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Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Sotah

Folio 10a

The oath of Abimelech became void, as it is written: That thou wilt not deal falsely with me, nor with my son, nor with my son's son.1

And the child grew, and the Lord blessed him.2  Wherewith did He bless him? — Rab Judah said in the name of Rab: With his physique which was like that of other men but his manly strength was like a fast-flowing stream.3

And Samson called unto the Lord, and said: O Lord God, remember me, I pray Thee and strengthen me, I pray Thee, that I may be at once avenged of the Philistines for my two eyes.4  Rab said: Samson spoke before the Holy One, blessed be He, Sovereign of the Universe, Remember on my behalf the twenty5  years I judged Israel, and never did I order anyone to carry my staff from one place to another.

And Samson went and caught three hundred foxes.6  Why just foxes? — R. Aibu b. Nagari said in the name of R. Hiyya b. Abba: Samson declared: Let [the animal] come which turns backward7  and exact punishment of the Philistines who went back on their oath.8

It has been taught: R. Simeon the Pious said: The width between Samson's shoulders was sixty cubits, as it is said: And Samson lay till midnight, and arose at midnight and laid hold of the doors of the gate of the city, and the two posts, and plucked them up, bar and all, and put them upon his shoulders;9  and there is a tradition that the gates of Gaza were not less than sixty cubits [in width]. And he did grind in the prison house.10

R. Johanan said: 'Grind' means nothing else than [sexual] transgression; and thus it is stated: Then let my wife grind unto another.11  It teaches that everyone brought his wife to him to the prison that she might bear a child by him [who would be as strong as he was]. R. Papa said: That is what the proverb tells, 'Before the wine-drinker [set] wine, before a ploughman a basket of roots.'

R. Johanan also said: Whoever is faithless, his wife is faithless to him; as it is said: If mine heart have been enticed unto a woman, and I have laid wait at my neighbour's door12  and it continues, Then let my wife grind unto another, and let others bow down upon her. That is what the proverb tells, 'He among the full-grown pumpkins and his wife among the young ones'.

R. Johanan also said: Samson judged Israel in the same manner as their Father in heaven; as it is said: Dan shall judge his people as One.13  R. Johanan also said: Samson was called by the name of the Holy One, blessed be He; as it is said: For the Lord God is a sun and a shield.14  According to this argument, [his name] may not be erased!15  — The intention is that [his name] was typical of the name of the Holy One, blessed be He;16  as the Holy One, blessed be He, shields the whole world, so Samson shielded Israel during his generation.

R. Johanan also said: Balaam was lame in one leg, as it is said: And he went shefi;17  Samson was lame in both legs, as it is said: An adder in the path.18

Our Rabbis have taught: Five were created after the likeness of Him Who is above, and all of them incurred punishment on account of [the feature which distinguished] them: Samson in his strength, Saul in his neck,19  Absalom in his hair,20  Zedekiah in his eyes, and Asa in his feet. 'Samson [was punished] in his strength', as it is written: And his strength went from him.21  'Saul [was punished] in his neck', as it is written: Saul took his sword and fell upon it.22  'Absalom [was punished] in his hair', as we shall have occasion to explain later. Zedekiah [was punished] in his eyes, as it is written: They put out the eyes of Zedekiah.23  Asa [was punished] in his feet, as it is written: But in the time of his old age he was diseased in his feet;24  and Rab Judah said in the name of Rab, Podagra [gout] attacked him.

Mar Zutra, son of R. Nahman, asked R. Nahman, What is Podagra like? — He answered: Like a needle in living flesh. How did he know this? — Some say he suffered from it himself; others say that he heard it from his teacher;25  and others declare, The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him, and He will shew them His covenant.26

Raba expounded: Why was Asa punished? Because he imposed forced labour27  upon the disciples of the Sages, as it is said: Then King Asa made a proclamation unto all Judah; none was exempted.28  What means 'none was exempted'? — Rab Judah said in the name of Rab: Even the bridegroom from his chamber and the bride from her canopy.

It is written: And Samson went down to Timnah,29  and it is written: Behold, thy father-in-law goeth up to Timnah!30  R. Eleazar said: Since in the case of Samson he was disgraced there, it is written in connection with it 'went down;' but in the case of Judah, since he was exalted in it,31  there is written in connection with it 'goeth up'. R. Samuel b. Nahmani said: There are two places named Timnah; one [was reached] by going down and the other by going up. R. Papa said: There is only one place named Timnah; who came to it from one direction had to descend and from another direction had to ascend, as, e.g., Wardina, Be Bari and the market-place of Neresh.32

She sat in the gate of Enaim.33  R. Alexander said: It teaches that she [Tamar] went and sat at the entrance [of the hospice] of our father Abraham, to see which place all eyes ['enaim] look. R. Hanin said in the name of Rab: It is a place named Enaim, as it states: Tappuah and Enam.34  R. Samuel b. Nahmani said: [It is so called] because she gave eyes to her words.35  When [Judah] solicited her, he asked her, 'Art thou perhaps a Gentile?' She replied: 'I am a proselyte'. 'Art thou perhaps a married woman?' She replied: 'I am unmarried'. 'Perhaps thy father has accepted on thy behalf betrothals?'36  She replied: 'I am an orphan'. 'Perhaps thou art unclean?' She replied: 'I am clean'.

And he planted a tamarisk tree in Beer-sheba.37  Resh Lakish said: It teaches that he [Abraham] made an orchard and planted in it all kinds of choice fruits. R. Judah and R. Nehemiah [differ in this matter]; one said that it was an orchard and the other that it was a hospice. It is right according to him who said that it was an orchard, since it is written 'and he planted'; but according to him who said that it was a hospice, what means 'and he planted?' — It is similarly written: And he shall plant the tents of his palace, etc.38

And he called there on the name of the Lord, the Everlasting God.39  Resh Lakish said: Read not 'and he called'

To Part b

Original footnotes renumbered.
  1. Gen. XXI, 23. The alliance between the Israelites and Philistines ended in the time of Samson.
  2. Judg. XIII, 24.
  3. The point underlying this piece of Rabbinic hyperbole is that it was through Samson's inordinate passion for Philistine women that he came in contact with their people and brought about Israel's release from their power.
  4. Ibid. XVI, 28.
  5. Some edd. read 'twenty-two' in error; v. ibid. 31.
  6. Judg. XV, 4.
  7. When a fox is hunted, it does not run ahead but in a roundabout course.
  8. Between Isaac and Abimelech; v. supra.
  9. Ibid. XVI, 3.
  10. Ibid. 21.
  11. Job XXXI, 10.
  12. Ibid. 9.
  13. Gen. XLIX, 16, the One being God.
  14. Ps. LXXXIV, 12, E.V. 11. The word for sun is shemesh which is the basis of Samson's name, Shimshon.
  15. As it is forbidden to erase the Divine Name.
  16. The word sun is not God's Name but a simile.
  17. Num. XXIII, 3. (E.V. 'To a bare height'). The Hebrew word is explained as 'lame'.
  18. Gen. XLIX, 17. The word for adder is shefifon which looks like a duplicated form of shefi from the root [H], 'to dislocate'.
  19. Cf. I Sam. X, 23.
  20. Cf. II Sam. XIV, 26. There is no Biblical reference in connection with Zedekiah and Asa.
  21. Judg. XVI, 19.
  22. I Sam. XXXI, 4. The sword passed through his neck.
  23. II Kings XXV, 7.
  24. I Kings XV, 23.
  25. His teacher was a Rabbi named Samuel who was a physician.
  26. Ps. XXV, 14. The information was revealed to him by God.
  27. In the public service.
  28. I Kings XV, 22.
  29. Judg. XIV. I.
  30. Gen. XXXVIII, 13. Why does one text say 'down' and the other 'goeth up'?
  31. Perez was born there from whom David was descended.
  32. Towns in Babylonia situated on mountain slopes on the east bank of the Euphrates, v. Obermeyer, op. cit., p. 309.
  33. Gen. XXXVIII. 14.
  34. Josh. XV, 34. Enam is identified with Enaim.
  35. Tamar gave convincing replies to Judah's questions as to whether she was permitted to him.
  36. [And thou thus belongest to another man.]
  37. Gen. XXI, 33. The explanation 'hospice' is obtained by taking each letter of the word [H] 'tamarisk-tree', and making them the initials of three Hebrew words meaning 'eating, drinking, lodging'.
  38. Dan. XI, 45.
  39. Gen. l.c.
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Sotah 10b

but 'and he made to call', thereby teaching that our father Abraham caused the name of the Holy One, blessed be He, to be uttered by the mouth of every passer-by. How was this? After [travellers] had eaten and drunk, they stood up to bless him; but, said he to them, 'Did you eat of mine? You ate of that which belongs to the God of the Universe. Thank, praise and bless Him who spake and the world came into being'.

When Judah saw her, he thought her to be an harlot; for she had covered her face.1  Because she had covered her face he thought her to be an harlot! — R. Eleazar said: She had covered her face in her fatherin-law's house;2  for R. Samuel b. Nahmani said in the name of R. Jonathan: Every daughter-in-law who is modest in her father-in-law's house merits that kings and prophets should issue from her. Whence is this? From Tamar. Prophets [issued from her], as it is written: The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz,3  and kings [issued from her] through David; and R. Levi has said: This is a tradition in our possession from our fathers that Amoz and Amaziah4  were brothers.

When she was brought forth.5  Instead of muzeth the verb should have been mithwazzeth!6  R. Eleazar said: [The verb in the text implies] that after her proofs7  were found, Samael8  came and removed them, and Gabriel9  came and restored them. That is what is written: For the Chief Musician, the silent dove of them that are afar off. Of David, Michtam10  — R. Johanan said: At the time when her proofs were removed, she became like a silent dove. 'Of David', 'Michtam' — [that means] there issued from her David who was meek [mach] and perfect [tam] to all. Another explanation of 'Michtam' is: his wound [makkah]11  was whole [tammah], since he was born already circumcised. Another explanation of 'Michtam' is: just as in his youth [before he became king] he made himself small in the presence of anyone greater than himself to study Torah, so was he the same in his greatness.12

She sent to her father-in-law, saying: By the man whose these are, am I with child.13  She ought to have told [the messenger] plainly!14  — R. Zutra b. Tobiah said in the name of Rab — another version is, R. Hama b. Bizna said in the name of R. Simeon the Pious; and still another version is, R. Johanan said in the name of R. Simeon b. Yohai: Better for a man to cast himself into a fiery furnace rather than shame his fellow in public. Whence is this? From Tamar.15

Discern, I pray thee.16  R. Hama b. Hanina said: With the word 'discern' [Judah] made an announcement to his father, and with the word 'discern' an announcement was made to him. With the word 'discern' he made an announcement — Discern now whether it be thy son's coat or not;17  and with the word 'discern' an announcement was made to him — Discern, I pray thee, whose are these.16  The word 'na' ['I pray thee'] is nothing else than an expression of request. She said to him, 'I beg of thee, discern the face of thy Creator and hide not thine eyes from me'.18

And Judah acknowledged them, and said: She is more righteous than I.19  That is what R. Hanin b. Bizna said in the name of R. Simeon the Pious: Joseph who sanctified the heavenly Name in private20  merited that one letter should be added to him from the Name of the Holy One, blessed be He, as it is written: He appointed it in Joseph for a testimony.21  Judah, however, who sanctified the heavenly Name in public merited that the whole of his name should be called after the Name of the Holy One, blessed be He.22  When he confessed and said: She is more righteous than I, a Bath Kol23  issued forth and proclaimed, 'Thou didst rescue Tamar and her two sons from the fire. By thy life, I will rescue through thy merit three of thy descendants from the fire'. Who are they? Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah.24  'She is more righteous than I' — how did he know this?25  A Bath Kol issued forth and proclaimed, 'From Me came forth secrets.'26

And he knew her again no more.27  Samuel the elder, father-in-law of R. Samuel b. Ammi said in the name of R. Samuel b. Ammi: Having once known her,28  he did not separate from her again. It is written here, 'And he knew her again no more [Yasaf], and elsewhere it is written: With a great voice increasing [Yasaf].29

ABSALOM GLORIED IN HIS HAIR etc. Our Rabbis have taught: Absalom rebelled [against his father] through his hair, as it is said: There was none to be so much praised as Absalom for his beauty … And when he polled his head, now it was at every year's end that he polled it because the hair was heavy on him therefore he polled it, he weighed the hair of his head at two hundred shekels, after the king's weight.30  It has been taught that [the king's weight] was the weight with which the men of Tiberias and Sepphoris weigh. Therefore he was hanged by his hair, as it is said: And Absalom chanced to meet the servants of David. And Absalom rode upon his mule, and the mule went under the thick boughs of a great oak, and his head caught hold of the oak, and he was taken up between the heaven and the earth; and the mule that was under him went on.31  He took a sword and wished to cut himself loose;32  but it was taught in the School of R. Ishmael, At that moment Sheol was split asunder beneath him.33

And the king was much moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept; and as he went, thus he said: O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son.34  And the king covered his face, and the king cried with a loud voice, O my son Absalom, O Absalom my son, my son.35  Why is 'my son' repeated eight times? Seven to raise him from the seven divisions of Gehinnom; and as for the last, some say to unite his [severed] head to his body and others say to bring him into the World to Come.

Now Absalom in his lifetime had taken and reared up.36  What means 'had taken'? — Resh Lakish said: He had made a bad purchase for himself.37  The pillar which is in the king's dale, etc. — R. Hanina b. Papa said: In the deep plan of the King of the Universe;38

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Original footnotes renumbered.
  1. Ibid. XXXVIII, 15.
  2. So that Judah had never seen it and did not recognise her.
  3. Isa. I, 1.
  4. King of Judah, and since he was a descendant of David and Amoz was his brother, it is true that prophets and kings issued from Tamar.
  5. Gen. XXXVIII, 25.
  6. The verbal form used in the text could be translated 'was found', and the alternative suggested would have clearly indicated 'brought forth'.
  7. The signet, cord and staff.
  8. Angel of evil, later identified with Satan.
  9. One of the four Archangels.
  10. Ps. LVI, I.
  11. I.e., the place where there should have been a wound after circumcision.
  12. After he became king, he humbled himself to study. So he was meek and perfect.
  13. Gen. XXXVIII, 25.
  14. That Judah was the father of her child. Why the circumlocution?
  15. She risked being burnt to death rather than publicly shame Judah.
  16. Ibid.
  17. Ibid. XXXVII, 32.
  18. That is how 'Discern, I pray thee' is explained.
  19. Ibid. XXXVIII, 26.
  20. When he resisted Potiphar's wife.
  21. Ps. LXXXI, 6, E.V. 5. Here in the Hebrew the letter 'he', one of the letters of the Tetragrammaton, is added to Joseph's name: [H].
  22. The four letters of the Tetragrammaton occur in Judah's name [H].
  23. V. Glos.
  24. See Dan. III.
  25. Since she might have cohabited with other men.
  26. V. Mak. 23b.
  27. Gen. XXXVIII, 26.
  28. That she was righteous.
  29. Deut. V, 19. The two verbs are really distinct, but the Rabbi connected them both with the root [H] and accordingly explained the phrase in Gen. as 'and he knew her again without ceasing', v. Sanh. 17a.
  30. II Sam. XIV, 25f.
  31. II Sam. XVIII. 9.
  32. The first half of this sentence is omitted in some edd.
  33. So that had he cut through his hair he would have fallen into Sheol.
  34. Ibid. XIX, 1. E.V. XVIII, 33.
  35. Ibid. 5, E.V. 4.
  36. Ibid. XVIII, 18.
  37. The verb signifies both took and purchased. The meaning appears to be that his conduct resulted in his having to buy a monument to preserve his memory instead of his succeeding his father; hence it was a bad bargain for him.
  38. The word 'dale' means 'deep', and 'king' is applied to God Who had decided that this should happen as a punishment for his sin with Bathsheba.
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