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Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Sanhedrin

Folio 63a

'R. Ammi said: If one sacrificed burnt incense and made libations [to an idol] in one state of unawareness, Only one penalty is incurred.' Abaye said: What is R. Ammi's reason?1  — Scripture saith, [Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them] nor serve them …2  thereby the Writ declares that all idolatrous deeds constitute one act of service. But did Abaye say thus? Did he not say: 'Why is prostration forbidden three times?3  Once to prohibit it when it is the normal mode of service, the second even if abnormal; and the third teaches separation'? — He explains R. Ammi's ruling, but disagrees with it himself.

To revert to the main text: Abaye said: Why is prostration forbidden three times? Once to prohibit it when it is the normal mode of service, the second even if abnormal, and the third teaches separation' — But is not the normal mode of worship derived from [Take heed … that thou enquire not after their gods saying,] How did these nations serve their gods? [Even so will I do likewise]?4  — But [amend thus:] one teaches that prostration is forbidden when it is the appropriate but unusual mode of worshipping that deity;5  the second forbids it even if it is not the normal mode of service;6  and the third teaches separation.


R. Nahman said in the name of Rabbah b. Abbuha in Rab's name: As soon as he said, 'Thou art my God', he is liable, [Liable] to what? If to execution, this is stated [already] in the Mishnah? — Hence it means liable to a sacrifice. Now, is this so even in the view of the Rabbis? But it has been taught: He [the idolator] is liable [to a sacrifice] only for that which entails an action, e.g., sacrificing, burning incense, making libations, and prostration. Whereon Resh Lakish observed: Which Tanna maintains that a sacrifice is due for prostration? R. Akiba, who rules that a deed entailing [much] action is unnecessary.7  Does this not prove that the Rabbis maintain that [much] action is necessary? [Consequently, in their opinion, the declaration 'Thou art my god' made unwittingly, does not involve a sacrifice]? — Rab's dictum is only in accordance with R. Akiba. But if so, is it not obvious; for it is just like blasphemy?8  — I might think that only for blasphemy does R. Akiba rule that a sacrifice is incurred, since extinction is prescribed for it [if committed deliberately]; but not in this case, since extinction is not prescribed. Therefore Rab teaches that a sacrifice is due, because they [sc. the sacrificing to an idol and the declaring 'thou art my god'] are equalized for it is written, [They have made them a molten calf,] and have worshipped it, and have sacrificed thereunto, and have said, these be thy gods, O Israel [which have brought thee up out of the land of Egypt].9

R. Johanan said: But for the waw in 'who have brought thee up', the wicked of Israel would have deserved extermination.10  This is disputed by Tannaim: [It has been taught]: 'Others'11  say, but for the wow in 'who have brought thee up', the wicked of Israel would have deserved extermination. Thereupon R. Simeon b. Yohai remarked; But whoever associates the Heavenly Name with anything else [as co-deities] is utterly destroyed [lit., 'eradicated from the world'], for it is written, He that sacrificeth unto any god, save unto the Lord alone, he shall be utterly destroyed.12  What then is intimated by [the plural in] 'who have brought thee up'? — That they lusted after many deities.13


When R. Dimi came,15  he said in R. Eleazar's name: For all these offences he is flagellated, except for vowing or swearing by its name. Now, why for 'Vowing or Swearing by its name'; because it is a negative precept the transgression of which involves no action? But those others too are only forbidden by a negative precept stated in general terms,16  and for such one is not flagellated? For it has been taught: Whence do we know that the eating of the flesh of an animal before it has expired17  is forbidden by a negative precept? From the verse, Ye shall not eat anything with the blood.18  Another meaning of Ye shall not eat anything with the blood is, Ye shall not eat the flesh [of sacrifices] whilst the blood is in the sprinkling bowl.19  R. Dosa said: Whence do we know that the meal of comfort is not eaten for criminals executed by Beth din?20  From the verse Ye shall not eat [i.e., observe the funeral meal] for one whose blood has been shed. R. Akiba said: Whence do we know that a Sanhedrin which executed a person must not eat anything on the day of the execution? From the verse, Ye shall not eat anything with the [shedding of] blood. R. Jonathan said: Whence do we derive a formal prohibition against a wayward and rebellious son? From the verse, Ye shall not do anything to cause bloodshed.21  Now, R. Abin b. Hiyya, or, as others state, R. Abin b. Kahana said: For none of these offences is the offender flagellated, because it is a negative precept in general terms.22  But when Rabin came, he said in R. Eleazar's name: For none of these [embracing, kissing, etc.] is the offender flagellated, excepting for vowing and swearing by its name. Now, why are these not punished by flagellation: because it is a negative command in general terms? But these too [should be exempt, since they] are forbidden by a negative precept involving no action? That is in accordance with R. Judah, who said: One is flagellated for a negative precept involving no action. For it has been taught: And ye shall let nothing of it remain until the morning; and that which remaineth of it until the morning ye shall burn with fire.23  Now, the Scripture follows up a negative precept with a positive one,

To Part b

Original footnotes renumbered.
  1. Why does he not agree that prostration is singled out to teach 'separation'?
  2. Ex. XX, 5.
  3. V. p. 420. n. 4.
  4. Deut. XII, 30.
  5. If the deity is worshipped by an act of honour, but not prostration. Since the latter too is an act of honour, it is an appropriate mode of service, yet not the usual mode.
  6. And also an inappropriate form, e.g prostration before Baal Peor. Not only is it unusual, but inappropriate too, since the normal mode of worship is by an act of contempt.
  7. Even if little action is involved, as in, e.g., prostration, a sacrifice must be brought. The same will apply to a formal declaration of belief, in which the action is very slight. This excludes a mere mental affirmation.
  8. I.e., since blasphemy consists only of speech, and yet R. Akiba rules that a sacrifice is due, it is obvious that for such a declaration, though also consisting only of speech, a sacrifice is likewise due.
  9. Ex. XXXII, 8.
  10. The verb [H] lit., 'they have brought thee up', is in the plural, the sign of which is a waw (u). By using the plural, they shewed that they did not recognise the molten calf as the sole god, but admitted the divinity of the Almighty too. This circumstance in their favour saved them from complete annihilation.
  11. [Heb. Aherim represents frequently R. Meir, v. Hor. 13b.]
  12. Ex. XXII, 19. [To associate another deity with God is, according to R. Simeon, a graver offence than the total denial of God's existence.] Hence in his view, had they acknowledged other gods in addition to the Lord, they would the sooner have merited extermination.
  13. Without associating them with God.
  14. The negative precept for embracing etc. is: Turn ye not unto idols (Lev. XIX, 4); for vowing and swearing by its name: and make no mention of the name of other gods (Ex. XXIII, 13).
  15. V. supra p. 390, n. 1.
  16. I.e., a negative precept which does not explicitly forbid a particular action, but a class, as is the case of Turn ye not unto idols.
  17. After it has been ritually slaughtered, but before it is actually dead.
  18. Lev. XIX, 26, 'blood' being understood as a synonym of life.
  19. I.e., before the sprinkling of the blood.
  20. The first meal taken by mourners after the funeral is called the se'udath habra'ah, the meal of comfort, lit., 'the meal of refreshment or restoration'(from habra'ah, recovery to health). It is prepared by neighbours, and usually consists of bread with eggs or lentils, these being a symbol of death. B.B. 16a.
  21. V. infra 70a; since a rebellious son is executed for gluttony, as stated there, the verse is translated, Do not eat (gluttonously), that ye may not be executed (as rebellious sons).
  22. I.e., the commandment, Ye shall not eat with the blood involves many things; and if so, why is there a flogging attached to these other offences?
  23. Ex. XII, 10.
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Sanhedrin 63b

thereby teaching that one is not flagellated for it. This is R. Judah's view.1  R. Jacob said: This is not the real reason,2  but because it is a negative precept involving no action, for which one is not flagellated. From this we infer that in R. Judah's opinion one is flagellated for such transgressions.

HE WHO VOWS OR SWEARS BY ITS NAME VIOLATES A NEGATIVE PRECEPT. Whence do we know this? — It has been taught: and make no mention of the name of other gods.3  This means, one must not say to his neighbour 'Wait for me at the side of that idol'; neither let it be heard out of thy mouth:4  one should not vow or swear by its name nor cause others [sc. heathens] to swear by the name. Another interpretation: and neither let it be heard out of thy mouth, — this is a formal prohibition against a mesith and maddiah. But a mesith is explicitly forbidden: and all Israel shall hear and fear, and shall do no more any such wickedness as this is among you?5  — But it is a formal prohibition against a maddiah.6

'Nor cause others [sc. heathens] to vow or swear by its name.' This supports the dictum of Samuel's father. For the father of Samuel said: One may not enter into a business partnership with a heathen, lest the latter be obliged to take an oath [in connection with a business dispute], and he swear by his idol, whilst the Torah hath said, Neither let it be heard out through thy mouth.7

When 'Ulla came [to Babylonia] he lodged in Kalnebo.8  Subsequently Raba asked him, 'Where did you stay the night?' He replied, 'In Kalnebo'. 'But,' said he, 'is it not written, And make no mention of the name of other gods.?' — He answered: Thus did R. Johanan say: The name of every idol written in the Torah may be mentioned. Now, where is this name written? — Bel boweth down, Nebo stoopeth.9  But if the name is not written, may it then not be mentioned? To this R. Mesharshia objected: [We have learnt:] If one had a protracted issue of matter from his body, lasting as long as three normal issues, which is equivalent to the time of walking from Gadyawan to Shiloh, namely, as long as it takes to perform two ritual immersions, and dry oneself twice, he is a zab in all respects.10  — Rabina answered: Also Gad is written in the Bible viz., That prepare a table for Gad.11

R. Nahman said: All scoffing is forbidden, excepting scoffing at idols, which is permitted, as it is written, Bel boweth down, Nebo stoopeth … they stoop, they bow down together; they could not deliver the burden.12  And it is also written, They have spoken: The inhabitants of Samaria shall fear because of tho calves of Beth Aven: for the people thereof shall mourn over it, and the priests thereof that rejoiced on it for the glory thereof, which is departed from it.13  Read not Kebodo [its glory], but Kebedo [his weight].14

R. Isaac said, What is meant by, And now they sin more and more, and have made them molten images of their silver, and idols in their image?15  — This teaches that each made a [small] image of his idol, put it in his pocket, and whenever he thought of it withdrew it from his bosom, and embraced and kissed it. What is meant by, Let the men that sacrifice kiss the calves?16  — R. Isaac, of the school of R. Ammi said: Whenever the idols' priests became envious of any wealthy men, they starved the calves [which were worshipped], made images of these men, and placed them at the side of the cribs. Then they loosed the calves, who recognising these men [from the images set before them] ran after them and pawed them. Thereupon the priests said, 'The idol desires thee; come and sacrifice thyself to them.17  Raba said, If so, the verse should not be, They sacrifice men and kiss the calves, but, 'The calves kiss them [i.e., paw, and fawn upon them] that they should sacrifice themselves'. But Raba explained it thus: If one sacrificed his son to the idol, the priest said to him: You have offered a most precious gift to it; come and kiss it.

    Rab Judah said in rab's name: And the men of Babylon made Succoth-benoth.18  What is this? A fowl.19  And the men of Cuth made Nergal:20  What is it? — A cock. And the men of Hamath made Ashima:21  What is that? — A bald buck. And the Avites made Nibhaz and Tartak:22  What are these? — A dog and an ass. And the Sepharvites burnt their children in fire to Adrammelech and Anammelech, the gods of Sepharvaim:23  What are these? — The mule and the horse: Adrammelech meaning that it [the mule] honours its master24  [lit., 'king'] with its load;25  Anammellech meaning that the horse responds to its master in battle.26  The father of Hezekiah King of judah wished to do likewise to him [i.e., burn him in fire], but that his mother anointed him [with the blood of the] salamander.27

Rab Judah said in Rab's name: The Israelites knew that the idols were nonentities, but they engaged in idolatry only that they might openly satisfy their incestuous lusts. R. Mesharshia objected: As those who remember their children, so they longed for their altars, and their graves by the green trees etc;28  which R. Eleazar interpreted. As one who yearns for his son [so they yearned]?29  — That was after they became addicted thereto.30  Come and hear: And I will cast your carcases upon the carcases of your idols.31  It was related of Elijah the Righteous, that whilst searching for those who were languishing with hunger in Jerusalem, he once found a child faint with hunger lying upon a dungheap. On questioning him as to the family to which he belonged, he replied, 'I belong to such and such a family.' He asked: 'Are any of that family left,' and he answered, 'None, excepting myself.' Thereupon he asked: 'If I teach thee something by which thou wilt live, wilt thou learn?' He replied, 'Yes.' 'Then,' said he, 'recite every day, Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one.' But the child retorted,

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Original footnotes renumbered.
  1. This is a general principle, for when a positive precept follows a negative one, it is implied that If the latter is violated, tho remedy lies in the former.
  2. Lit., 'this is not of the same denomination'.
  3. Ex. XXIII, 13.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Deut. XIII, 12. This refers to the punishment of a mesith.
  6. On mesith and maddiah v. infra 67a.
  7. [I.e., at thy word, instance, instrumentality, [H] translated out of thy mouth is taken in an instrumental sense. Cf. Gen. XLI, 40, [H]
  8. [Kar-nebo, 'the city of Nebo,' prob. Borsippa, Funk, Monumenta, I, p. 299.]
  9. Isa. XLVI, 1. The conjunction of the first letter of boweth down ([H]), the second of Bel, and the word Neho, gives the name Kalnebo, the letters r and l interchanging.
  10. One is not considered a zab, with all the laws pertaining thereto, unless he has three separate issues of matter. The minimum overall period for the three combined is the time taken for the issues themselves, (if very short) plus the time necessary to perform two ritual immersions and dry oneself twice, i.e., between the first and second issue, and between the second and third. This is equivalent to the walking time from Gadyasvan to Shiloh. This Mishnah is quoted from Zabin i. 5. where, however, the reading is Gad Yawan (two separate words, lit., 'Greek Fortune') to Siloah. Gad Yawan is probably the name of a pool connected with the Siloah, perhaps Fount of the Virgin. Gad was the name of the god of fortune, but as such it is only mentioned in Isa. LXV, 2, though occurring in the compounds Ba'al Gad and Migdal Gad Dillman (on Isaiah a.l.) suggests that Gad and Meni may have been mere Hebrew appellatives of Babylonian idols otherwise named there. We See from the present passage that Gad was the name of a Deity in Talmudic times. During the Second Temple, Palestine became thickly populated with Greeks (Halevy, Dorah iii, P. 9), and many places bore Greek names; Gad Yawan is an example of such, R. Mesharshia's objection is based on the use of the word Gad, though the name of a deity, by the Tanna of this Mishnah. The Pool of Siloam (the same as Siloah and Shiloah of the Bible, Isa. VIII, 6, Neh. III, 15) is located at the south eastern extremity of the European valley, at the southern part of Ophel. Its source is the Fountain of the Virgin, with which it is connected by a subterranean channel or conduit. Probably to this conduit Isaiah alluded when he spoke of the waters of Shiloah that go softly. Though the direct distance is only 1,100 feet, the passage from one to the other, owing to its winding and Zigzagging nature, measures 1750 feet.
  11. Isa. LXV, 2.
  12. Isa. XLVI, 1.
  13. Hos. X, 5. The same passage in Meg. 25b omits 'They have spoken', which belongs to the previous verse.
  14. [H] instead of [H] i.e., its weight is reduced (Jast.). Rashi explains that the reference is to its excrements.
  15. E.V., according to their own understanding: Hos. XII, 2.
  16. Ibid.
  17. Thus the verse is translated: They sacrifice (so. themselves) in their homage to the calves.
  18. II Kings XVII, 30. This and the following verses refer to the idols set up by the heathens with whom Sannecherib repopulated Samaria after its inhabitants were deported.
  19. They worshipped the image of a fowl, called in their language Succoth-benoth.
  20. Ibid.
  21. lbid.
  22. Ibid. 3. (Our printed Talmud texts read Nibhan. [H] = 'to bark' (instead of Nibhaz), hence taken to be a dog.]
  23. Ibid.
  24. Adar, Heb. hadar [H] = 'to honour', and melech (melek) = king, master.
  25. (I.e., the mule honours its master by carrying his load.]
  26. 'Ana, Heb. [H] = 'to respond.'
  27. A reptile believed to be engendered in fire. One who smeared himself with its blood was thought to be fire-proof. Hag. 27a.
  28. Jer. XVII, 2.
  29. This shows that they really believed in idols.
  30. I.e., at first, it was only a pretext to satisfy their lust. But having engaged in idolatry, they were ensnared by its allurements and really believed in it.
  31. Lev. XXVI, 30.
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