Thursday, 28 September 2017

Sanhedrin 74: More Limits on Applying the Death Penalty

There are a few major thoughts that are explored in today's daf.  Each of these demonstrates the rabbis discomfort with enacting a death penalty, even for the crimes explicitly described in the Torah as deserving of that consequence.

  • how to understand the punishment for an unintentional injury
    • striking a pregnant woman and killing the fetus
    • breaking the property of another person while being pursued/pursuing another
  • how to punish a person that has the appearance of worshipping idols
    • one's behaviour
    • one's dress - for example, being forced to wear a sandal associated with being a Gentile
  • a famous story of Rabbi Eliezer regarding Deuteronomy (6:5)
    • You shall love the Lord your G-d with all of your heart, all of your soul and all of your might": the "soul" suggests that one will be killed before allowing the desecration of G-d's name.  "Might" refers to the love for a person's body beyond his/her possessions.
    • One cannot kill another due to fear of being killed, for each person's blood is as red as another's
  • a public act requires ten people to be present
    • must all ten people be Jewish?
    • must the sin be directly related to idol worship?  What about Achashverosh having intercourse with Esther in public?  Acts inspired by personal pleasure are exempt.

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Sanhedrin 73: When We are Permitted to Kill in Self-Defence

A new Mishna lists those who must be killed to ensure that they will not transgress:
  • one who pursues another to kill him
  • one who pursues a man to 'sodomize" him
  • one who pursues a betrothed young woman to rape her
Others are not killed for their actions but must be forewarned:
  • one who pursues an animal to "sodomize" it
  • one who desecrates Shabbat
  • one who is about to engage in idol worship
The Gemara walks us through a balancing act.  Why are the first three acts grouped to gather and the second three acts grouped together?  The rabbis are attempting to weigh competing priorities.
  • the disrespectful behaviour of simply lowering a young woman's value
  • the imperative to "not stand idly by the blood of another"; ie. to save a person who is in mortal danger
  • one's obligation to one's neighbours over oneself
  • mere prohibitions do not permit a person to save another at the cost of his life - for example, a high priest who is pursuing a widow or a divorcee 
  • if a woman's worth is not damaged by the sin, then death can be avoided
  • desecration of idol worship might be connected to the desecration of Shabbat
  • perhaps a rapist must be killed because a woman would rather give her life than be raped
  • levels of degradation might determine levels of punishment
Our daf ends with a disturbing discussion about the rape of a young woman by her brother.  If he raped her atypically, i.e. anal intercourse, and then raped her typically, i.e. vaginal intercourse, what is his punishment?  She is still a virgin after the first rape, and thus he is not killed for his crime.  When he rapes her again, she has already been degraded, and so he is not killed for this crime, either.  The rabbis consider the possibility that she has acquiesced to the rapes for fear that her brother would kill her otherwise.  This does not mitigate the decision to minimize the brother's punishment.  

Such casual conversation regarding violent, traumatic and horrific personal assaults is disconcerting.  It is understood that the rabbis are using this example to help them understand when a person can kill to avoid being killed.  However, the callous wording of their conversation continues to create discomfort for any reader sensitive to such heinous acts of cruelty.

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Sanhedrin 72: Killing a Thief in One's Home; How Do We Determine the Intent of a Thief?

A new Mishna teaches us that a thief who is found breaking into one's house may be killed.  One can assume that the burglar plans to kill him for the money and possessions present.  If the thief broke a barrel and blood has spilled, the home owner is not permitted to kill the burglar.  If the thief broke a barrel and there is no blood spilled, he may be killed by the home owner.

The Gemara opens up multiple lines of questions regarding this Mishna.  Perhaps this was a father breaking into his son's home.  The Torah says that if someone seeks to you you, you should kill that person.   But a son should not assume that his father would kill him and cannot kill his father in self-defence.   A stolen item should be returned, but perhaps the thief could not return a stolen item.  Perhaps the barrel was broken unwillingly.  We follow the rabbis' questioning in many directions.

The Gemara suggests that we must be very sure that the burglar is attempting to kill us.  Otherwise we are liable for killing the thief.   Returning to the notion of father and son, the rabbis teach that a father's love for his son is far too great to lead to murder.  A son might not love his father in the same way, however.  They question whether there might be others whom we love so much that we can assume that they would not kill us when breaking into our homes.  

The Gemara mentions three ways of breaking into one's home: tunnelling, though the roof, through the courtyard, or through an enclosed field.  Is our Mishna teaching that a thief can be killed only if he enters the home through tunnelling?  Or was that the most common way of breaking in to a home and thus used as a general example?

What about warning?  In most cases of murder or other serious action against another person, we are required to warn the person that they are transgressing before we stop them in their tracks.  Rav Huna notes that a minor who is about to kill is killed without a warning (minors do not require warnings) and the killer is exempt.  A baby who is likely to kill its mother during the birthing process is killed to save the mother.  Once the baby leaves the womb it is like any other person and we do not kill one person to save another.

Monday, 25 September 2017

Sanhedrin 71: Stubborn and Rebellious Sons, What to do with the Wicked

After understanding that a boy does not become a rebellious and stubborn son unless he both eats meat and drinks wine.  This is followed by five new Mishnayot in today's daf.  

1) A son becomes a stubborn and rebellious son only if he steals from his father and then eats on the property of others.  Rabbi Yossi says that he must also steal from his mother.

2) If only one of the boy's parents wishes to have him punished but the other does not, he does not become a stubborn and rebellious son.  Rabbi Yehuda says that if the mother was not a suitable match for his father, he does not become a stubborn and rebellious son.

  • the rabbis discuss the ways that parents must be similar: in voice, appearance and height
  • whether or not anyone other than Rabbi Yonatan had actually seen a stubborn and rebellious son
  • whether or not there has ever been an idolatrous city
  • whether or not there has ever been a leprous house
3) If one of the parents is without hands, lame, mute, blind or deaf, then the son cannot be named rebellious.  This is because there are a number of steps required in the process of declaring a boy stubborn and rebellious, and any of these people cannot do all of those steps.  Instead, he will be tried by three judges and then by 23 judges and and flogged.
  • the rabbis discuss the meaning of the word 'chastise'  
  • is is determined that the three original judges must be present when the 23 judges assemble, and that blind parents cannot have a son who is called stubborn and rebellious
4) If the rebellious son ran away before he was sentenced, and before he was caught his 'lower hair' grew around his penis, then he is exempted from the death penalty.  If he ran away after he was sentenced, and afterward his pubic hair grew around his penis, he is liable to receive the death penalty.  
  • the rabbis discuss the implications of different crimes
  • the different ways of executing someone who has committed a particular crime
5) A boy is executed not because of his transgressions but because a child like this will certainly grow up to be immoral.  He should die before he causes excessive damage.  The wine and sleep of the wicked is beneficial to them and to the world.  The wine and the sleep of the righteous is detrimental to them and to the world.  Those who are wicked should be dispersed throughout the world; this is beneficial to them and to the world.  Those who are righteous should assemble together.  In both cases, the traits of other individuals will strengthen the deeds of those around him/her.

Sunday, 24 September 2017

Sanhedrin 70: Rebellious Sons and Drinking

A new Mishna asks when a rebellious son is actually liable for his actions.  The response is that it is when he drinks a certain amount of Italian wine or when his eats a certain portion of meat.  The rabbis argue about the amount of consumption required.  The rabbis also walk through a number of violations which do not lead to calling him a rebellious son.  

The Gemara discusses different ways of potentially transgressing halachot related to drinking wine.  They are very hesitant to relegate anyone to the status of a rebellious son.  Their discussion includes descriptions of fights between people, always pertaining to to drinking too much wine.  Fights that included sodom, in one case.  There is not much commentary on that particular point.  

The rabbis detail Batsheva's lambasting of her son Solomon regarding his drunken behaviour. She sees drinking as unbefitting of kings.  The rabbis use this story to help us understand the interrelationship between drinking and bad behaviour.

Saturday, 23 September 2017

Sanhedrin 69: Rebellious Sons, Questions of Children and Conception

Note that over the High Holy Days, I did not blog about my learning.  To reference interesting and disturbing material regarding the punishment for violators of young women, see daf 66 amud (b).

Some of today's daf includes conversations about a ben sorer u'moreh, a rebellious son.  The rabbis attempt to understand who might be thought of as a ben sorer u'moreh, and how he should be punished.  Because of the severity of this concept, the rabbis seem to create almost unachievable criteria. They discuss:

  • punishments for men who have intercourse "properly" (regarding ejaculation) with slaves
  • questioning whether or not a nine-year-old boy could be subject to the same punishments
  • differentiating between the sexual function of a child and an adult male: can a child be a father?
  • questioning whether or not a child could impregnate his wife before his "lower beard" filled out
  • debating whether or not pregnancy can occur before a boy has been evaluated to be an adult for six months
  • it is determined that a boy cannot become a man until three months after he has been named as a man or until his pubic hair fills out
  • questioning when a woman might become visibly pregnant and how that might determine when she was impregnated; whether or not a boy was fertile
  • whether we follow the majority in a case such as this
  • how this might relate to access to teruma
  • questioning how an aylonit, a woman who does not develop in the usual manner, might be affected by these circumstances
  • questioning whether a child under the age of nine can participate in intercourse at all
  • debating sources that would suggest that Shlomo's family had numerous generations who fathered children at the age of eight
  • conversations about Bat Sheva being conceived when her father was nine, and conceiving when she was six years old
  • Are women healthier than men and thus able to conceive earlier?
  • Questioning the age of Avraham, Haran, Sarah, Noach, Shem, Betzalel, and others when they were conceived and when they had their own children
The Mishna has taught us that these halachot apply to a son son and not to a daughter.  

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Sanhedrin 65: Witchcraft, Sorcery, Magic, Superstition, What is an Action?

We begin with a new Mishna.  It teaches that a witch is someone who seems to speak words from the dead through his/her armpit.  A wizard is one who apparently speaks the words of the dead through his/her mouth.  Both of these acts are punishable by stoning.  One who asks for this service is liable to bring an offering.

The Gemara discusses why these two acts might be considered separately when they are mentioned in the Torah together.  Reish Lakish suggests that there is a different between the action of making sounds through one's armpit and simply moving one's lips.  Rabbi Yochanan says that they should be considered together.  The rabbis discuss whether or not there is a difference between these small actions and other small actions, including blasphemy.  The rabbis question what "action" means.  For example, is a spoken voice an action?  This is particularly import in a system that relies on actions to define numerous legal realities.  

The Gemara describes a witch as one who speaks words of the dead through a joint, like a knee joint. A wizard is one who places a bone in his or her mouth, and then the bone speaks words of the dead on its own.  The rabbis argue about whether, from where, and how a skull might answer questions in 'normal' situations.  Might a 'normal' skull avoid joining the community on Shabbat? A humorous argument arises regarding what makes Shabbat special - what makes one person special?  

The rabbis tell stories of people making efforts to speak with the dead and then overcoming that urge to know the future.  In one case, a demon is created and then dissolved.  The Gemara discusses magicians and superstitious behaviour as well.

We know well that ancient and modern Jewish communities have embraced both halacha and other illicit behaviours that allow us to feel in control of the future.  Although the rabbis have explicitly forbidden these behaviours - witchcraft, magic, wizardry, superstitions, etc - we have actively sought them out.  

Monday, 18 September 2017

Sanhedrin 64: Embodied Evil Inclinations, Molech's Children and Liability

The rabbis discuss what Steinsaltz describes as a set of prophetic visions in the time of the second Temple.  The people underwent a spiritual transformation at that time.  These stories suggest the animation of concepts that are more ephemeral.

  • The people fast and pray to be rid of their evil inclination to worship idols.  A raging lion cub emerges from the Holy of Holies.  It screams in pain, very loudly, when it is caught and one of its hairs is pulled out.  The rabbis hold it in a lead box with a lead lid so that its screams will not be heard and its represented evil will be contained.
  • The people fast and pray to be rid of their evil inclination to partake in forbidden sexual relationships.  This evil inclination is embodied as well.  However, the people cannot find a day-old egg to feed to the sick, for the chickens are not becoming impregnated when the evil inclination is captured. The people know that they cannot ask for a partial gift, so that some acts of intercourse can be permitted.  Instead, they gouge out the eyes of the embodied inclination, which has led to our distaste for sexual relationships with family members but not eradicating all other appropriate and sinful sexual desire.
  • A Gentile woman vowed to worship every idol if she recovered from an illness.  She kept her vow until she reached Ba'al Peor, where she was told to eat diarrhea-causing spinach and beer and then defecate in front of that idol.  She retorted that she would rather become ill again.  The people of Israel were told that they were not like her, for they were tightly bound to idols and only lightly attached to G-d.  
  • A Jewish man is hired with his donkey to accompany a Gentile woman to Ba'al Peor.  She stops and enters while he waits.  When she returns, he asks her to wait.  "Aren't you Jewish?  Why would you worship?"  He said that it was not her concern and approached the idol. He then defecated in front of the idol and used its nostril to wipe himself in an act of defiance and disrespect.  However the idol-worshipers praised him, saying that no-one had ever worshipped the idol with such respect.
The rabbis use this last tale to better understand intentional and unintentional idol worship.  Mercury is discussed again.  One is liable for throwing a stone at Mercury, even if it is intended as an insult, simply because Mercury is worshipped by throwing things at it.  Even if one removes the stone thrown, the rabbis agree that s/he is still liable because the absence of a stone leaves a place for another stone to be thrown.  

A new Mishna teaches that parents are liable when they pass their children to the priests of Molech, but only if they both pass their child to the priest and also have their child walk through the fire (a ritual where children walk on lattice between two rows of fire).  

The rabbis discuss the importance of a number of considerations:
  • the act of passing through the fire in an unusual way - jumping over a bonfire, like at Purim, might be permitted
  • Molech is considered to be a superstition rather than true idol worship
  • passing over a toothpick or pebble that is on fire is liable if that practice is usual
  • one is not liable for passing his grandchildren to Molech
  • one is not liable for passing all of his children to Molech
  • one might pass any of his children, even one who is blind, and be liable
  • passing 'oneself' to Molech does not make one liable for these particular punishments
  • the punishment of karet, being excommunicated from the World-to-Come
  • blasphemy is spoken of along with idol worship
  • forms of the word karet might suggest different consequences: 
    • hikkaret, excommunication from this world (ie. premature death), and 
    • tikkaret, excommunication from the World-to-Come

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Sanhedrin 63: Idol Worship Then and Now

A brief summary of the main ideas presented in today's daf:
  • all transgressions may be considered to be one transgression
  • an idol might be honoured or disgraced by bowing (or other actions)
  • once a person claims that an idol is his/hers, s/he has transgressed
  • a Mishna forbade us from hugging, kissing, sweeping or spraying an idol
  • These are punishable not by death but with lashes
  • possibly only vowing and swearing are punishable with lashes
  • swearing in the name of idolatry may be considered to be another way to entice people 
  • a story is told of a boy among many in Yerushalayim with a distended belly.  He is found on a waste heap with an idol.  Eliyahu told him to say the sh'ma to better his life, but the little boy replied that he did not know G-d's name as his parents never taught it to him.  He kissed and hugged the idol until his stomach exploded.  When he fell onto the idol on the ground, he fulfilled a saying that had been suggested earlier by Eliyahu.
Today we continue to struggle with what it means to worship G-d; what it means to worship an idol.  Most modern Jews would find it simple deny idol worship.  And yet our devotion to all things unrelated to G-d - our cell phones, our egos, our success in the working world - suggests that we do worship some sort of idol.  Dedicating time and energy to a Jewish-informed relationship with G-d requires commitment to a community, prayer, and meeting obligations that might seem meaningless.  It is that struggle to create meaning that will allow us to connect with G-d in today's world.  But we cannot force others to spend that required time and energy.  Working on our own connection with G-d is the best way to avoid idol worship.

Sanhedrin 62: Multiple transgressions, Single Offerings

A brief reminder about the major concerns discussed in today's daf:

  • one might forget that an action is a transgression
  • one might intentionally transgress
  • one might incur several consequences (bringing multiple sin offerings) 
  • one might incur only one penalty, one sin offering, for a number of transgressions
  • an example of this is when a person bows to an idol, forgetting that this action is forbidden
  • however, if one intended to honour a person whom others might consider to be an idol, this could be permitted
  • Shabbat halachot are treated with greater stringency
  • One can look to the intention of the transgression to determine the seriousness of the punishment 
  • Pleasure might be derived from the transgression
  • Rabbi Yochanan says that if someone can explain to him the Mishna of a barrel moved by a watchman without permission, that he would carry his clothes to the bathhouse.

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Sanhedrin 60: Blasphemy, Idol Worship and Punishments

Blasphemy is one of the few crimes punishable by death.  But what is blasphemy?  The rabbis suggest that blasphemy refers only to the four letters that spell G-d's name: yud hey vav hey.   We have many many names for G-d, some considered to be more holy than others.  However, only that one pronunciation is forbidden at all times.

The rabbis discuss how we are to respond when we hear someone utter that forbidden pronunciation. We are to tear our clothing and never repair the damage done.  This applies to a person witnessing this transgression on the street and to judges who hear witness testimony of such an event.  Interestingly, as part of their conversation, the rabbis note that we cannot rend clothing whenever we hear such an utterance, for our clothing would be torn all over.  

Because the Talmud is written by those who observe and those who respect observance, we can easily forget that the bulk of the Jewish community would transgress halachot regularly.  People are people. We crave rules and guidelines and laws.  When we are given those boundaries, we cross them.  Or we become obsessed with maintaining them.  It is tempting to think of our ancestors as better than us; more willing to believe and to observe.  But according to the Talmud, people were regularly blaspheming 2000 years ago.  

A new Mishna teaches that people are put to death for idolatry.  But which actions associated with idolatry are liable?  If one serves an idol, slaughters to offer to an idol, burns to serve an idol, pours libation on an idol or bows to an idol, s/he is liable.  If one claims that the idol is his G-d, s/he is also liable.  But hugging, kissing, cleaning, anointing, dressing, putting shoes on it, vowing or swearing in the name of an idol - these are not permitted, but they are not punishable by death.  

Excreting in front of an idol could be a form of idol worship, and so it is also not allowed.  The rabbis discuss a number of other actions that are omitted from the list of transgressions liable to the death penalty.  To the end of today's daf the rabbis find proof texts to justify their opinions regarding different punishments for different types of idol worship.

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Sanhedrin 59: Mitzvot for Israelites and/or Gentiles: Consuming Animals

The Gemara continues to discuss which mitzvot apply to only Israelites, which apply to Noahides,  Gentiles, and which apply to both.  Though we are taught that a Gentile who learns Torah is like a high priest, the rabbis argue that he has studied only the seven mitzvot which apply to Gentiles to achieve that status.  This seems to refer to the fact that Gentiles would not necessarily even know about the Noahide laws, much less obligate themselves to learn them in depth.  The rabbis also discuss prohibitions against eating the limb of a live animal or the blood of a live animal, which both apply to the behaviour of Israelites and Gentiles.  

The Gemara asks why laws that were given to the descendants of Noah must be repeated at Sinai to be apply to both Israelites and Gentiles.  Weren't Israelites included as some of Noah's descendants?  Instead, laws given to Noah's descendants which were not repeated at Sinai are directed specifically to the Israelites.  This refers to the law against eating the sciatic nerve of any animal.  This is argued as well.  Why are any of the laws different for the different groups of people?  We are told that Gentiles are liable for theft less than one peruta while Jews are not, for example?  The answer is that Gentiles were much less forgiving of these small crimes, and thus it was written into law.

What about the mitzvah of circumcision, which was given to Noah's descendants?  What about the mitzvah of procreation?  What about repeated prohibitions?  What about mitzvot which applied to Esau or Isaac, for example.  Did those mitzvot apply to all of their sons?  What about their slaves?  

The rabbis return to the topic of animals - prohibitions from eating their limbs while they are alive, of consuming their blood, of eating different birds or other creatures.  Are we permitted to eat birds?  When did we learn about this?  What about creeping animals - might they have been wonderful helpers for agricultural purposes?  

We are told a story about Adam, the first human.  Adam was fed roasted meat that descended from the sky with angels.  Could meat actually descend from the heavens?  Wasn't Adam a vegetarian?  

So many questions in today's daf with contradictory and unsatisfying answers.  The question of inherent difference between Israelite and Noahide, between us and them, is the focus of today's daf.  Considering ourselves "the chosen people" forces us to understand in what ways we are different.  Of course, this practice of defining distinctions is a major part of  Talmud text.  Today's thinking encourages a blurring of any lines rather than a narrowing of categories.  In both narratives, we are forced to consider the address the notion of difference head-on, regardless of how uncomfortable that process might be. 

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Sanhedrin 58: Forbidden Relationships for Gentiles

The rabbis attempt to understand how complicated kinship might be managed by our halachot on forbidden relationships.  For example, if a baby is born to a mother who converted to Judaism while pregnant and whose father is a Gentile, from whom is that baby forbidden?  Well, that depends - does the child share kinship with only his mother's family?  Who can he marry? Another example tells of a Gentile man who is married to both a mother and her daughter.  After they all convert to Judaism, from whom is he forbidden to have sexual relations?  The rabbis use this opportunity to answer questions with the obvious prohibitions against sexual relationships between men and sexual relationships with one's parents. 

The Gemara argues about whether or not a Gentile man can marry his aunt - his father's wife.  To understand this, the rabbis consider both Adam and Abraham.  Adam married his daughter, we are taught, so that Cain would then marry his sister.  This is considered to be proof of the world being built on kindness.  Abraham married Sarah who was his paternal half-sister.  This was used as proof that it was the maternal line of relatives who were forbidden.

Maidservants and slaves are considered as well. There are different rules that apply to each group of people based on their religious, family, and other markers of difference.  Atypical sexual activity, a phrase that suggests anal intercourse, is considered on its own.  While this is difficult to understand in our modern times, we can understand better the claim of ownership and obligation that accompanies vaginal intercourse and not any other sexual activity in the times of the Talmud.  

A number of rabbis speak about physical discipline or hitting in anger in other circumstances.  It is said that Rav Huna cut off the hand of a person who habitually hit others. 

At the very end of our daf, the rabbis allude to the dangers of laziness, which will result in a lack of materials - for example, if we do not work the land, we do not have bread.  Halachot which suggest that we take action represent the importance of taking action when we can.


Monday, 11 September 2017

Sanhedrin 57: Punishments for Jews and Non-Jews, Abortion

Today's daf contains potentially controversial and provocative material.  This blog entry shares only the most basic outline.  

The rabbis first walk through the possible prooftext for the origins of the Noahide laws. 

Gentiles are killed for participating in forbidden sexual relationships, for murder, and for blasphemy.  The rabbis argue about whether these three crimes are always punishable by death.  They also argue about whether these are the only three crimes punishable by death.  A large part of this conversation focuses on different acts of theft and how those acts might be punished if not with capital punishment.   

We learn that Gentiles can be sentenced to death by one judge, with only one witness, without an official warning about the punishment to come.  The judge or witness cannot be a woman, but he can be a relative.  This discussion includes distinguishing between the punishment for a Jew and a Gentile who abort a fetus. For a Gentile, that act is considered to be an act of murder and one who does this is liable to be punished with the death penalty.  For a Jew, a prooftext is offered which suggests that a Jewish life is not ended until after it has been born and seen to be liable.  Jews were not permitted to abort, but they were not punished with the death penalty.   The rabbis wonder whether or not a woman could ever be killed for her transgression, even this one.  There is much, much more to be said about this very small part of today's daf, but I must move forward.

A baraita teaches that Gentiles learn about their commandment to avoid forbidden sexual relationships.  The rabbis question whether his punishment should be the same as that of a Jew who transgresses these laws.  If a Gentile has intercourse with a married Jewish woman, he should be tried in a Jewish court.  If the woman is also a Gentile, a Jewish court is not required. The rabbis seem to settle on the punishment of choking, in all cases, for a Gentile who transgresses the Noahide laws.  There is a proof text which refers to one's blood staying in his body, which would only be achieved through that particular form of execution.

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Sanhedrin 56: Blasphemy and Liability, Noahide Laws

We begin with a new Mishna.  It teaches that one who blasphemes is only liable if s/he explicitly says the name of G-d.  If this is witnessed, then all are asked to leave the courtroom.  Only one witness, the person with the highest stature, must repeat what s/he he heard, at which point the judges tear their clothing and never repair it.  Any further witnesses may say, "I heard it like s/he heard it".  

The Gemara questions whether G-d's name must be said once or twice, whether one must have cursed G-d with G-d's name, or whether the name must be spoken or whether a carving of the name being destroyed might be enough.  The rabbis also determine through proof texts that blasphemy includes nokev, uttering.

Who is liable for blasphemy?  The rabbis walk through a number of different groups of people and their possible actions against G-d.  In this way they determine who is liable and the severity of their punishment.  Generally speaking, the punishment for blasphemy is death by sword.

A baraita teaches about what we call the Noahide Laws. These apply to all people descended of Noah, not only the Jews descended of Abraham.  Nochrim must observe 7 mitzvot: set up courts to enforce civil laws, laws against blasphemy, idolatry, arayot - forbidden relationships, murder, theft, and eating the limb of a living animal.  Perhaps they are also forbidden to eat the blood of a living animal, to castrate, or to practice witchcraft.  The rabbis disagree about whether or not they must avoid crossbreeding animals and mixing seed when planting.  Each of these is backed with proof texts.  

The Gemara asks about dinim, the halachot requiring the establishment of civil courts.  It is possible that these requirements were already in place.  The rabbis argue about whether these are laws in addition to the 7 Noahide laws or whether these laws were included in the Noahide laws.

Sanhedrin 55: Bestiality and its Punishments

Today's daf also makes for difficult reading.  The rabbis discuss who is liable for which crimes of a sexual nature.  Here are some of the main points:
  • women may be liable for bestiality that is vaginal or anal; man may be liable only for vaginal bestiality
  • a man who has intercourse with a boy over nine years
  • if a man does not have full intercourse with another man, the rabbis consider that to be liable as if it were full intercourse
  • if a man attempts to have anal intercourse with himself, is he liable?  
  • Rav Sheshet calls this disgusting and impossible; one cannot do such a thing with an erection, and the penis must be erect to call any interaction an act of intercourse
The rabbis wonder whether or not an animal should be killed if found to have participated in intercourse with a human.  One argument for killing such an animal is that people will remember the incident when they see the animal and think of the discretion.  If it is only that the animal took part in a transgression, however, the rabbis argue about whether or not it should be killed.

As part of their conversation, the rabbis consider other comparative cases, such as killing a tree used as an asheira, an idol, or an animal worshipped as an idol.  The rabbis argue that we care more about animals than we do about trees.  However, that does not necessarily mean that the animal should be killed because it has been worshipped as an idol.  Isn't bestiality much worse a transgression?  

The rabbis compare their argument to the consequences that accompany a three year old girl who transgresses halachot, obviously without her acting as a willing accomplice.  In some cases her status changes while the active transgressor is killed.  In other cases nothing changes for her though the active transgressor is killed.  If the animal is the active transgressor, then the animal is killed while she is not.

The Gemara then considers a comparison with a nine year-old boy who does yibum.  Though he is a minor and not subject to many halachot, he is forbidden from divorcing her until he becomes an adult.   The rabbis walk through the consequences to him and others if different halachot are transgressed.  If he participates in bestiality, he is left alive but the animal is either stoned to death or otherwise killed.  In both of these circumstances, the rabbis suggest that the Torah has mercy on minors but not upon animals. 

We end our daf with the rabbis continuing to argue about whether disgrace and being a 'stumbling block' are both necessary requirements for an animal to be killed.

Thursday, 7 September 2017

Sanhedrin 53: Betrothed/Married Adulterous Women; Who is Executed Via Stoning

The rabbis ask more specific questions about which execution accompanies which conviction.  There are a number of crimes that the rabbis address.  For example, regarding adulterous behaviour of a married woman versus a betrothed woman, the rabbis attempt to understand if they are punished differently and if so, who is punished in which way.  In this case, the Torah provides only brief indications of their punishments.  Not only do the rabbis claim that they are punished differently, they claim that the married woman is punished with greater leniency.  Their logic is present, but not flawless.

The Gemara stresses that the Torah provides us with four clear methods of execution: stoning, burning, strangulation and decapitation.  The Torah does not tell us explicitly which punishment is more severe than the other.  Thus the rabbis search for clues to tell them how to punish those not mentioned in the Torah - sub-crimes of other crimes, for example, like a betrothed woman and a married woman's adulterous behaviour.  

Our new Mishna tells us which transgressors are stoned to death:

  • one who engages in intercourse with his mother
  • one who engages in intercourse with his father's wife
  • one who engages in intercourse with his daughter-in-law
  • one who engages in intercourse with a male
  • one who engages in intercourse with an animal
  • one who blasphemes
  • one who engages in idol worship
  • one who gives his children to molech, an idol worshipped by passing children through fire
  • a necromancer or a sorcerer, who claim to communicate with the dead regarding the future
  • one who desecrates Shabbat
  • one who curses his father or his mother
  • on who engages in intercourse with a betrothed young woman
  • one who incites idol worship
  • one who subverts, who incites an entire city to idol worship
  • a warlock
  • a stubborn or rebellious son
There are further punishments given to one who unwittingly engages in intercourse with his mother who is also his father's wife: two sin-offerings.  One is for the prohibition against intercourse with one's mother and one is for the prohibition against intercourse with one's father's wife.  Rabbi Yehuda says that one is enough, for "his mother" refers to both.  

Further punishments are given to others as well.  One who unwittingly engages in intercourse with his father's wife while his father is married to hers liable cute to the former prohibition both during his father's lifetime and after his fathers' death whether the relationship between her and his father is one of betrothal or marriage.  As well, one gives two sin offerings after intercourse with his daughter-in-law.  The first is for transgressing the law against intercourse with one's daughter-in-law, and the other is for adultery with a married woman, both before or after the son's death.

The Gemara jumps into this Mishna by questioning whether the punishment should be lessened if one has intercourse with his mother when his parents were not suited to each other, ie. their union was not halachically permitted.  The rabbis argue that such a circumstance would have resulted in investigation and rectification or punishment many years earlier.  We begin to learn more about this question in an analogy to the yevam and yevama.  The yevama can release herself from her obligation to marry the yevam if they should not be married due to halacha.  

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Sanhedrin 52: Choking, Burning, Strangulation

Today's daf is particularly difficult to read.  It describes the critical steps of executions and the deaths of those sentenced to death.  Our daf presents these morbid description in a few distinct categories with a number of Mishnayot.

The rabbis note that each of these methods of execution are named mitzvot.  This is because they are commandments and thus good things to do.  Clearly the rabbis also have some discomfort with the descriptions of executions as positive things.  

A new Mishna teaches that for the mitzvah of burning, the person is placed in manure up to his knees so that he cannot easily escape.  A soft scarf covers a thicker scarf which are both placed around the person's neck.  Both ends are pulled until the person's mouth opens.  A wick is lit and thrown into the person's mouth which is meant to burn him/her from the inside.  Rabbi Yehuda suggests that tongs are used to force the person's mouth open to avoid accidental strangulation.  Rabbi Eliezer ben Rebbi Tzadok says that there was a case where a bat kohen was burned by being surrounded by bundles of twigs.  The Sages say that her beit din must have been uneducated.

The Gemara describes the wick as a long, thin apparatus made of molten lead based on a gezera shava.  The rabbis begin a discussion about burning the soul rather than the body.  

The rabbis speak of Nadav and Avid walking behind Moshe and Aharon.  When Nadav asked his brother, When will they die and let us lead the generation?  G-d answered, saying that we will see who dies first!  Rav Pappa teaches that this is similar to the notion that many old camels carry the skins of younger camels (who died because they were not trained to bear such a burden).  Chachamim are also see as golden or silver flasks when he learns secular issues.  When seeing the Sage benefit from him, the younger person is like a broken earthenware flask which is irreplaceable. 

The rabbis debate whether or not the several cases of women burned by bundles of twigs were actually fulfilling the mitzvah of execution by burning.  The rabbis discount any witness statements that were remembered from when the witness was a minor.

A new Mishna focuses on beheading.  It states that a person is beheaded from a standing position like in the kingdoms.  Rabbi Yehuda says that this is disgraceful and that instead we rest his head on a block and cut it with a chopping knife.  Perhaps this is the most disgraceful death, for a person is killed like a piece of meat, some suggest.  But the Torah recommends using a sword, so this execution should be done while standing.  The rabbis consider whether a person who killed a slave (and more so, a jew) should be treated with any leniency.  The rabbis speak of killing someone from the back of the neck.

A new Mishna teaches us about the mitzvah of choking:  s/he is inserted into manure up to his/her knees.  A strong scarf is covered with a soft scarf and both are placed around his/her neck.  The scars is pulled from either side until the person dies.

The Gemara begins by using words in the Mishna to exclude a minor, the wife of a minor. and a minor wife from this mitzvah.  To the end of today's daf, the rabbis discuss whether choking is truly the least severe method of execution.  

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Sanhedrin 51: Punishments Faced by the Bat Kohen Who Transgresses

The rabbis are focused on the multiple questions that arise regarding when a bat kohen, the daughter of a priest, is sentenced to death by burning.  The rabbis compare her punishment with the punishment of others involved in the crime with her.  They debate the reasoning behind her punishment when she is married to someone who is a levi, yisrael, nochri, chalal, mazer or nasin.

In a modern twist, the Gemara asks why she might be punished more severely than her father in certain circumstances. The rabbis quickly explain this in a number of different ways.  As in all Talmudic conversation, the rabbis are able to use different possible examples to explain why a rule might not make sense on first reading.

Rabbi Eliezer suggests that this woman is burned for having intercourse with her father and she is stoned for having intercourse with her father-in-law. But she must be an arusa who is living with her father.  It seems that a bat kohen is punished more severely than other women - and men - in the community.  

The rabbis go on to share many, many crimes and their possible punishments.  Toward the end of our daf, we are introduced to further questions about men and crimes for their punishments.  However, this conversation is short lived.  The rabbis are more concerned with whether men, particularly kohanim, are blemished or unblemished, which limits their obligations.  Quickly the conversation returns to the plight of priest's daughters who transgress halachot.

Monday, 4 September 2017

Sanhedrin 50: Determining the Severity of Execution Methods

Amud (a) centres on an argument about which of the four methods of execution: stoning, burning, strangling or decapitation, is the most severe.  To determine the order of severity, the rabbis compare what they know with what they infer.  For example, a woman who is married and has intercourse with another man is punished by burning.  A betrothed woman who has intercourse with another man is punished by stoning.  The rabbis wonder if this would be proof that stoning is more severe than burning.  But the daughter of a priest who has intercourse with another man is no exempted from this punishment.  Because stoning is the punishment used for idolaters, it is considered to be more serious than burning or strangling.

The rabbis continue to question which type of execution is the most severe based on other comparisons among transgressions and their punishments.  Further, the rabbis think about what might be a sin against G-d and the community and what might be a sin against one's parents.  

It is noted numerous times that the daughter who is betrothed and then has intercourse with another man is transgressing halchot against her husband's rights and her father's rights.  For all of the discussion about how to execute a woman who has done these things, it is unclear how often this was actually done.  When we read about the executions for stealing or assault, we learned that there were many opportunities to object to the execution.  Was this process similar when considering women specifically?

Sunday, 3 September 2017

Sanhedrin 49: Yoav, Righteousness and Soldiers, The Order(s) of Importance

A brief discussion of today's daf:

The rabbis seem to enjoy their debate regarding Yoav, Avner, King David, and others who killed and were killed.  They consider the intention behind each of the killings - were they done with intent to kill?  Were they simply carrying out orders?  Were those royal orders in accordance with Torah law?  How righteous were these people?  

Amud (b) considers the importance of seder, the order of rituals in the Torah and in practice.  A new Mishna teaches about the four types of public executions: burning, stoning, choking and beheading.  It also teaches that checking for menstrual blood left in a garment involves seven distinct steps which must be done in order.  The Gemara suggests that doing things in careful, sequential order is critical for most if not all rituals and even all directives in the Torah, including chalitza and the dressing of the Kohen Gadol.  Our daf ends with another conversation about which of the four types of election is the most and the least severe.

Sanhedrin 48: Honour, Burials, Curses

Are we able to benefit in any way from accessories, like a shroud, related to a dead person?  The rabbis consider a number of items including cloth, a monument, something hewed, a pouch, and a craftsman.  When are times forbidden by designation, and when by action?  For example, a cloth that was laid down upon by a person who is ritually impure - if that scant is designated as a Torah cover, is it affected by this new status simply by designation or by the action of wrapping the Torah?  All of this is discussed in the context of who might be buried in which places - further or closer from righteous people, mausoleums, etc.

There is a great deal of honour attached to one's burial place.  The rabbis note that a son can never be buried in a grave that was half-dug and then not used to bury his father.  Even a non-viable infant was not meant to be deriving benefit from that grave; however, the rabbis did decide that a non-viable newborn could be buried there.  

The rabbis discuss money that has been collected for the community's dead in contrast to that collected for on dead person.  These collections are to be kept separately, with any excess in the former to be given back into the pot and any excess in the latter to go to the heirs of the deceased.  

In an attempt to understand the distinctions between that which is designated that than which is not, the rabbis tell the story of parents who bring closing to throw onto the grave of their descaled son.  Should the clothes be saved after they have touched the bier?  If an item is insignificant and has not be designated for holy use, can its use be changed at a later date?

Our daf ends with two stories, one about King Ahab and Navot; the other is about King Solomon, King David and curses.  Ultimately we learn what the rabbis are emphasizing - eventually, those of us who curse will be cursed with something very similar to how what we have cursed.