Sanhedrin 56a-60a

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Sanhedrin 56a

MISHNA. The whole day [of the trial] the witnesses are examined by means of a substitute for the divine name, thus, 'may jose smite jose.'[1] when the trial was finished, the accused was not executed on this evidence, but all persons were removed [from court], and the chief witness was told, 'state literally what you heard. Thereupon he did so, [using the divine name]. The judges then arose and rent their garments, which rent was not to be resewn. The second witness stated; i too have heard thus' [but not uttering the divine name], and the third says: 'I too heard thus'.
GEMARA. It has been taught: [The blasphemer is not punished] unless he 'blesses' the Name, by the Name.[2] Whence do we know this? — Samuel said: The Writ sayeth, And he that blasphemeth [nokeb] the name of the Lord … when he blasphemeth the name of the Lord, shall be put to death.[3] How do you know that the word nokeb[4] [used in the Hebrew] means a 'blessing'? — From the verse, How shall I curse [Ekkob][5] whom God hath not cursed;[6] whilst the formal prohibition is contained in the verse, thou shalt not revile God.[7] But perhaps it means 'to pierce,'[8] as it is written, [So Jehoiada the priest took a chest,] and bored [wa-yikkob][9] a hole in the lid of it,[10] the formal injunction against this being the verses, Ye shall destroy the names of them [idols] out of that place. Ye shall not do so unto the Lord your God?[11] — The Name must be 'blessed' by the Name, which is absent here. But perhaps the text refers to the putting of two slips of parchment, each bearing the Divine Name, together, and piercing them both? — In that case one Name is pierced after the other.[12] But perhaps it prohibits the engraving of the Divine Name on the Point of a knife and piercing therewith [the Divine Name written on a slip of parchment]? — In that case, the point of the knife pierces, not the Divine Name. But perhaps it refers to the pronunciation of the ineffable Name, as it is written, And Moses and Aaron took these men which are expressed [nikkebu][13] by their names;[14] the formal prohibition being contained in the verse, Thou shalt fear the Lord thy God?[15] — Firstly, the Name must be 'blessed' by the Name, which is absent here; and secondly, it is a prohibition in the form of a positive command, which is not deemed to be a prohibition at all.[16] An alternative answer is this: The Writ saith, [And the Israelitish woman's son] blasphemed wa-yikkob[17] [and cursed],[18] proving that blasphemy [nokeb] denotes cursing. But perhaps it teaches that both offences must be perpetrated?[19] You cannot think so, because it is written, Bring forth him that hath cursed,[20] and not 'him that hath blasphemed and cursed', proving that one offence only is alluded to.
Our Rabbis taught: [Any man that curseth his God, shall bear his sin.[21] It would have been sufficient to say], 'A man, etc:' What is taught by the expression any man?[22] The inclusion of heathens, to whom blasphemy is prohibited just as to Israelites, and they are executed by decapitation; for every death penalty decreed for the sons of Noah is only by decapitation.[23]
Now, is [the prohibition of blasphemy to heathens] deduced from this verse? But it is deduced from another, viz., The Lord, referring to the 'blessing' of the Divine Name.24 — R. Isaac the smith25 replied; This phrase ['any man'] is necessary only as teaching the inclusion of substitutes of God's name,26 and the Baraitha is taught in accordance with R. Meir's views For it has been taught: Any man that curseth his God shall bear his sin.27 Why is this written? Has it not already been stated, And he that blasphemeth the name of the Lord, he shall surely be put to death?28 Because it is stated, And he that blasphemeth the name of the Lord shall surely be put to death, I might think that death is meted out only when the ineffable Name is employed. Whence do I know that all substitutes [of the ineffable Name] are included [in this law]? From the verse, Any man that curseth his God — shewing culpability for any manner of blasphemy [even without uttering the Name, since the Name is not mentioned in this sentence]: this is the view of R. Meir. But the Sages maintain: [Blasphemy] with use of the ineffable Name, is punishable by death: with the employment of substitutes, it is the object of an injunction. [but not punishable by death].
This view [of R. Isaac the smith] conflicts with that of R. Miyasha; for R. Miyasha said: If a heathen [son of Noah] blasphemed, employing substitutes of the ineffable Name, he is in the opinion of the Sages punishable by death. Why so? — Because it is written, as well the stranger, as he that is born in the land [when he blasphemeth the name of the Lord, shall be put to death].29 This teaches that only the stranger [i.e.. a proselyte], and the native [i.e., a natural born Israelite] must utter the ineffable Name; but the heathen is punishable even for a substitute only. But how does R. Meir interpret the verse, 'as well the stranger, as he that is born in the land'? — It teaches that the stranger and citizen are stoned, but a heathen is decapitated. For I would think, since they are included [in the prohibition], they are included [in the manner of execution too]: hence we are taught otherwise. Now how does R. Isaac the smith interpret the verse, 'as well the stranger, as he that is born in the land', on the view of the Rabbis?30 — It teaches that only a stranger and a native must revile the Name by the Name, but for a heathen this is unnecessary. Why does the Torah state any man?31 — The Torah employed normal human speech.32

See Also

Sanhedrin 60a

R. JOSHUA B. KARHA SAID etc. R. Aha b. Jacob said: He is not guilty unless he cursed the Tetragrammaton, excluding a biliteral Name,[24] the blaspheming of which is not punishable. Is this not obvious, the Mishnah stating, May Jose smite Jose?[25] — I might think that the name is used as a mere illustration;[26] he therefore teaches otherwise.
א"ר יהושע בן קרחה כו': אמר רב אחא בר יעקב אינו חייב עד שיברך שם בן ארבע אותיות לאפוקי בן שתי אותיות דלא פשיטא יכה יוסי את יוסי תנן מהו דתימא מילתא בעלמא הוא דנקט קמ"ל איכא דאמרי
Others give this version: — R. Aha b. Jacob said: This proves that the Tetragrammaton is also a Divine Name.[27] But is it not obvious, since the Mishnah states: JOSE SMITE JOSE [using a four-lettered name]? — I might think that the great[28] Name must be employed, whilst Jose is merely an illustration [of the mode of testifying]; therefore he teaches otherwise.
אמר רב אחא בר יעקב ש"מ שם בן ארבע אותיות נמי שם הוא פשיטא יכה יוסי את יוסי תנן מהו דתימא עד דאיכא שם רבה ומילתא בעלמא הוא דנקט קמ"ל:
WHEN THE TRIAL WAS FINISHED, etc. Whence do we know that they arose? — R. Isaac b. Ami said, because the Writ saith — And Ehud came unto him: and he was sitting in a summer parlour, which he had for himself alone. And Ehud said, I have a message from God unto thee. And he arose out of his seat.[29] Now, does this not afford an ad majus conclusion: If Eglon king of Moab, who was only a heathen and knew but an attribute of God's name, nevertheless arose, how much more so must an Israelite arise when he hears the Shem Hameforash.[30]
נגמר הדין כו': עומדין מנלן א"ר יצחק בר אמי דאמר קרא (שופטים ג) ואהוד בא אליו והוא יושב בעליית המקרה אשר לו לבדו ויאמר אהוד דבר אלהים לי אליך ויקם מעל הכסא והלא דברים קל וחומר ומה עגלון מלך מואב שהוא נכרי ולא ידע אלא בכינוי עמד ישראל ושם המפורש על אחת כמה וכמה
Whence do we know that they rent their garments? — From the verse, Then came Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, which was over the household, and Shebna the scribe, and Joah the son of Asaph the recorder, to Hezekiah with their clothes rent, and told him the words of Rab-Shakeh.[31]
קורעין מנלן דכתיב (מלכים ב יח) ויבא אליקים בן חלקיהו [וגו'] ושבנא הסופר ויואח בן אסף המזכיר אל חזקיהו קרועי בגדים ויגידו לו את דברי רבשקה:
WHICH RENT WAS NOT TO BE RESEWN. Whence do we derive this? — R. Abbahu said: A gezerah shawah is deduced from the word 'rent'.[32] This verse states, with their clothes rent; whilst elsewhere is written, And Elisha saw it [sc. Elijah's ascension] and he cried, My father, my father, the chariot of Israel and the horsemen thereof. And he saw him no more; and he took hold of his own clothes and rent them in two rents.[33] Now, do we not understand from, 'and he rent them in two' that the cognate object is 'rents'; why then does the Writ expressly state 'rents'? — To teach that they were always to remain thus.[34]
לא מאחין: מנלן א"ר אבהו אתיא קריעה קריעה כתיב הכא קרועי בגדים וכתיב התם (מלכים ב ב) ואלישע רואה והוא מצעק אבי אבי רכב ישראל ופרשיו ולא ראהו עוד ויחזק בבגדיו ויקרעם לשנים קרעים ממשמע שנאמר ויקרעם לשנים איני יודע שהן קרעים ומה
Our Rabbis taught: He who hears [the Name blasphemed], and he who hears it from the person who first heard it [i.e., from the witness who testifies], are both bound to rend their garments. But the witnesses are not obliged to rend their clothes [when they hear themselves repeating the blasphemy in the course of their testimony], because they had already done so on first hearing it. But what does this matter: do they not hear it now too?[35] — You cannot think so, because it is written, And it came to pass, when king Hezekiah heard it [sc. the report of Rab-Shakeh's blasphemy] that he rent his clothes. Thus, Hezekiah rent his clothes, but they did not.
Rab Judah said in Samuel's name: He who hears the Divine Name blasphemed by a gentile need not rend his clothes. But if you will object, what of Rab-Shakeh?[36] — He was an apostate Israelite.
ת"ל קרעים מלמד שהן קרועים לעולם ת"ר אחד השומע ואחד שומע מפי שומע חייב לקרוע והעדים אין חייבין לקרוע שכבר קרעו בשעה ששמעו וכי קרעו בשעה ששמעו מאי הוי הא קא שמעי השתא לא ס"ד דכתיב (מלכים ב יט) ויהי כשמוע המלך חזקיהו <את דברי רבשקה> ויקרע את בגדיו המלך חזקיהו קרע והם לא קרעו
Rab Judah also said in Samuel's name: One must rend his clothes only on hearing the Shem hameyuhad[37] blasphemed, but not for an attribute of the Divine Name. Now both of these statements conflict with R. Hiyya's views. For R. Hiyya said: He who hears the Divine Name blasphemed nowadays need not rend his garments, for otherwise one's garments would be reduced to tatters.[38] From whom does he hear it? If from an Israelite — are they so unbridled [as to sin thus so frequently]? But it is obvious that he refers to a gentile. Now, if the Shem hameyuhad is meant, are the gentiles so well acquainted with it [as to make such frequency possible]? Hence it must refer to an attribute, and concerning that he says that only nowadays is one exempt, but formerly one had to rend his clothes. This proof is conclusive.
אמר רב יהודה אמר שמואל השומע אזכרה מפי <העובד כוכבים> {הגוי} אינו חייב לקרוע וא"ת רבשקה ישראל מומר היה ואמר רב יהודה אמר שמואל אין קורעין אלא על שם המיוחד בלבד לאפוקי כינוי דלא ופליגי דרבי חייא בתרוייהו דאמר רבי חייא השומע אזכרה בזמן הזה אינו חייב לקרוע שאם אי אתה אומר כן נתמלא כל הבגד קרעים ממאן אילימא מישראל מי פקירי כולי האי אלא פשיטא <מעובד כוכבים> {מגוי} ואי שם המיוחד מי גמירי אלא לאו בכינוי ושמע מינה בזמן הזה הוא דלא הא מעיקרא חייב שמע מינה:
THE SECOND WITNESS STATED, I TOO HAVE HEARD THUS. Resh Lakish said: This proves that 'I too have heard thus' is valid evidence in civil and capital cases,[39] but that the Rabbis imposed a greater degree of stringency [insisting that each witness should explicitly testify]. Here, however, since this is impossible [on account of the desire to avoid unnecessary blasphemy], they reverted to Biblical law. For should you maintain that such testimony is [Biblically] invalid, can we execute a person when it is impossible for the evidence to be validly given?[40]
השני אומר אף אני כמוהו: אמר ר"ל שמע מינה אף אני כמוהו כשר בדיני ממונות ובדיני נפשות ומעלה הוא דעביד רבנן והכא כיון דלא אפשר אוקמוה רבנן אדאורייתא דאי ס"ד פסול הכא משום דלא אפשר קטלינן לגברא:
AND THE THIRD DID LIKEWISE. This anonymous statement agrees with R. Akiba, who likens three witnesses to two.[41]
והשלישי אומר אף אני כמוהו: סתמא כר"ע דמקיש ג' לשנים:


  1. The witnesses, in giving testimony, do not state that they heard the accused say, 'May He slay himself', uttering the actual divine name, but use the word 'Jose' as a substitute for the divine name. 'Jose' is chosen as a substitute, because it contains four letters, like the actual Tetragrammaton, which must have been used by the blasphemer for him to be punished. Moreover, the numerical value of 'Jose' is the same as of Elohim [81]. According to Levy, s.v. [H], the first Jose [H] stands for Jesus ([H], son), and the second is an abbreviation of [H], Joseph, the Father, by which, however, God was to be understood. The witnesses were accordingly asked whether the accused in his blasphemy had set Jesus above God. (R. Joshua b. Karha, the author of this saying, lived at a time when Judeo-Christians ascribed more power to Jesus than to God.)
  2. As in the Mishnah, 'Jose strike Jose'. 'Bless' is here a euphemism for curse, and is so in the whole of the ensuing discussion.
  3. Lev. XXIV, 16. The repetition shows that the Divine Name must be cursed by the Divine Name.
  4. [H]
  5. [H]
  6. Num. XXIII, 8.
  7. Ex. XXII, 27.
  8. I.e., it is a capital offence to pierce the Divine Name, written on a slip of parchment, and thus destroy it.
  9. [H]
  10. II Kings XII, 10.
  11. Deut. XII, 3f. The interpretation is based on the juxtaposition of the two verses; v. Mak. 22a.
  12. The knife passes successively from one slip to the other, but one Name does not pierce the other.
  13. [H]
  14. Num. 1, 17.
  15. Deut. VI, 13, which is interpreted as a prohibition against the unnecessary utterance of His Name.
  16. The statement, Thou shalt fear the Lord thy God, though implying abstention from something, is nevertheless given as a positive command, but punishment is imposed for the violation only of a direct negative precept.
  17. [H]
  18. Lev. XXIV, 11.
  19. I.e., only he who both blasphemes, that is, utters the ineffable Name, and curses it, is executed.
  20. Ibid. XXIV, 14.
  21. Ibid. XXIV, 15.
  22. Lit., 'A man, a man', Heb. ish ish, [H].
  23. The only place where death is explicitly decreed for non-Israelites is in Gen. IX, 6: Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed. It is a general law, applicable to all, having been given in the pre-Abrahamic era; his blood shall be shed must refer to the sword, the only death whereby blood is shed.
  24. EL or YH.
  25. Thus, as a substitute a four lettered name is used, shewing that the Tetragrammaton must have been employed.
  26. Of how the witnesses gave their testimony. But the choice of a four lettered name — Jose — might be quite fortuitous.
  27. In addition to the Tetragrammaton, there were twelve-lettered, forty-two-lettered, and seventy-two-lettered Names. (Kid. 71a; Lev. Rab. XXIII; Gen. Rab. XLIV) R. Aha b. Jacob states that since 'Jose' is used as a substitute, it proves that even if the longer Names are not employed, but merely the Tetragrammaton, the guilt of blasphemy is incurred.
  28. I.e., of forty-two letters.
  29. Judg. III, 20.
  30. Lit., 'the distinguished Name', synonymous with the Shem hameyuhad, the unique Name. Both words designate something which is distinguished from other objects of its kind. (V. J. E., XI, 262) The term also means 'preeminent'. From Rashi here and in 'Er. 18b it appears that he does not regard the Shem hameforash as the Tetragrammaton. But Maimonides (Yad, Yesode Hatorah, VI, 2; Tefilah, XIV, 10) declares that they are identical. In general it was regarded as sinful to utter this Name (Sanh. 90a; 'A.Z. 17b; Kid. 71a), nor was it widely known, being an object of esoteric knowledge (Kid. Ibid; Yer. Yoma 40), though there were exceptions
  31. 19. II Kings XVIII, 37. Their clothes were rent on account of Rab-Shakeh's blaspheming of God. Cf. Ibid. XIX, 4.
  32. Ibid. II, 11.
  33. Ibid. 12.
  34. I.e., never to be resewn; and by analogy, the same interpretation is placed upon II Kings XVIII, 37.
  35. Hence they should be obliged to rend their clothes again.
  36. Who was a gentile, and yet his hearers rent their clothes: in fact, that incident is the basis of the law.
  37. V. p. 408, n. 1.
  38. Blasphemy being of such frequent occurrence.
  39. I.e., in these cases, when the first witness has testified, it is sufficient, by Biblical law, for the second to say, 'I too heard (or saw) thus', without explicitly stating what he had heard or seen.
  40. If the testimony must be given in particular form, but cannot, it is obvious that the malefactor should not be executed.
  41. This is in reference to Deut. XIX, 15: at the mouth of two witnesses, or at the mouth of three witnesses shall the matter be established. The difficulty arises, if two witnesses are sufficient, surely three are: then why state it? R. Akiba answers, To teach that just as in the case of two, if one is proved invalid, the whole testimony loses its validity (since only one witness is left), so also, even if there are three or more, and one was proved invalid, the testimony of all is valueless, though there are still two or more valid witnesses left. Now, when the Mishnah states that the third also must testify 'I too heard thus', it is in conformity with R. Akiba's ruling, so that should he be contradicted as having been absent, the entire testimony is null. Otherwise, it would be unnecessary for the third witness to be examined at all.