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Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Shabbath

Folio 55a

how did the elders sin? But say, [He will bring punishment] upon the elders because they do not forbid the princes.

Rab Judah was sitting before Samuel. [when] a woman came and cried before him,1  but he ignored her. Said he to him, Does not the Master agree [that] 'whoso stoppeth his ears at the cry of the poor, he also shall cry, but shall not be heard'?2  'O keen scholar!'3  he replied. 'Your superior [will be punished] with cold [water]. but your superior's superior [will be punished] with hot.4  Surely Mar 'Ukba, the Ab-Beth din5  is sitting!' For it is written, O house of David, thus saith the Lord. Execute judgement in the morning, and deliver the spoiled out of the hand of the oppressor, lest my fury go forth like fire, and burn that none can quench it, because of the evil of your doing, etc.6

R. Zera said to R. Simeon, Let the Master rebuke the members of the Resh Galutha's suite. They will not accept it from me, was his reply. Though they will not accept its returned he, yet you should rebuke them. For R. Aha b. R. Hanina said: Never did a favourable word7  go forth from the mouth of the Holy One, blessed be He, of which He retracted for evil, save the following, where it is written, And the Lord said unto him, Go through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and set a mark [taw] upon the foreheads of the men that sigh and that cry for all the abominations that be done in the midst thereof, etc.8  The Holy One, blessed be He, said to Gabriel,9  Go and set a taw10  of ink upon the foreheads of the righteous, that the destroying angels may have no power over them; and a taw of blood upon the foreheads of the wicked, that the destroying angels may have power over them. Said the Attribute of Justice11  before the Holy One, blessed be He, 'Sovereign of the Universe! Wherein are these different from those?' 'Those are completely righteous men, while these are completely wicked,' replied He. 'Sovereign of the Universe!' it continued, 'they had the power to protest but did not.' 'It was fully known12  to them that had they protested they would not have heeded them.'13  'Sovereign of the Universe!' said he, 'If it was revealed to Thee, was it revealed to them?' Hence it is written, [Slay utterly] the old man, the young and the maiden, and little children and women; but come not near any man upon whom is the mark; and begin at my Sanctuary [mikdashi]. Then they began at the elders which were before the house.14  R. Joseph recited: Read not mikdashi but mekuddashay [my sanctified ones]: this refers to the people who fulfilled the Torah from alef to taw.15  And straightway, And behold, six men came from the way of the upper gate, which lieth toward the north, every man with his slaughter weapon in his hand; and one man in the midst of them clothed in linen, with a writer's inkhorn by his side. And they went in, and stood beside the brazen altar.16  Was then the brazen altar [still] in existence?17  — The Holy One, blessed be He, spake thus to them; Commence [destruction] from the place where song is uttered before Me.18  And who were the six men? — Said R. Hisda: Indignation [Kezef], Anger [Af], Wrath [Hemah], Destroyer [Mashhith] Breaker [Meshabber] and Annihilator [Mekaleh]. And why taw? — Said Rab: Taw [stands for] tihyeh [thou shalt live], taw [stands for] tamuth [thou shalt die]. Samuel said: The taw denotes, the merit of the Patriarchs is exhausted [tamah].19  R. Johanan said: The merit of the Patriarchs will confer grace [tahon].20  While Resh Lakish said: Taw is the end of the seal of the Holy One, blessed be He. For R. Hanina said: The seal of the Holy One, blessed be He, is emeth [truth]. R. Samuel b. Nahmani said: It denotes the people who fulfilled the Torah from alef to taw.21

And since when has the merit of the Patriarchs been exhausted? — Rab said, Since the days of Hosea the son of Beeri, for it is written, [And now] will I discover her lewdness in the sight of her lovers, and none shall deliver her out of mine hand.22  Samuel said. Since the days of Hazael, for it is said, And Hazael king of Syria oppressed Israel all the days of Jehoahaz;23  and it is written, But the Lord was gracious unto them, and had compassion upon them, and had respect unto them, because of the covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and would not destroy them, neither cast he them from his presence until now.24  R. Joshua b. Levi said: Since the days of Elijah, for it is said, And it came to pass at the time of the offering of the evening oblation, that Elijah the prophet came near, and said, O Lord, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Israel, let it be known this day that thou art God in Israel, and that I am thy servant, and that I have done all these things at thy word.25  R. Johanan said: Since the days of Hezekiah, for it is said, Of the increase of his government and of peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to establish it, and to uphold it with judgement and with righteousness for henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts shall perform this.26

R. Ammi said: There is no death without sin,27  and there is no suffering without iniquity. There is no death without sin, for it is written, The soul that sinneth, it shall die: the son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son, the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him, etc.,28  There is no suffering without iniquity, for it is written, Then will I visit their transgression with the rod, and their iniquity with stripes.29

To Part b

Original footnotes renumbered.
  1. About a wrong done to her.
  2. Prov. XXI, 13.
  3. Or, man of long teeth.
  4. I.e., I, your superior, will go unscathed, because there is a higher court than mine, viz., Mar 'Ukba's. which should really take the matter up.
  5. The father, i.e., the head of the Beth din.
  6. Jer. XXI, 12. From this Samuel deduced that only the head, with whom lay the real power, would be punished.
  7. Lit., 'a good attribute'.
  8. Ezek. IX, 4.
  9. Gabriel, 'man of God', is mentioned in the Book of Daniel VIII, 16-26; IX, 21-27. He was regarded as God's messenger, who executes His will on earth.
  10. The last letter of the Hebrew alphabet.
  11. Justice was often hypostasized as an independent being.
  12. Lit., 'it was revealed and known'.
  13. Lit., 'accepted (it) from them'.
  14. Ezek. IX, 6.
  15. The first and the last letters of the alphabet — as we say from Alpha to Omega'. Nevertheless they were included, because they had failed to protest. Thus the Almighty retracted from His original intention, the change being for evil.
  16. Ibid. 2.
  17. According to tradition Solomon hid it and substituted an earthen altar for it; v. I Kings VIII, 64 and Zeb. 59b.
  18. I.e., start with the Levites, who utter song to the accompaniment of musical instruments of brass.
  19. The merit of the Patriarchs, which acted as a shield for the wicked, is at an end.
  20. Samuel explains the taw on the wicked; R. Johanan that on the righteous.
  21. V. n. 2.
  22. Hos. II, 12; 'and none', i.e., their merit
  23. II Kings XIII, 22.
  24. Ibid. 23. 'Until now' implies, but no longer.
  25. I Kings XVIII, 36. Here too this day implies a limitation.
  26. Isa. IX, 6. 'The zeal, etc.' implies, but not the merit of the Patriarchs, this being exhausted by now.
  27. One's sins cause his death.
  28. Ezek. XVIII, 20.
  29. Ps. LXXXIX, 33.
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Shabbath 55b

An objection is raised: The ministering angels asked the Holy One, blessed be He: 'Sovereign of the Universe! Why didst Thou impose the penalty of death upon Adam?' Said He to them, I gave him an easy command, yet he violated it.' 'But Moses and Aaron fulfilled the whole Torah,' they pursued — 'yet they died'. 'There is one event to the righteous and to the wicked; to the good, etc.,1  He replied.2  — He maintains as the following Tanna. For it was taught: R. Simeon b. Eleazar said: Moses and Aaron too died through their sin, for it is said, Because ye believed not in me[...therefore ye shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them]:3  hence, had ye believed in Me, your time had not yet come to depart from the world.4

An objection is raised: Four died through the serpent's machinations,5  viz., Benjamin the son of Jacob, Amram the father of Moses, Jesse the father of David, and Caleb the son of David. Now, all are known by tradition, save Jesse the father of David, in whose case the Writ gives an explicit intimation. For it is written, And Absalom set Amasa over the host instead of Joab. Now Amasa was the son of a man whose name was Ithra the Israelite, that went in to Abigail the daughter of Nahash, sister to Zeruiah Joab's mother.6  Now, was she the daughter of Nahash? Surely she was the daughter of Jesse, for it is written, and their sisters were Zeruiah and Abigail?7  Hence it must mean, the daughter of one who died through the machinations of the nahash [serpent].8  Who is [the author of this]? Shall we say, the Tanna [who taught] about the ministering angels? — Surely there were Moses and Aaron too! Hence it must surely be R. Simeon b. Eleazar, which proves that there is death without sin and suffering without iniquity. Thus the refutation of R. Ammi is [indeed] a refutation.

R. Samuel b. Nahman said in R. Jonathan's name: Whoever maintains that Reuben sinned is merely making an error, for it is said, Now the sons of Jacob were twelve,9  teaching that they were all equal.10  Then how do I interpret, and he lay with Bilhah his father's concubine?11  This teaches that he transposed his father's couch,12  and the Writ imputes [blame] to him as though he had lain with her. It was taught, R. Simeon b. Eleazar said: That righteous man was saved from that sin and that deed did not come to his hand.13  Is it possible that his seed was destined to stand on Mount Ebal and proclaim, Cursed be he that lieth with his father's wife,14  yet this sin should come to his hand? But how do I interpret, and he lay with Bilhah his father's concubine'? He resented his mother's humiliation. Said he, If my mother's sister was a rival to my mother, shall the bondmaid of my mother's sister be a rival to my mother? [Thereupon] he arose and transposed her couch. Others say, He transposed two couches, one of the Shechinah and the other of his father.15  Thus it is written, Then thou defiledst, my couch on which [the Shechinah] went up.16

This is dependent on Tannaim. Unstable [Pahaz] as water, thou shalt not excel:17  R. Eliezer interpreted: Thou wast hasty [Paztah], thou wast guilty [Habtah] thou didst disgrace [Zaltah]. R. Joshua interpreted: Thou didst overstep [Pasatah] the law, thou didst sin [Hatatha], thou didst fornicate [Zanitha]. R. Gamaliel interpreted: Thou didst meditate [Pillaltah],18  thou didst supplicate [Haltah], thy prayer shone forth [Zarhah]. Said R. Gamaliel, We still need [the interpretation of] the Modiite. R. Eleazar the Modiite19  said, Reverse the word and interpret it: Thou didst tremble [Zi'az'atha], thou didst recoil [Halitha], thy sin fled [Parhah] from thee.20  Raba — others state, R. Jeremiah b. Abba interpreted: Thou didst remember [Zakarta] the penalty of the crime, thou wast [grievously] sick [Halitha],21  thou heldest aloof [Pirashta] from sinning.

(Mnemonic: Reuben, the sons of Eli, the sons of Samuel, David, Solomon, and Josiah.)22  R. Samuel b. Nahmani said in R. Jonathan's name: Whoever maintains that the sons of Eli sinned is merely making an error, for it is said, And the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, priests unto the Lord, were there.23  Now he agrees with Rab, who said, Phinehas did not sin. [Hence] Hophni is likened to Phinehas: just as Phinehas did not sin, so did Hophni not sin. Then how do I interpret, and how that they [sc. Eli's sons] lay with the women?24  Because they delayed their bird-offerings25  so that they did not go to their husbands,26  the Writ stigmatizes them as though they had lain with them.

It was stated above, 'Rab said, Phinehas did not sin,' for it is said, and Ahijah, the son of Ahitub, Ichabod's brother, the son of Phinehas, the son of Eli, the priest of the Lord, etc.27  Now, is it possible that sin had come to his hand, yet the Writ states his descent? Surely It is said, The Lord will cut off to the man that doeth this, him that waketh ['er] and him that answereth, out of the tents of Jacob, and him that offereth an offering unto the Lord of hosts:28  [this means:] if an Israelite,29  he shall have none awakening [i.e., teaching] among the Sages and none responding among the disciples; if a priest, he shall have no son to offer an offering? Hence it follows that Phinehas did not sin. But it is written, 'how that they lay [etc.']? — 'He lay' is written.30  But it is written, Nay, my sons; for it is no good report that I hear?31  — Said R. Nahman b. Isaac: My son is written.32  But it is written, ye make [the Lord's people] to transgress?33  — Said R. Huna son of R. Joshua, It is written, he causes them to transgess.34  But it is written, sons of Belial?35  — Because Phinehas should have protested to Hophni but did not, the Writ regards him as though he [too] sinned.

R. Samuel b. Nahmani said in R. Jonathan's name: Whoever maintains

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Original footnotes renumbered.
  1. Eccl. IX, 2.
  2. Showing that death may come without sin.
  3. Num. XX, 12.
  4. On the view that they died sinless, this deduction is made: but had ye believed, you would have led the assembly into the land, etc. The punishment therefore was that they would not lead, not that they should die, which would have been disproportionate to their fault (Maharsha).
  5. I.e., because the serpent caused Adam and Eve to sin, but not on account of their own sin. — This is not to be confused with the doctrine of Original sin, which is rejected by Judaism, v. B.B., Sonc. ed., p. 86, n. 11.
  6. II Sam. XVII, 25.
  7. I Chron. II, 16. 'Their sisters' refers to the sons of Jesse; v. preceding verse.
  8. It may be observed that the Talmud calls this an explicit intimation.
  9. Gen. XXXV, 22.
  10. Lit., 'balanced as one' — they were all equal in righteousness.
  11. Ibid.
  12. Placing it in Leah's tent; v. infra.
  13. He did not even have the opportunity.
  14. Deut. XXVII; 20; v. 13.
  15. Rashi: Jacob set a couch for the Shechinah in the tents of each of his wives, and where the Shechinah came to rest, there he spent the night.
  16. Gen. XLIX, 4. This translation is based on the change of person from second (defiledst) to third (went), which implies a different subject for 'went'.
  17. Ibid.
  18. To be saved from sin.
  19. Of Modim, some fifteen miles north of Jerusalem.
  20. All treat the word Pahaz (E.V. unstable) as a mnemonic, each letter indicating a word. Thus R. Eliezer and R. Joshua maintain that he sinned, while the others hold that his nobler feelings triumphed.
  21. Through defying his lust.
  22. V. p. 149, n. 6.
  23. I Sam. I, 3.
  24. lbid. II, 22.
  25. After childbirth; v. Lev. XII, 6-8.
  26. They had to wait in Shiloh until their birds were sacrificed.
  27. lbid. XIV, 3.
  28. Mal. II, 12.
  29. I.e., not a priest.
  30. [H], defectively, and to be treated as 3rd. person singular; cf. Arabic ending in an].
  31. I Sam. II, 24.
  32. The sing. and the plural are the same in Heb. He must mean that the earlier traditional reading was my son.
  33. Ibid.
  34. [H]: M.T. has [H], but in a number of places the Talmud version differs from ours. V. Tosaf and Marginal Gloss].
  35. Ibid. 12.
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