R. Isaac the smith25  replied; This phrase ['any man'] is necessary only as teaching the inclusion of substitutes of God's name,26  and the Baraitha is taught in accordance with R. Meir's views For it has been taught: Any man that curseth his God shall bear his sin.27  Why is this written? Has it not already been stated, And he that blasphemeth the name of the Lord, he shall surely be put to death?28  Because it is stated, And he that blasphemeth the name of the Lord shall surely be put to death, I might think that death is meted out only when the ineffable Name is employed. Whence do I know that all substitutes [of the ineffable Name] are included [in this law]? From the verse, Any man that curseth his God — shewing culpability for any manner of blasphemy [even without uttering the Name, since the Name is not mentioned in this sentence]: this is the view of R. Meir. But the Sages maintain: [Blasphemy] with use of the ineffable Name, is punishable by death: with the employment of substitutes, it is the object of an injunction. [but not punishable by death].

This view [of R. Isaac the smith] conflicts with that of R. Miyasha; for R. Miyasha said: If a heathen [son of Noah] blasphemed, employing substitutes of the ineffable Name, he is in the opinion of the Sages punishable by death. Why so? — Because it is written, as well the stranger, as he that is born in the land [when he blasphemeth the name of the Lord, shall be put to death].29  This teaches that only the stranger [i.e.. a proselyte], and the native [i.e., a natural born Israelite] must utter the ineffable Name; but the heathen is punishable even for a substitute only. But how does R. Meir interpret the verse, 'as well the stranger, as he that is born in the land'? — It teaches that the stranger and citizen are stoned, but a heathen is decapitated. For I would think, since they are included [in the prohibition], they are included [in the manner of execution too]: hence we are taught otherwise. Now how does R. Isaac the smith interpret the verse, 'as well the stranger, as he that is born in the land', on the view of the Rabbis?30  — It teaches that only a stranger and a native must revile the Name by the Name, but for a heathen this is unnecessary. Why does the Torah state any man?31  — The Torah employed normal human speech.32

Our Rabbis taught: seven precepts were the sons of Noah commanded: social laws;33  to refrain from blasphemy, idolatry; adultery; bloodshed; robbery; and eating flesh cut from a living animal.34

To Part b

Original footnotes renumbered.
  1. The witnesses, in giving testimony, do not state that they heard the accused say, 'May He slay himself', uttering the actual divine name, but use the word 'Jose' as a substitute for the divine name. 'Jose' is chosen as a substitute, because it contains four letters, like the actual Tetragrammaton, which must have been used by the blasphemer for him to be punished. Moreover, the numerical value of 'Jose' is the same as of Elohim [81]. According to Levy, s.v. [H], the first Jose [H] stands for Jesus ([H], son), and the second is an abbreviation of [H], Joseph, the Father, by which, however, God was to be understood. The witnesses were accordingly asked whether the accused in his blasphemy had set Jesus above God. (R. Joshua b. Karha, the author of this saying, lived at a time when Judeo-Christians ascribed more power to Jesus than to God.)
  2. As in the Mishnah, 'Jose strike Jose'. 'Bless' is here a euphemism for curse, and is so in the whole of the ensuing discussion.
  3. Lev. XXIV, 16. The repetition shows that the Divine Name must be cursed by the Divine Name.
  4. [H]
  5. [H]
  6. Num. XXIII, 8.
  7. Ex. XXII, 27.
  8. I.e., it is a capital offence to pierce the Divine Name, written on a slip of parchment, and thus destroy it.
  9. [H]
  10. II Kings XII, 10.
  11. Deut. XII, 3f. The interpretation is based on the juxtaposition of the two verses; v. Mak. 22a.
  12. The knife passes successively from one slip to the other, but one Name does not pierce the other.
  13. uceb
  14. Num. 1, 17.
  15. Deut. VI, 13, which is interpreted as a prohibition against the unnecessary utterance of His Name.
  16. The statement, Thou shalt fear the Lord thy God, though implying abstention from something, is nevertheless given as a positive command, but punishment is imposed for the violation only of a direct negative precept.
  17. [H]
  18. Lev. XXIV, 11.
  19. I.e., only he who both blasphemes, that is, utters the ineffable Name, and curses it, is executed.
  20. Ibid. XXIV, 14.
  21. Ibid. XXIV, 15.
  22. Lit., 'A man, a man', Heb. ish ish, [H].
  23. The only place where death is explicitly decreed for non-Israelites is in Gen. IX, 6: Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed. It is a general law, applicable to all, having been given in the pre-Abrahamic era; his blood shall be shed must refer to the sword, the only death whereby blood is shed.
  24. V. infra 56b. And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, of every tree of the garden, thou mayest freely eat. Gen. II, 16. Every word or phrase in this verse is separately interpreted, the Lord teaching the prohibition of blasphemy to a Noachide.
  25. In the Talmudic period the Rabbi was an honorary official; consequently, he had to have a private occupation e.g., R. Joshua, who came into conflict with R. Gamaliel, was a blacksmith, (Ber. 28a.) others translate, charcoal-burner.
  26. I.e., even if only a substitute was employed in blasphemy, the death penalty is incurred.
  27. Lev. XXIV, 15
  28. Ibid. 16.
  29. Ibid.
  30. That a heathen too must use the ineffable Name for incurring punishment.
  31. This is a difficulty For R. Isaac and R. Miyasha, as they explain the opinions of the Sages. They both maintain that the culpability of a heathen is deduced from And the Lord (God commanded etc.) When employing substitutes, his culpability, in the view of R. Miyasha is deduced from as well the stranger etc.; Whilst R. Isaac denies that it is punishable at all. Hence the difficulty, why the repetition ish ish, a man, a man?
  32. I.e., no particular significance attaches to the repetition, it being the usual idiom.
  33. I.e., to establish courts of justice, or, perhaps, to observe social justice (Nahmanides on Gen. XXXIV, 13): Hast. Dict. (s.v. Noachian precepts) translates 'obedience to authority'.
  34. These commandments may be regarded as the foundations of all human and moral progress. Judaism has both a national and a universal outlook in life. In the former sense it is particularistic, setting up a people distinct and separate from others by its peculiar religious law. But in the latter, it recognises that moral progress and its concomitant Divine love and approval are the privilege and obligation of all mankind. And hence the Talmud lays down the seven Noachian precepts, by the observance of which all mankind may attain spiritual perfection, and without which moral death must inevitably ensue. That perhaps is the idea underlying the assertion (passim) that a heathen is liable to death for the neglect of any of these. The last mentioned is particularly instructive as showing the great importance attached to the humane treatment of animals; so much so, that it is declared to be fundamental to human righteousness.

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Sanhedrin 56b

R. Hanania b. Gamaliel said: Also not to partake of the blood drawn from a living animal. R. Hidka added emasculation. R. Simeon added sorcery. R. Jose said: The heathens were prohibited everything that is mentioned in the section on sorcery. viz., There shall not be found among you any one, that maketh his son or daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch, or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer. For all that do these things are an abomination unto the Lord: and because of these abominations the Lord thy God doth drive them [sc. the heathens in Canaan] out from before thee.1  Now, [the Almighty] does not punish without first prohibiting.2  R. Eleazar added the forbidden mixture [in plants and animals]: now, they are permitted to wear garments of mixed fabrics [of wool and linen] and sow diverse seeds together; they are forbidden only to hybridize heterogeneous animals and graft trees of different kinds.

Whence do we know this? — R. Johanan answered: The Writ saith: And the Lord God commanded the man saying, of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat.3  And [He] commanded, refers to [the observance of] social laws, and thus it is written, For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment.4  The Lord — is [a prohibition against] blasphemy, and thus it is written, and he that blasphemeth the name of the Lord, he shall surely be put to death.5  God — is [an injunction against] idolatry, and thus it is written, Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.6  The man — refers to bloodshed [murder], and thus it is written, Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed.7  Saying — refers to adultery, and thus it is written, They say, If a man put away his wife, and she go from him, and became another man's.8  Of every tree of the garden — but not of robbery.9  Thou mayest freely eat — but not flesh cut from a living animal.10

When R. Isaac came,11  he taught a reversed interpretation. And He commanded — refers to idolatry; God [Heb. elohim] to social law. Now 'God' may rightly refer to social laws, as it is written, And the master of the house shall be brought unto elohim [i.e., the judges].12  But how can 'and He commanded' connote a prohibition of idolatry? — R. Hisda and R. Isaac b. Abdimi-one cited the verse, They have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them: they have made them a molten calf, etc.13  And the other cited, Ephraim is oppressed and broken in judgment, because he willingly walked after the commandment.14  Wherein do they differ? — In respect of a heathen who made an idol but did not worship it: On the view [that the prohibition of idolatry is derived from] they have made them a molten calf, guilt is incurred as soon as the idol is made [even before it is worshipped]; but according to the opinion that it is from, because he willingly walked after the commandment, there is no liability until the heathen actually follows and worships it. Raba objected: Does any scholar maintain that a heathen is liable to punishment for making an idol even if he did not worship it? Surely it has been taught: With respect to idolatry, such acts for which a Jewish Court decrees sentence of death [on Jewish delinquents] are forbidden to the heathen; but those for which a Jewish Court inflicts no capital penalty on Jewish delinquents are not forbidden to him.15  Now what does this exclude? Presumably the case of a heathen who made an idol without worshipping it?16  R. Papa answered: No. It excludes the embracing and kissing of idols.17  Of which idols do you say this? Is it of those whose normal worship is in this manner; but in that case he is surely liable to death? — Hence it excludes the embracing and kissing of idols which are not usually worshipped thus.

'Social laws.' Were then the children of Noah bidden to observe these? Surely it has been taught: The Israelites were given ten precepts at Marah, seven of which had already been accepted by the children of Noah, to which were added at Marah social laws, the Sabbath, and honouring one's parents; 'Social laws,' for it is written, There [sc. at Marah] he made for them a statute and an ordinance;18  'the Sabbath and honouring one's parents'. for it is written, As the Lord thy God commanded thee!19  — R. Nahman replied in the name of Rabbah b. Abbuha: The addition at Marah was only in respect of an assembly, witnesses, and formal admonition.20  If so, why say 'to which were added social laws'?21  — But Raba replied thus: The addition was only in respect of the laws of fines.22  But even so, should it not have been said, 'additions were made in the social laws'? — But R. Aha b. Jacob answered thus: The Baraitha informs us that they were commanded to set up law courts in every district and town. But were not the sons of Noah likewise commanded to do this? Surely it has been taught: Just as the Israelites were ordered to set up law courts in every district and town, so were the sons of Noah likewise enjoined to set up law courts in every district and town! — But Raba answered thus: The author of this Baraitha [which states that social laws were added at Marah] is a Tanna of the School of Manasseh, who omitted social laws and blasphemy23  [from the list of Noachian precepts] and substituted emasculation and the forbidden mixture [in plants, ploughing. etc.].23  For a Tanna of the School of Manasseh taught: The sons of Noah were given seven precepts. viz., [prohibition of] idolatry, adultery, murder, robbery, flesh cut from a living animal, emasculation and forbidden mixtures. R. Judah said: Adam was prohibited idolatry only, for it is written, And the Lord God commanded Adam.24  R. Judah b. Bathyra maintained: He was forbidden blasphemy too. Some add social laws. With whom does the following statement of Rab Judah in the name of Rab agree: viz., [God said to Adam,] I am God, do not curse Me; I am God, do not exchange Me for another; I am God, let My fear be upon you?25  — This agrees with the last mentioned [who adds social laws to the list].

Now, what is the standpoint of the Tanna of the School of Manasseh? If he interprets the verse, And the Lord God commanded etc. [as interpreted above], he should include these two [social laws and blasphemy] also, and if he does not, whence does he derive the prohibition of the rest? — In truth, he does not accept the interpretation of the verse, 'And the Lord God commanded etc., but maintains that each of these [which he includes] is separately stated: Idolatry and adultery.

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Original footnotes renumbered.
  1. Deut. XVIII, 10ff.
  2. Therefore, since it is stated that they are being expelled as a punishment for these sins, they must first have been warned (i.e., prohibited) against them.
  3. Gen. II, 16.
  4. Gen. XVIII, 19. Thus 'command' relates to justice and judgment.
  5. Lev. XXIV, 16 — 'The Lord' being used in connection with blasphemy.
  6. Ex. XX, 3.
  7. Gen. IX, 6.
  8. Jer. III, 1. Thus 'saying' is used in connection with adultery.
  9. Since it was necessary to authorize Adam to eat of the trees of the garden, it follows that without such authorisation — i.e., when something belongs to another — it is forbidden.
  10. By interpreting thus: Thou mayest eat that which is now ready for eating, but not whilst the animal is alive. It is perhaps remarkable that a verse, the literal meaning of which is obviously permission to enjoy, should be interpreted as a series of prohibitions. Yet it is quite in keeping with the character of the Talmud: freedom to enjoy must be limited by moral and social considerations, and indeed only attains its highest value when so limited. Cf. Ab. VI, 2: No man is free but he who labours in the Torah.
  11. V. p. 361, n. 5.
  12. Ex. XXII, 7. The root idea of 'elohim' is power, majesty.
  13. Ex. XXXII, 8.
  14. Hos. V, 11, referring to idolatry; thus in both cases 'command' is used in connection with idolatry.
  15. V. Mishnah 60b.
  16. For which a Jew is not punished by death.
  17. Teaching that these are not punishable.
  18. Ex. XV, 25. Ordinance (Heb. mishpat) refers to social law.
  19. Deut. V, 16. This occurs in the fifth commandment of the second Decalogue. Similar words are used in the fourth commandment: therefore the Lord thy God commanded thee to keep the sabbath day. In both cases then there is a reference to some previous event, shewn by the use of the past tense: commanded thee. Now the second Decalogue, though spoken by Moses towards the end of his life in the plains of Moab many years after the first at Sinai, was nevertheless a repetition thereof. Therefore this reference back must have been made in the first promulgation also, and can only relate to Marah, where, as stated above, 'he made for them a statute and an ordinance', i.e., gave certain laws to the the Israelites.
  20. I.e., that Justice should be meted out by an 'assembly'. viz., a Sanhedrin; that an accusation was to be attested by at least two witnesses, and that a formal warning or admonition was to be given to the accused before he committed his offence, as otherwise he was not liable to the prescribed penalty. But the sons of Noah, though bidden to observe civil laws, were not bound by these regulations.
  21. Since the addition was only in the method of procedure, but not in actual content.
  22. E.g., Deut. XXII, 19, 29, where a slanderer of a woman's honour is ordered to pay 100 silver shekels to her father, and a seducer of a virgin 50 silver shekels. These payments are not regarded as equitable indemnifications against loss sustained, but as fines for reprehensible acts. These laws were wanting in the civil code of the sons of Noah, and only these commands added at Marah.
  23. The text employs abbreviations for these commands.
  24. Which means that He commanded him to remember His Godhead, and not to reject it for a different deity.
  25. 'Let my fear be upon you' is an exhortation to dispense justice uprightly, without fear of man.
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