Masechet Sanhedrin 70a-76b

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22 Apr 2010

The Coming Week’s Daf Yomi by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim (original ideas) of Talmudic scholar Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, as published in the Hebrew version of the Steinsaltz Edition of the Talmud.

Sanhedrin 70a-b

When discussing the ben sorer u’moreh – a stubborn and rebellious son who is “a glutton and a drunkard” (see Devarim 21:18-21) – the Mishnah on today’s daf teaches that he must have eaten a measure of meat and drunk a log, or, perhaps, half a log of wine. This statement leads to a lengthy discussion in the Gemara of the ramifications in Jewish law of drinking, opening with Rav Chanan’s teaching that wine was created for the purpose of consoling those who are in mourning and to offer a reward in this world to evildoers.

A more extensive discussion of these matters appears in Masechet Eruvin (65a) where we find distinctions made between drinking moderately and reaching “the drunkenness of Lot” (see Bereshit 19:30-36). According to Rabbi Hanina, someone who reaches that level of inebriation will not be held responsible for his actions, as he is not merely impaired in his decision-making capabilities, rather he is unable to function as a thinking person. Someone who has not reached that level is still held responsible for his actions, although the halacha will free him from his obligation in prayer – which demands a high level of concentration and reverence.

Throughout the Talmud, the Gemara points to drinking wine as an activity that can lead to damage, sin, etc. The Ein Yaakov, written by Rav Yaakov ibn Habib, explains that this brings to the fore a basic question: If it is so dangerous, why was wine created? This quandary helps explain the closing discussion of the Gemara, which sings the praises of drinking wine responsibly. Included are a number of such statements — some of them based on biblical passages:

Rabbi Chanina — Whoever becomes more open and comfortable with others after having a drink of wine, is walking in God’s footsteps

Rabbi Chiya — anyone who drinks, but does not get drunk, has the wisdom of seventy sages.

Rabbi Chanina bar Papa — You are not blessed unless wine flows in your house like water.

The Gemara concludes with Rabbi Ilai’s maxim:

A man’s character can be recognized by his behavior regarding three things –

  1. B’koso – his drinking, does he drink responsibly?
  2. B’kiso – his spending, when he has money, does he apportion it correctly?
  3. B’ka’aso – his anger, can he control himself, even when angry?

(note the alliteration in Hebrew “b’koso, b’kiso u’b’ka’aso”).

Sanhedrin 71a-b

It should be noted that the ben sorer u’moreh – the stubborn and rebellious son who is “a glutton and a drunkard” (see Devarim 21:18-21) – has not committed any capital crimes. According to the Mishnah on today’s daf the death sentence that he receives is al shem sofo, yamut zakkai ve-al yamut hayyav – he is killed because of where he will end up if he is allowed to continue in his present path. The Torah’s perspective is that he should die while still innocent rather than die when he is already guilty.

This logic appears to negate what we know from all of the sources – that a person is judged based on his current behavior. Even if God knows what he will eventually do, we can judge him only by what he has actually done. In his Chaim Shnayim Yeshalem Rabbi Chaim Vital explains that we are not talking about a righteous individual whose behaviors are questionable, but a person who is actively sinning and deserves to be punished. The Torah prefers that he die without having performed the severe transgressions that his activities promise will come in due time.

Furthermore, we must recognize that the behavior exhibited by the ben sorer u’moreh points to a future of anti-social behavior so severe that it will threaten society. The Torah requires that such behavior be prevented, and sekilah for a ben sorer u’moreh is essentially “preventative medicine” for society and for himself.

This understanding of the underlying reasons for the laws of ben sorer u’moreh notwithstanding, according to the traditions of the Sages, the rules and regulations associated with ben sorer u’moreh are to be understood in such a limited manner that they cannot be practically applied, or will apply only in very unusual circumstances. In fact it appears likely that the laws of ben sorer u’moreh were never carried out.

Sanhedrin 72a-b

Judaism does not subscribe to the idea that one should “turn the other cheek” when attacked. In fact, one important rule taught by the Talmud is ha-ba le-horgecha, hashkem le-horgo – if someone comes planning to kill you, you should hurry to kill him first.

This rule is applied by our Gemara to the case of a ba ba-machteret – someone who comes at night to rob someone. According to the Mishnah, he can be killed al shem sofo – because of what will happen in the end. Rava explains this to mean that people do not willingly allow others to take their money, so the robber knows that the person he is robbing will defend his property. We assume, therefore, that the robber will be prepared to kill him. Recognizing this, Rava teaches that the Torah instructs ha-ba le-horgekha, hashkem le-horgo.

While Rava presents this rule as being well established in the Torah, he does not offer a source, and it is not clear where, in fact, does the Torah teach this rule?

The Midrash Tanchuma says that we learn this rule from the commandment (Bamidbar 25:17-18) given to Moshe telling the Jewish People to harass and smite the Midianites; the explanation given for this is that they harass and plan against you. Thus we see that their plans make them liable to be fought and defeated.

The Ramah raises the issue that this case is not a normal case of rodef – someone who is chasing after another person to kill him, who can be killed by anyone – since the robber is not directly threatening the owner of the property; it is only his response to the owner of the property who is defending himself that creates the threat. The Ramah explains that we nonetheless view the robber as a rodef since he knows that his actions will instigate the threat against his own life. We therefore view him as being the one who is threatening.

Sanhedrin 73a-b

On yesterday’s daf we mentioned the concept of a rodef – someone who is chasing after another person to kill him, who can be killed by anyone. The Mishnah on today’s daf teaches the law of a rodef, and in explaining the law that allows a rodef to be killed uses the terminology matzilin otan be-nafshun – “these people are saved by their lives.”

This enigmatic description can be understood in a number of different ways. According to Rashi, the Mishnah is explaining that given the severity of the crime about to be committed, we save the perpetrator from sinning by killing him. The Aruch and Rabbeinu Yehonatan suggest that it means that we save the life of the person who would have been murdered by killing the perpetrator. The Ran points out that both of these explanations are difficult linguistically and that perhaps we must accept both of them, depending on the circumstances.

What is the source for this ruling?

The Gemara argues that most obvious source – lo ta’amod al dam re’echah – neither shall you stand idly by the blood of your neighbor (see Vayikra 19:16) – cannot be used to teach this law, since it is needed to teach the simpler rule that a person cannot ignore his neighbor’s needs if he is drowning, for example. Rather the source is a passage that connects the laws of murder with the laws of a woman who is raped in a field (see Devarim 22:26-27) where the Torah frees her of any culpability, since there was no one around to come to her defense. In the study hall of Rabbi Yishmael this was understood to imply that if anyone could have helped her they would have been required to do so — in any way that they could.

Sanhedrin 74a-b

According to Rabbi Yochanan quoting Rabbi Shimon ben Yehotzadak there are only three mitzvot that are so severe that a person should give up his life rather than perform the forbidden acts. Those mitzvot are:

  1. avodah zara (idol worship)
  2. Gilui arayot (forbidden sexual activities)
  3. Shefichut damim (murder)

The Gemara presents Biblical passages as the source for this rule regarding Avodah Zara and Gilui Arayot. When it comes to Shefichut Damim the Gemara argues that no proof-text is necessary, as it is a sevara – a logical argument – that murder cannot be permitted to save a life. To illustrate the sevara, the Gemara tells of a person who approached Rava with the following question:

“The ruler of my village came to me and said ‘kill that person, and if you do not then I will kill you.’ Can I follow his order so that I will be able to save myself?”

Rava responded:

“Allow yourself to be killed, but you may not kill another. Who says that your blood is redder than his? Perhaps his blood is redder than yours.”

On a simple level, Rava’s argument is that we cannot tell whose life is more valuable, so we will not allow you to save your life at the expense of another.

Rabbeinu Yehonatan explains Rava’s answer by arguing that really the laws of the Torah are so important that we would not allow them to be “pushed aside” even at the expense of human life. The reason the halakhah permits someone to transgress a serious prohibition – like Shabbat – in order to save a life is because we weigh that single chillul Shabbat (desecration of Shabbat) against the potential Shabbatot that the person will observe in the course of his lifetime. In our case the argument is that we cannot possibly know “whose blood is redder” i.e. who will live longer and perform more mitzvot.

Sanhedrin 75a-b

On yesterday’s daf we learned that there are only three mitzvot that are so severe that a person should give up his life rather than perform the forbidden acts: Avodah zara (idol worship), gilui arayot (forbidden sexual activities) and shefichut damim (murder). As a continuation of the discussion regarding gilui arayot the Gemara relates the following story.

Rav Yehuda quoted Rav as telling of a man who fell in love with a certain woman and became love-sick in his desire for her. After consulting physicians he was told that he would only be cured if he engaged in sexual relations with her.

The Sages forbade relations, even if it meant that he would die.

The suggestion was raised that she appear before him naked.

The Sages forbade that, as well.

Yet another suggestion was raised, that he converse with her privately.

The Sages forbade that, as well.

Two opinions are offered in the Gemara as to whether the woman was married or not. The Gemara asked why, if she were unmarried, were the Sages so concerned about the relationship. Rav Papa suggested that the concern was for the family’s honor; according to Rav Aha brei d’Rav Ika the concern was that Jewish girls would be seen as promiscuous. Furthermore, the Gemara argues that even marrying her would not have satisfied his desires, based on Rabbi Yitzhak’s teaching that the passage in Mishlei (9:17) mayim genuvim yimtaku – stolen waters are sweet. According to the Talmud Yerushalmi, the woman did not want to marry him because of her social status.

In ancient medical texts — like that of Galen — we find references to “love sickness.” It was physicians whose knowledge was based on these works who made the suggestions that were rejected by the Sages in this story.

Sanhedrin 76a-b

While Jewish law encourages sexual relations only within the framework of marriage, is there any real prohibition against unmarried, consenting adults engaging in relations?

The Gemara on today’s daf points to the passage in Sefer Vayikra (19:29) that teaches that a man should not give his daughter to harlotry and suggests that it refers to someone who gave his daughter for sexual relations outside the framework of marriage. How to understand this teaching is the subject of a disagreement between the rishonim. According to the Rambam (Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot Na’arah Betulah 2:17) any act of sexual relations outside of marriage is forbidden; others limit the prohibition only to cases where there is a specific forbidden sexual relationship that exists, but consensual sex between two people who are permitted to one-another would not be forbidden – although even so, it would be prohibited to make oneself available to anyone for casual sex.

Other approaches to this pasuk are suggested in a baraita brought by the Gemara. Rabbi Eliezer applies it to a case where a father arranges for his daughter to marry an old man; Rabbi Akiva applies it to a case where a father leaves his daughter unmarried even when she has become a bogeret (an adult who is old enough to marry).

The Sefer HaChasidim points out that the problem with arranging a marriage for a girl with an old man would apply only if it were done without her consent. If she agrees, however, there is no reason to refrain from such a marriage. Others suggest that the only problem would be if the old man could no longer engage in marital relations. According to the Iyun Yaakov, the problem in Rabbi Akiva’s case would only be if the father has already accepted kesef kiddushin – a full agreement of marriage – on his daughter’s behalf, but he is not allowing her to complete the marriage.

In addition to his monumental translation and commentary on the Talmud, Rabbi Steinsaltz has authored dozens of books and hundreds of articles on a variety of topics, both Jewish and secular. For more information about Rabbi Steinsaltz’s groundbreaking work in Jewish education, visit or contact the Aleph Society at 212-840-1166.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.