[page xvii] The Hebrew term Kodashim means Holy Things. This term, in the Biblical context, applies to the sacrifices, the Temple and its appurtenances, as well as its officiating priests; and it is with these holy things, places and persons that the Seder Kodashim is mainly concerned. Its position between Nezikin (Torts) and Tohoroth (Cleannesses) is determined, according to Maimonides,1  by the sequence in which the laws dealt with in these three orders appear in the Bible.2  This Seder contains also the Tractate Hullin which, although it treats of non-holy things, is included because the rules it prescribes regarding the slaughter of animals and birds, and their ritual fitness for use, constitute an integral part of the law of Holiness3  of which, as will be seen, the sacrificial cult was designed as vehicle of the highest religious expression.

The 'Order' comprises eleven tractates4  arranged in the separate printed editions of the Mishnah in the following sequence:

ZEBAHIM (Animal-offerings): Regulates the procedure for the offering of animal-sacrifices through its various stages, and lays down the conditions which render them acceptable or otherwise. 14 Chapters.

MENAH0TH (Meal-offerings): Prescribes the rules regarding the preparation and presentation of meal and drink offerings; the bringing of the sheaf of barley (Lev. XXIII, 10); the two loaves [page xviii] (Lev. XXIII, 17); and the shewbread (Lev. XXIV, 5). 13 Chapters.

HULLIN (Non-holy): Prescribes the rules for the slaughtering of animals and birds for normal consumption, and treats of the whole body of the dietary laws. 12 Chapters.

BEKOROTH (Firstlings): Deals with the laws concerning the firstborn of men, animals, laid down in Ex. XIII, 12-13, Num. XVIII, 15-17, and Deut. XV, 19-23, and the tithing of cattle (Lev. XXVII, 32-33). 9 Chapters.

'ARAKIN (Estimations): Gives the rules for determining the amount which must be paid in fulfilment of a vow to dedicate to the Temple the 'market-value' or 'worth' of a person or a thing according to Lev. XXVII, 2-27; and sets forth the laws relating to the jubilee year (Lev. XXV, 8ff). 9 Chapters.

TEMURAH (Substitution): Sets forth the rules governing the substitution of one offering for another in accordance with the law prescribed in Lev. XXVII, 10. 7 Chapters.

KERITHOTH (Excisions) : Deals with offences which carry with them the penalty of Kareth (v. Glos.), if committed wilfully, and of a sin-offering if committed in error; and discusses the cases in which an 'unconditional' or a 'suspensive guilt-offering' is due. 6 Chapters.

ME'lLAH (Trespass): Treats of the laws of Sacrilege or making unlawful use of consecrated things, in accordance with Lev. V, 15-16. 6 Chapters.

TAMID5  (the Continual [Offering]) : Describes the Temple service, in connection with the daily morning and evening sacrifice, prescribed in Ex. XXIX, 38-41, and Num. XXVIII, 2-8. 7 Chapters.

MIDDOTH (Dimensions): Contains the measurements and descriptions of the Temple, its courts, gates and halls and the Altar, and includes an account of the service of the priestly watches in the Temple. 5 Chapters.

KINNIM ([Bird-]nests): Gives the regulations for the offering of birds prescribed in expiation of certain offences and certain conditions of uncleanness (see Lev. I, 14; V, 7 and XII, 8) and discusses the case in which birds belonging to different persons or to different [page xix] offerings have become mixed up with one another. 3 Chapters.

This sequence is also followed in the six volume first edition of Seder Kodashim in which the tractates appear as follows:

  • Vol. I Zebahim.
  • Vol. II Menahoth.
  • Vols. III and IV Hullin.
  • Vol. V Bekoroth and 'Arakin.
  • Vol. VI Temurah, Kerithoth, Me'ilah, Tamid, Middoth and Kinnim.

For the edition de luxe it was found necessary to publish the 'Order' in 9 volumes.

Of the eleven tractates that constitute the 'Order', all, except Middoth and Kinnim, have Gemara in the Babylonian version of the Talmud.6  No Gemara is extant in the Palestinian version. Maimonides, however, speaks of the existence of a Palestine Gemara to Kodashim.7  That this 'Order' was a subject of study in the Palestinian no less than in Babylonian schools is seen from the many statements contained in the Babylonian Gemara emanating from Palestinian Amoraim. There are indeed few pages in the Babylonian Gemara on Kodashim in which Palestinian Amoraim do not figure in discussions relevant to the 'Order'. The only conclusion to be arrived at is that there was once a Palestinian Gemara to Kodashim but that it has been lost to us as have many other literary products of the past.8

The Gemara on the 'Order' Kodashim is a testimony to the strong interest which the teachers of the Palestinian and Babylonian schools continued to take in the sacrificial cult even after its cessation with the destruction of the Temple. This interest was more than merely historical and academic. It was based on strictly practical considerations. There were in fact two motives that kept alive the study of [page xx] the Seder Kodashim even after its laws had fallen into disuse. One sprang from the unquenchable hope that the Temple would sooner or later be rebuilt, involving the restoration of the sacrificial cult, so that the knowledge of its laws would once again become essential. The other was the belief that the study of the sacrificial laws could serve as a surrogate for the Temple cult and was no less efficacious than the actual offering of the sacrifice itself.9  These motives lay behind the unceasing intellectual activity that centred round the Seder Kodashim throughout the intervening centuries to the present day, and which has crystallised itself in a mass of commentaries on the 'Order'; and in our own times the conviction that has seized many minds that we are witnessing the Athhalta di-Geulah ('beginning of the redemption') has led to the assiduous study of Seder Kodashim in many of the higher schools of learning in the Holy Land.


The sacrificial laws of the Torah, discussed and elaborated in this 'Order', are interspersed throughout the Pentateuch, but the main collection of them is to be found in the Book of Leviticus. The sacrifices set forth were varied in character. There were obligatory sacrifices, and there were voluntary sacrifices. There were collective sacrifices brought in the name of the entire community: the early morning and afternoon sacrifices, and the additional sacrifices on Sabbaths, New Moons, Festivals, and the Day of Atonement; and there were besides individual sacrifices. Some sacrifices were honorific in character and were offered in worship or as an expression of homage to God; others were piacular and were brought in expiation of sin; others again were tributary and presented in recognition of God as bestower of the gifts of Nature. To the honorific belong the peace-offering (shelem, plur. shelamim), the thank-offering (todah), and the burnt-offering ('olah). The sin-offering (hattath) and guilt-offering (asham) belong to the piacular; and included in the tributary are the firstlings (bekoroth) and the cattle tithes (ma'aser behemah).10 [page xxi]

The sacrificial material was drawn from the animal and vegetable kingdoms. The animal sacrifice came from the herd or flock and in some cases from among birds. The vegetable offerings (minhah) consisted either of plain unbaked flour, baked cakes, or parched corn. There were in addition liquid offerings (nesakim) brought in conjunction with sacrifices, and there was also an incense-offering (ketoreth) compounded of several odoriferous vegetable products.

The sacrifices involved a series of acts of which the sprinkling of the blood was the most important in the case of animal sacrifices, and the burning of the handful (Komez) in the case of vegetable offerings.

The origin of sacrifices is wrapped in obscurity. Many widely differing theories have been propounded in explanation, but all are highly conjectural. All that can be said with certainty is that sacrifices are found to have formed a universal element of worship from the earliest times, and that there are traces among the precursors of Israel of sacrificial practices anterior to those instituted in the Torah. This admission does not detract from the claim of the sacrificial laws of the Torah to divine origin, any more than the fact that religious belief did not begin with the Sinaitic Revelation affects the validity of the Religion of Israel. On the contrary, the universality and antiquity of sacrifices only serve to testify to a deep-rooted sacrificial instinct in the human heart which seeks to respond to the claims of God upon man, and which like all other instincts needs correcting, purifying and directing.

The need for a reconciliation of man with the higher power on whom his welfare depends lies after all at the heart of all religion. Religious consciousness has been defined by William James as consisting in a sense (a) of uneasiness 'that there is something wrong about us as we naturally stand', and (b) of a solution for that uneasiness — of a sense 'that we are saved from the wrongness by making proper [page xxii] connection with the higher powers'.11  In mythology and polytheism the gods are filled with envy, anger and hatred, and sacrifices are brought in order to effect a reconciliation and re-establish connection with them. But the God of Israel can be angry only on account of injustice, and cannot be reconciled otherwise than by the doing justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with Him. It was therefore essential to transform the crude ideas and desires concerning man's approach to God by filling them with a spiritual ethical content; and it was for securing this end that the sacrifices instituted in the Torah were designed as a most effective means.

How were the sacrifices prescribed in the Torah to serve this purpose? In considering the Jewish sacrificial system, we are impressed by two unique features which characterise it. First, sacrifices were ordained exclusively for ritual or religious sins, and not for social sins.12  Second, no sacrifice could be offered in expiation of the deliberate transgressions but only for such offences as had been committed in error or under constraint.13  These two reservations, which have no parallel in other sacrificial systems, affect the whole quality of the sacrifices of the Torah. Not the needs of God are the sacrifices intended to satisfy, but the needs of man.14  They are no [page xxiii] longer conceived as gifts to an offended Deity in appeasement of its anger, or in reparation for a wrong done to fellowman. Their aim is essentially man's spiritual regeneration and perfection. They are designed, in all their parts, to foster in the mind of the worshipper a sense of the awfulness of ritual sin,15  in that it creates an estrangement alike between man and God and between man and man.

The grave view which the Bible takes of ritual sins is bound up with the significance of the ritual law. It is almost a truism that the ritual law of the Torah has for its purpose the religious and moral perfection of man. Have not the sages of the Talmud already declared that the precepts have been given only to ennoble mankind?16  This is true of the negative religious precepts no less than of the positive ones. Both sets of precepts have one common aim — the perfection of man. While the positive precepts have been ordained for the cultivation of virtue and for the promotion of those finer qualities which distinguish the truly religious and ethical being, the negative precepts are designed to combat vice and suppress other evil tendencies, and instincts that stand athwart man's strivings towards perfection.17

Thus conceived, the ritual law is charged with a moral and religious dynamism capable of transforming the individual and, through the individual, the society of which he forms a unit. The disregard of a ritual precept is accordingly no longer a private affair; in so far as it lowers man's moral fibre and his power of resistance to evil, every ritual offence is in a sense a social offence. Viewed in this light, the insistence of the Torah on the need of sacrifices in expiation of ritual sin becomes readily intelligible. The purpose is twofold. They serve to bring home to the offender the seriousness of ritual sins even if committed unwillingly, and at the same time they guard him from lapsing through force of habit into wilful transgression.

This appreciation of the sacrificial laws of the Torah has already been stressed by Maimonides in Book III, Chapter 46 of his Guide, [page xxiv] which is devoted to the application of this idea to various offerings. 'Do not consider this', he writes, 'a weak argument, for it is the object of all these ceremonies to impress on the mind of every sinner and transgressor the necessity of continually remembering and mentioning his sin'. 'When this theory', he continues, 'has been well established in the minds of people they must certainly be led by it to consider disobedience to God as a disgraceful thing. Everyone will thus be careful that he should not sin'.18

This explanation of sacrifices by Maimonides will appear contradictory to the view advanced by him in the thirty-second chapter of the same book where he regards the institution as a concession to a people still hankering after the idolatrous practices of their environment and age. 'It was in accordance with the wisdom and plan of God,' he declares, 'that He did not command us to discontinue all these manners of service; for to obey such a commandment would have been contrary to the nature of man who generally cleaves to that which he is used. It would in these days have made the same impression as a prophet would make at present if he called to the service of God and told us in His name that we should not pray to Him nor fast, nor seek His help in time of trouble, that we should serve Him in thought and not by any action.'19

No part of Maimonides' Guide has aroused more controversy than his theory regarding sacrifices. Most outspoken and unsparing among his critics was Nahmanides, who prefers to see in sacrifices a moral symbolism founded on a psychological analysis of conduct.20  His staunchest defender is Abrabanel,21  who quotes a Midrash in support of the Maimonidean view. In reality, both the critics and the defenders of Maimonides misconstrued his attitude to the problem. To obtain a full insight into Maimonides' interpretation of sacrifices, it is not sufficient to limit our study to one particular chapter in his Guide. We must of necessity extend our investigation to other parts of his work and include in our survey his great Halachic masterpiece, the Mishneh Torah, where he presents to us the [page xxv] independent Jewish view which his philosophic speculations and critical enquiries served to confirm and strengthen.

Turning to the Mishneh Torah, we find Maimonides adopting an entirely different attitude. Sacrifices, he there declares, belong to the class of divine commandments designated as hukkim (statutes), for which no reason is ascertainable (Me'ilah, VIII, 8). This assertion, sufficiently categorical, appears in turn to be modified in his Guide, Book III, 26, where he distinguishes between the sacrificial institution in itself and its detailed rules: sacrifices in general have a reason, but no reason can be given for its details.

Thus, we see Maimonides adopting four distinct attitudes in regard to sacrifices which, summarised, are as follows:

  1. Sacrifices have no reason (Mishneh Torah, Me'ilah VIII, 8).
  2. Sacrifices are a concession to the idolatrous propensities of the early Israelites (Guide III, 3 2).
  3. Sacrifices are designed as prevention of sin and as consequent safeguard of the ritual Law (Guide III, 46).
  4. Sacrifices have a reason in general, but not as to their detailed rules (Guide, III, 26).

These apparent clashings and crossings of Maimonides' views have their explanation, it is here submitted, in the distinction which must be drawn between voluntary sacrifices and obligatory sacrifices.

Obligatory sacrifices have been ordained by God. They form accordingly an integral part of revealed religion. Their reason may be unknown. But the fact that God had commanded them imparts to them a spiritual and moral quality making for human perfection; and this may be after all the best explanation that can be given for them. Voluntary sacrifices on the other hand have not been enjoined by God. They cannot therefore lay claim to the elevating tendency inherent in divine commands; and in consequence would not have been included in the Torah, but for some definite purpose, which must be understandable and clear to the human mind.

This distinction between obligatory and voluntary sacrifices accounts for the difference of Maimonides' approach to the problem in the Mishneh Torah and his Guide, III, 32. A careful reading of that [page xxvi] Chapter in his Guide, where he traces the root of sacrifices to idolatrous instincts makes it evident that Maimonides was concerned there only with voluntary sacrifices. Honorific in character, voluntary sacrifices would be brought only as tokens of worship and homage. As such they were under the best of circumstances inferior to prayer which is the 'service of the heart'.22  But that is not all. Through their idolatrous origin and by their very nature, voluntary sacrifices were not without lurking dangers. Unlimited in number, and unattended by confession and the repentance which are fundamental to expiatory offerings, or by the mental preparation that is inseparable from other obligatory offerings, voluntary sacrifices were liable to become a source of inner injury to righteous life. The reality of this danger was exemplified in later Jewish history; and it was against the abuse of this type of sacrifices that the prophets launched their scathing denunciations.23  Yet far from being suppressed by the Torah, they received, paradoxically enough, divine approval. The only feasible explanation, in the opinion of Maimonides, was that they were to be considered in the light of a concession, because of their inestimable value as a road through which primitive Israel could travel, albeit slowly and gradually, from idolatrous superstition to the highest service of the one and only God.

But whatever perils voluntary sacrifices might involve, there were no such dangers lurking in obligatory sacrifices ordained by [page xxvii] God.24  They could accordingly, irrespective of their reason, serve as means to righteous life. The difficulty, however, of finding a rational explanation for them gave them the character of statutory Jaws; and it is with reference to obligatory offerings therefore that Maimonides asserts in his Code that they belong to the hukkim of the Torah.25 

Obligatory offerings form also, as is to be seen from the context, the subject of discussion in the Guide, Book III, 46, where Maimonides ascribes to them a practical motive — the prevention of sin. This is not inconsistent with his classification in the Mishneh Torah of the obligatory sacrifices among the hukkim. Even hukkins, it is well to remember have, according to Maimonides, a cause and serve a practical purpose, though their reason is not so evident nor their object so generally clear as those of other precepts.26  There is therefgre in Maimonides' attempts to present a rationale of obligatory offerings nothing incompatible with his assertion of their statutory character. While the modus operandi for the effectiveness of the sacrificial rites must elude natural explanation, it is still possible to detect in them certain aspects, the value of which is discernable by the human mind.

Actually, however, Maimonides' treatment of obligatory sacrifices in his Guide, III, 46, while accounting for the main outlines, leaves much of the detailed rules unexplained. This is in conformity with his insistence in III, 26, of the same work that details call for no explanation, as they have been ordained for no other purpose than as tests for man's obedience. Details, he argues, are a necessary part of the structure of anything 'which can receive different forms, but receives one of them'. 'Those who therefore trouble themselves [page xxviii] to find a cause for any of these detailed rules are in my eyes void of sense.' 'You ask,' he continues by way of illustration, 'why must a lamb be sacrificed and not a ram, and the same question would be asked why a ram had been commanded instead of a lamb… the same is to be said as to the question why were seven lambs sacrificed and not eight; the same question might have been asked if they were eight, ten or twenty lambs, so long as some definite number of lambs were sacrificed.'27  This does not mean to imply that the details are altogether arbitrary. They may be arbitrary as far as man is concerned. Having been given as tests of obedience one set of details could have served the same purpose as well as any other. But they are certainly not arbitrary as far as the divine law-giver is concerned. They have in the words of Maimonides been 'dictated by his will'. They have their source in the will of God and as such can admit nothing of the fortuitous or adventitious.

What Maimonides means to convey, in deprecating all attempts to discover a reason for the details, is that their value is derived not from their content but from the fact that they are grounded in the will of God. All that matters here is that they have been ordained by God, and this is sufficient to compel their observance. This may appear a blind, irrational attitude running counter to the whole trend of Maimonidean thought. The fact, rejoins Maimonides, is that in whatever we do in life we cannot avoid making our decision in favour of one of many possible forms without necessarily having to rationalise about our choice.28  As against the details, however, stand the commandments in themselves. These have their source, according to Maimonides, in the wisdom of God. As such they have a definite purpose. This purpose, as he conceives it, is primarily [page xxix] educative. Their aim is the highest perfection of man — intellectual and moral. They are designed to infuse right knowledge, inculcate truths and train man to righteous life and action. They cannot, however, produce these effects unless the ideals and principles they enshrine are properly understood. The explanation of them thus becomes an important religious need and duty; and in regard to sacrifices in particular the appreciation of their significances and meaning, as far as their general character is concerned, constitutes an integral part of their fulfilment.

Thus the varying interpretations of sacrifices given by Maimonides, far from conflicting with each other, supplement and complement each other. Voluntary sacrifices are a concession to the hankering after ancient idolatrous forms and practices of worship. Obligatory sacrifices belong to the hukkim, the reason for which though not so evident, it is proper for man to investigate. This, however, applies to the laws in their broad outline, but not to the details, for which no explanation need be sought, except that they were. prescribed as mere tests of obedience.

This somewhat lengthy exposition of Maimonides' views on sacrifices may appear to be out of place in an Introduction to a Talmudic 'Order'. It is, however, included here because it presents the classical rabbinic tradition from which Maimonides, despite foreign guidance and system, never departed. Essentially rabbinic is the idea of the statutory character of obligatory sacrifices.29  'The sacrificial institutions,' writes Moore 'were an integral part of revealed religion and had the obligation of statutory law. It was not for the interpreters of the law to narrow their scope or substract from their authority. Nor was it of any practical concern to enquire why the divine law-giver had ordained thus and not otherwise or indeed ordained them at all. It was enough that he had enjoined upon Israel the observance of them.'30  Likewise rabbinic in origin is the theory as to the idolatrous associations of voluntary sacrifices, being found in a Midrash which, as already mentioned, Abrabanel31  cites in his support. Commenting on the verse, What man soever [page xxx] there be of the house of Israel that killeth an ox … and hath not brought it unto the door of the Tent of Meeting… he hath shed blood (Lev. XVII, 3). R. Phinehas in the name of R. Levi says: The matter may be compared to the case of a king's son who thought he could do what he liked and habitually ate the flesh of nebeloth32  and terefoth.32  Said the king: 'I will have him always at my own table, and he will automatically be hedged round.' Similarly, because Israel were passionate followers after idolatry in Egypt and used to bring their sacrifices to the satyrs, the Holy One, blessed be He, said: 'Let them offer their sacrifice at all times in the Tent of Meeting and thev will be separated from idolatry, etc.'33  The words, 'let them offer their sacrifices at all times' make it evident that the reference is to voluntary sacrifices since obligatory sacrifices were strictly circumscribed in point of time and circumstance. Nor is the practical motive of sacrifices advanced by Maimonides absent from rabbinic thought. 'What,' says the Midrash,'is the meaning of the words 'he offered it up for a burnt-offering instead of his son' (Gen. XXII, 13)? At every sacrificial act Abraham performed with the ram, he prayed, 'May it be Thy will that this service be regarded as if I performed it with my son, as if he had been slaughtered, as if his blood had been sprinkled, and as if he had been made ashes.'34  Here we have a significance ascribed by the Rabbis to sacrifices which is but a vivid formulation of the practical motive given by Maimonides. It was also a Midrashic dictum to which Maimonides appealed in support of his view that the details of the sacrifices have been given to serve only as tests of obedience.35 [page xxxi]

But whatever theory the Rabbis of the Talmud may have held as to the sacrificial cult, there is little doubt that they had an appreciation of its fundamentally educational value. This is shown by the designation Hokmah which they came to give to this 'Order' . Hokmah means wisdom; and wisdom in the Jewish conception was not theoretical but practical. It was not an intellectual pursuit, but essentially a religious ethic. Through this designation, the Talmudic conception of the sacrifices as educative becomes unmistakably clear. Their object was conceived of as being to instil in the heart of the devoteee that wisdom whose mainspring and motive was the 'fear of the Lord', and to which the observance of the ritual law was designed as an aid.

The observance of the ritual law which the sacrificial cult inspired made it a vehicle of Holiness of the highest expression. Whatever its root meaning, Kodesh,36  the Hebrew term for Holiness, denotes both that which pertains to God and that which is recognised to be the character of God. This character has from the earliest days in Jewish teaching been associated with ideals of righteousness. The pursuit of Holiness involved for man a self-surrender to God accompanied by a resolve to make the divine pattern of righteousness his own. This is the Holiness which the sacrificial cult was divinely designed to foster. Its contribution to Holiness was both of a negative and posttive character. On the negative side, by safeguarding the observance of the ritual law, the sacrifices served to strengthen what the Torah regarded as the only available defences against the forces inimical to Holiness. On the positive side, through the confession and repentance which accompanied them, as well as the solemnity of their setting, the sacrifices helped to draw man near to God in close communion than which there is no greater power making for Holiness.

The view of the sacrifices outlined above has much bearing on the [page xxxii] question of their restoration in the future — a restoration which Maimonides in his Mishneh Torah includes among the tenets of traditional Judaism.37  Here, too, the distinction may have to be drawn between voluntary offerings and obligatory offerings. In fact the prayers for the restoration of sacrifices that figure so largely in our Liturgy are specifically restricted to obligatory sacrifices. Granted that with the disappearance of the 'passion for idol worship' (yizra di abodah zarah)38  there could be little, if any, religious value in the restoration of voluntary offerings; it is otherwise with obligatory offerings. As a safeguard for the observance of the ritual law, the obligatory sacrifices have lost none of their validity. The sickness and distress of the modern world is derived in the last resort from the lack of correspondence between man's moral progress and his intellectual and scientific achievements. Indeed, the terrific power of evil at the command of man leads a modern writer, Lewis Mumford,39  to advocate a moral tightening by the introduction of all kinds of inhibitions and renunciations in order to train man in the habit of that inner check and self-restraint so essential to human survival. But surely no humanly contrived restrictions and restraints can take the place of those divinely ordained in the ritual law of the Torah. Thus do the grim and tragic experiences of our time only serve to confirm the attitude of traditional Judaism to the ritual law as an indispensable aid to moral law; and the restoration of the obligatory offerings in the days to come40  can only serve to strengthen and safeguard the ritual law for the regeneration and perfection of Israel and, through Israel, of the whole of humanity. Well, then, may the disciple of the Law in delving into the intricacies of the Seder Kodashim re-echo, in no narrow spirit, the words of that ancient prayer, 'May it be Thy will that the Temple be rebuilt speedily in our days and grant us our portion in Thy Law.'41  [page xxxiii]


TEXT. The Text used for this edition is in the main that of the Wilna Romm Edition. Note has, however, been taken of the most important variants of manuscript and printed editions some of which have been adopted in the main body of the translation, the reason for such preference being generally explained or indicated in the Notes. All the censored passages appear either in the text or in the Notes.

TRANSLATION. The translation aims at reproducing in clear and lucid English the central meaning of the original text. It is true some translators will be found to have been less literal than others, but in checking and controlling every line of the work, the Editor has endeavoured not to lose sight of the main aim of the translation. Words and passages not occurring in the original are placed in square brackets.

NOTES. The main purpose of these is to elucidate the translation by making clear the course of the arguments, explaining allusions and technical expressions, thus providing a running commentary on the text. With this in view resort has been made to the standard Hebrew commentators, Rashi, the Tosafists, Asheri, Alfasi, Maimonides, Maharsha, the glosses of BaH, Rashal, Strashun, the Wilna Gaon, etc.42  Advantage has also been taken of the results of modern scholarship, such as represented by the names of Graetz, Bacher, Weiss, Halevy, Levy, Kohut, Jastrow, Obermeyer, and — happily still with us — Krauss, Buchler, Gmzberg, Klein and Herford among others, in dealing with matters of general cultural interest with which the Talmud teems — historical, geographical, archaeological, philological and social.

GLOSSARY AND INDICES. Each Tractate is equipped with a Glossary wherein recurring technical terms are fully explained, thus obviating the necessity of explaining them afresh each time they appear in the text. To this have been added a Scriptural Index and a General Index of contents. [page xxxiv]

In the presentation of the tractates the following principles have also been adopted:

  1. The Mishnah and the words of the Mishnah recurring and commented upon in the Gemara are printed in capitals.
  2. [H] introducing a Mishnah cited in the Gemara, is rendered we have learnt'.
  3. [H] introducing a Baraitha, is rendered 'it has been (or was) taught'.
  4. [H] introducing a Tannaitic teaching, is rendered 'Our Rabbis taught'.
  5. Where an Amora cites a Tannaitic teaching the word 'learnt' is used, e.g., [H], 'R. Joseph learnt'.
  6. The word tanna designating a teacher of the Amoraic period (v. Glos.) is written with a small 't'.
  7. A distinction is made between …: [H] referring to a Tannaitic ruling and …: [H] which refers to the ruling of an Amora, the former being rendered 'the halachah is …' and the latter, 'the law is …'
  8. R. stands either for Rabbi designating a Palestinian teacher or Rab designating a Babylonian teacher, except in the case of the frequently recurring Rab Judah where the title 'Rab' has been written in full to distinguish him from the Tanna of the same name.
  9. [H], lit., 'The Merciful One', has been rendered 'the Divine Law' in cases where the literal rendering may appear somewhat incongruous to the English ear.
  10. Biblical verses appear in italics except for the emphasized word or words in the quotation which appear in Roman characters.
  11. No particular English version of the Bible is followed, as the Talmud has its own method of exegesis and its own way of understanding Biblical verses which it cites. Where, however, there is a radical departure from the English versions, the rendering of a recognized English version is indicated in the Notes. References to chapter and verse are those of the Massoretic Hebrew text.
  12. Any answer to a question is preceded by a dash ( — ), except [page xxxv]where the question and the answer form part of one and the same argument.
  13. Inverted commas are used sparingly, that is, where they are deemed essential or in dialogues.
  14. The archaic second person 'thou', 'thee' etc. is employed only in Haggadic passages or where it is necessary to distinguish it from the plural 'you', 'yours', etc.
  15. The usual English spelling is retained in proper names in vogue like Simeon, Isaac, Akiba, as well as in words like halachah, Shechinah, shechitah, etc. which have almost passed into the English language. The transliteration employed for other Hebrew words is given at the end of each tractate.
  16. It might also be pointed out for the benefit of the student that the recurring phrases 'Come and hear:' and 'An objection was raised:' or 'He objected:' introduce Tannaitic teachings, the two latter in contradiction, the former either in support or contradiction of a particular view expressed by an Amora.

For technical reasons this set of six volumes, comprising the fifth of the six 'Orders' of the Talmud, appears last, and with its publication the Soncino edition of the Babylonian Talmud is brought to completion. The moment has thus arrived for bidding farewell to a task which has absorbed the best energies of myself and a number of fellow-workers for over fifteen years. Surveying this monumental work, all those who had a share in its production may well, in no spirit of boastfulness, congratulate themselves on an achievement which promises to be of abiding value. This translation of the Talmud with its accompanying expository and cultural notes makes accessible for the first time to the English-reading student that part of the heritage of Israel to which more than to anything else, the Jewish people owes its preservation, and from which humanity as a whole has drawn no little sustenance for its religious and moral life. To bring the knowledge of this ancient treasure to many to whom it has hitherto been terra incognita, and thus enable it more [page xxxvi] and more to exert its potent and benign influence, has been the aim of this undertaking, the successful conclusion of which is itself the best reward for the faithful toil bestowed upon it. Those of us who have been associated with this publication from the beginning to the end cannot better express our gratitude for being privileged to witness this consummation than in the age-honoured formula of thanksgiving:


All who have taken part can thank God that to them has been granted the opportunity to apply their powers, whether great or small, to a work which should serve to communicate abroad the religious faith and wordly wisdom enshrined in the pages of the Talmud, for the inspiration and guidance of this generation and the generations to come.

This, too, is a fitting occasion for the Editor to pay the warmest of tributes to the several translators and other contributors for all the learning and industry they brought to bear on their work, as well as the skill with which they discharged the respective tasks committed to them. Where each one gave of his best, it would be invidious to single out names. Special mention must however be made of Mr Maurice Simon, M.A. for his helpfulness in many directions, especially in the matter of style and diction, and to Mr Eli Cashdan, M.A. for his careful attention to proofs and other valuable assistance. Thanks are also due to my wife for'looking well after the ways of her household', and thus making it possible for me to engage in this work.

The driving force behind this gigantic work was of course Mr. J. Davidson, the Governing Director of the Soncino Press. His was the vision that inspired it, the energy that produced it, and the courage that enabled him to carry it through to the end, notwithstanding difficulties and obstacles that at times seemed insurmountable. Jewish learning has long been under a deep obligation to [page xxxvii] Mr. Davidson for his fine publications, but the debt owed to him for the splendid array of beautiful volumes that comprise the Soncino edition of the complete Babylonian Talmud in English passes all calculation.

And now to conclude on a more personal note, I tender my humble thanks to Almighty God for having granted me life and strength to perform this most exacting and strenuous task, and to witness its completion. May it be His will that these volumes should help to spread the knowledge of His Torah among an overgrowing circle of disciples, and to foster an appreciation of Jewish teachings in an ever-increasing measure in English-speaking Jewries and beyond.

With this prayer I take leave of my editorial task, a task which covered the whole of the Talmud, commonly known as Shass. It is a solemn occasion which, in accordance with Jewish custom, calls for a celebration. Such a celebration would be marked by the recital of what is called a Hadran, in which the hope is expressed that the ending of the study of the Talmud shall prove but the prelude to a new beginning. This is the note on which, I feel, all those who have contributed to the preparation of this version of the Babylonian Talmud would like this work to conclude. And so in response to their wishes and the promptings of my own heart, I say au revoir to this Talmudic work, to the accompaniment, in an abbreviated form, of the traditional Hadran:


May it be Thy will, O Lord our God, that Thy Torah be our occupation in this world and be with us in the world to come …

Make pleasant, we beseech Thee, O Lord our God, the words of Thy Torah in our mouth and in the mouth of Thy people, so that we all with our offspring and the offspring of the offspring of Thy people, the House of Israel, may all know Thy Name and learn Thy Torah for its own sake …

We give thanks before Thee, O Lord our God, and the God of our ancestors, that Thou hast set our portion with [page xxxviii] those that sit in the House of Study and not with those (idlers) who sit at streetcorners …

May it be Thy will, O Lord our God, even as Thou bast helped to complete Seder Kodashim and the whole of Six Sedarim of the Talmud, so to help us to begin other books and to complete them, to learn, to teach, to heed, to do and to fulfil in love all the words of instruction in Thy Torah … and may there be fulfilled in us (the promise): When thou walkest it shall lead thee; when thou liest down it shall watch over thee; and when thou awakest it shall talk with thee (Proverbs, VI, 2 2).

For by me thy days shall be multiplied, and thy years of life shall be increased (Proverbs, IX, 11 ). Length of days is in its right hand; in its left are riches and honours (Proverbs, III, 16). The Lord will give strength unto His people; the Lord will bless His people with peace. (Psalms, XXIX, 11 ).



Jews' College
13th Nisan. 5708
22nd April, 1948


  1. Introduction to Seder Zera'im.
  2. Nezikin has its basis in Exodus; Kodashim, in Leviticus I-X; Tohoroth, in Leviticus XI-XV. For another explanation, see Z. Frankel, Darke ha-Mishneh, p. 262.
  3. For the place of the dietary laws in the Jewish scheme of Holiness, see I. Epstein, The Jewish Way of Life, pp. 161-164.
  4. According to all editions of the Mishnah, with the exception of the Riva di Trento 1559 edition in which Hullin and Bekoroth appear in Tohoroth.
  5. In the Naples 1492 edition Middoth is placed before Tamid.
  6. In Tamid only chapters 1, 2, 4 have Gemara.
  7. See Maimonides, loc. cit. Whether he had ever seen it, is very doubtful, since he is not known to have made citation of it anywhere.
  8. The Palestine Gemara on Kodashim, claimed to have been discovered by Solomon Leb Friedlander and of which he published several tractates under the title Talmud Yerushalmi Seder Kodashim (Szinervaralja 1907-8), has been proved a forgery. See H. L. Strack, Introduction to the Talmud and Midrash (English ed.), Philadelphia, 1931, pp. 68 and 266, n. 16.
  9. See e.g. Men. 110a; Ta'an. 27b; Midrash Ex. Rab. XXXVIIII; Midrash, Lev, Rab. IX.
  10. The Paschal Lamb seems also to have belonged to the tributary, the lamb being offered vicariously by the household in recognition of God's deliverance of the houses of Israel in Egypt. See Ex. XII, 2]. It is not without significance that the Paschal Lamb is often bracketed with the firstlings and cattle tithe, and that, except for what concerns their consumption, they are governed by the same sacrificial regulations. See Zeb. 56b.
  11. Varieties of Religious Experience, p. 508.
  12. The guilt-offering entailed by the social offences enumerated in Lev. V, 21ff, was required only if the offender had denied his guilt on oath, his offering being in expiation of his sin against God rather than his fellow. As for the sin he had committed against his fellow, 'even if he were to bring all the "rams of Nebaioth" (Isaiah, LX, 7) in the world, he would not be forgiven until he obtains pardon from his fellow' (B.K. 92a); see also Yoma 856.
  13. The wrongs enumerated in Lev. V, 21ff (see previous note), for which even wilful offenders were to bring a guilt-offering, contained in them a certain element of constraint which brought them into the category of unwilful offences. The man who, for example, denied that he had misappropriated the property of his fellow and, on being adjured, takes a false oath, may have done so because he lacked the moral courage to admit his guilt after having once tried to conceal it; cf. Aaron ha-Levi, Sefer ha-Hinnuk, Precept 123, with reference to the 'oath of testimony', for which the offering prescribed (Lev. V, 1ff) applies to 'witting' as well as 'unwitting' cases. Otherwise for deliberate offences, unless the penalty is committed to an earthly tribunal, repentance secures divine forgiveness. See Yoma 86a, and Tosefta, Yom ha-Kippurim V (Zuckermandel's ed.), p. 190.
  14. Cf. Midrash Num. Rab. XXI, 16-17, and Pesikta Rabbathi (ed. Friedmann) p. 80a. xxii
  15. The term 'ritual' is used throughout in a comprehensive sense, and denotes all the religious precepts of the Torah concerning the relations between man and God.
  16. Midrash Gen. Rab. XLIV, 1.
  17. See I. Epstein op. cit. p. 161.
  18. Friedlander's translation, pp. 364-5.
  19. Op. cit. p. 322.
  20. See Nahmanides' commentary on the Pentateuch, Leviticus, I, 9.
  21. In the preface to his commentary on Leviticus; see infra, p. xxix.
  22. Ta'an 2a; see also Midrash Tanhuma, Wa yera, 1.
  23. Cf. also David Kimhi on Jer. VII, 2;. This is an important distinction which, strange to say, appears to have been overlooked by all those writers who deal with the attitude of the prophets to the sacrifices. Yet it is fundamental and must be taken into consideration before we can speak of an antagonism of the prophets to the sacrifical cult. In fact a reference to the prophetic utterances, cited by the critical school in support of their views on the problem, i.e. I Sam. XV, 22; Hosea VI, 6; Amos V, 21ff; Isaiah I, 11ff; Micah VI, 6ff; Jeremiah VII, 21ff, shows that they are all concerned with voluntary sacrifices. This is a subject which deserves to be treated at length, but space here forbids a full discussion. The literature on the problem of the attitude of the prophets to sacrifices is too extensive to be listed. Among the most recent, however, might be mentioned H. H. Rowley, The Rediscovery of the Old Testament (1946); and to go back earlier, J. Hoschander, The Priests and Prophets (1938).
  24. All obligatory sacrifices, public and private (except the few tributary ones), were piacular or had at least in them a piacular element. See Sheb. 2a-b, and Tosefta Menahoth, X 12. See also G. F. Moore, Judaism, 1. p. 497 and 111, p. 151-2.
  25. In support of his view that the sacrifices belong to the hukkim, Maimonides in his Code (loc. cit.) quotes a dictum 'By the merit of the sacrifices the world stands'. This dictum is but an extension of the idea mentioned in Ta'an. 27a where this is said in his reference to the Ma'amadoth, the attendances at the Daily Offering which is the obligatory offering par excellence.
  26. Guide, III, 29.
  27. Friedlinder, op. cit. pp. 311, 312.
  28. This is how the difficult chapter in the Guide (111, 26) is to be understood. While rejecting the view of those theologians who, following the Mohammedan Ashariyah (see Guide 111, 17), hold that the commandments have no object at all and that they had been dictated only by the will of God, Maimonides accepts their position as far as the detailed rules are concerned. His assertion that the details have no ulterior object can only mean that they have their source in the will of God. A similar notion that the commandments have no reason is found in Ber. 33b. See Maimonides Guide, 111, 48; and I. Epstein, Judaism of Tradition, pp. 42-43.
  29. See supra p. xxvii, n. 2.
  30. G.F. Moore op. cit. I, 504.
  31. See supra, p. xxiv.
  32. V. Glos.
  33. Midrash Lev. Rab. XXIII, 5. See D. Hoffmann, Leviticus, p. 88, and W. Bacher, Die Aggada der palastinensischen Amoraer, II, p. 316.
  34. Midrash quoted by Bahya b. Asher in his commentary on the Pentateuch, Lev. I, 9. For the various versions of this Midrash, see M. Kasher, Torah Shelemah, III (2), p. 903.
  35. Guide, 111, 26. 'What difference does it make to God whether a beast is killed by cutting the neck in front or in the back? Surely the commandments are only intended as a means of trying man' (Midrash Gen. Rab. XLIV, 1). This Midrashic dictum is generally understood in the sense that the commandments are educative, ennobling in character, see supra p. xxiii. Maimonides evidently gave the Midrash a different interpretation, and while not accepting the illustration drawn from slaughtering, as the rules of slaughtering have in his view a definite educative value, he applies the Midrashic principles to sacrifices.
  36. Either (i) 'bright', or (ii) 'separation'; see N.H. Snaith, The Distinctive Ideas of the Old Testament, pp. 26ff.
  37. See Maimonides, Yad, Melakim, XI, 1.
  38. See Sanh. 64a.
  39. Programme for Survival, pp. 60ff.
  40. The enormous legal difficulties involved in the restoration of sacrifices within our present social and political framework places the whole question outside the realm of practical halachah. Compare A. I. Kook, Mishpat Kohen, Responsa, 89ff.
  41. Aboth, V 23.
  42. These names are referred to more fully in the list of Abbreviations at the end of each tractate.


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