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Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Berakoth
Now if you maintain that the dead do not know, what would be the use of his telling them? — You infer then that they do know. In that case, why should he need to tell them? — So that they might be grateful to Moses. R. Isaac said: If one makes remarks about the dead, it is like making remarks about a stone. Some say [the reason is that] they do not know, others that they know but do not care. Can that be so? Has not R. Papa said: A certain man made1 derogatory remarks about Mar Samuel and a log fell from the roof and broke his skull?2 — A Rabbinical student is different, because the Holy One, blessed be He, avenges his insult.3
R. Joshua b. Levi said: Whoever makes derogatory remarks about scholars after their death4 is cast into Gehinnom, as it says, But as for such as turn aside5 unto their crooked ways, the Lord will lead them away with the workers of iniquity. Peace be upon Israel:6 even at a time when there is peace upon Israel, the Lord will lead them away with the workers of iniquity.7 It was taught in the school of R. Ishmael: If you see a scholar who has committed an offence by night, do not cavil at him by day, for perhaps he has done penance. 'Perhaps', say you? — Nay, rather, he has certainly done penance. This applies only to bodily [sexual] offences, but if he has misappropriated money, [he may be criticised] until he restores it to its owner.
R. Joshua b. Levi further said: In twenty-four places we find that the Beth din inflicted excommunication for an insult to a teacher, and they are all recorded in the Mishnah.8 R. Eleazar asked him, Where? He replied: See if you can find them. He went and examined and found three cases: one of a scholar who threw contempt on the bashing of the hands, another of one who made derogatory remarks about scholars after their death, and a third of one who made himself too familiar towards heaven. What is the case of making derogatory remarks about scholars after their death? — As we have learnt:9 He10 used to say: The water [of the sotah]11 is not administered either to a proselyte or to an emancipated woman; the Sages, however say that it is. They said to him: There is the case of Karkemith an emancipated bondwoman in Jerusalem to whom Shemaiah and Abtalyon administered the water? He replied: They administered it to one like themselves.12 They thereupon excommunicated him, and he died in excommunication, and the Beth din stoned his coffin.13 What is the case of treating with contempt the washing of the hands? — As we have learnt: R. Judah said: Far be it from us to think that Akabiah b. Mahalalel was excommunicated, for the doors of the Temple hall did not close on any man in Israel14 the equal of Akabiah b. Mahalalel in wisdom, in purity and in fear of sin. Whom did they in fact excommunicate? It was Eleazar b. Hanoch, who raised doubts about washing the hands, and when he died the Beth din sent and had a large stone placed on his coffin, to teach you that if a man is excommunicated and dies in his excommunication, the Beth din stone his coffin.15
What is the case of one behaving familiarly with heaven? — As we have learnt: Simeon b. Shetah sent to Honi ha-Me'aggel:16 You deserve to be excommunicated, and were you not Honi, I would pronounce excommunication against you. But what can I do seeing that you ingratiate yourself17 with the Omnipresent and He performs your desires, and you are like a son who ingratiates himself with his father and he performs his desires; and to you applies the verse: Let thy father and thy mother be glad, and let her that bore thee rejoice.18
But are there no more [instances of excommunication]? Is not there the case learnt by R. Joseph: Thaddeus a man of Rome accustomed the Roman [Jews] to eat kids roasted whole19 on the eve of Passover. Simeon b. Shetah sent to him and said: Were you not Thaddeus, I would pronounce sentence of excommunication on you, because you make Israel [appear to] eat holy things outside the precincts.20 — We say, in our Mishnah. and this is in a Baraitha. But is there no other in our Mishnah? Is there not this one, as we have learnt: If he cuts it21 up into rings and puts sand between the rings.22 R. Eliezer declares that it is [permanently] clean, while the Rabbis declare that it is unclean; and this is the stove of Akna'i. Why Akna'i? Rab Judah said in the name of Samuel: Because they surrounded it with halachoth like a serpent [akna'i] and declared it unclean. And it has been taught: On that day they brought all the things that R. Eliezer had declared clean23 and burnt them before him, and in the end they blessed24 him.25 — Even so we do not find excommunication stated in our Mishnah.26 How then do you find the twenty-four places? — R. Joshua b. Levi compares one thing to another,27 R. Eleazar does not compare one thing to another.
THOSE WHO CARRY THE BIER AND THOSE WHO RELIEVE THEM. Our Rabbis taught: A dead body is not taken out shortly before the time for the Shema', but if they began to take it they do not desist. Is that so? Was not the body of R. Joseph taken out shortly before the time for the Shema'? — An exception can be made for a distinguished man.
BEFORE THE BIER AND BEHIND THE BIER. Our Rabbis taught: Those who are occupied with the funeral speeches, if the dead body is still before them, slip out one by one and recite the Shema'; if the body is not before them, they sit and recite it, and he [the mourner] sits silent; they stand up and say the tefillah and he stands up and accepts God's judgement and says: Sovereign of the Universe, I have sinned much before Thee and Thou didst not punish me one thousandth part. May it be Thy will, O Lord our God, to close up our breaches and the breaches of all Thy people the house of Israel in mercy! Abaye said: A man should not speak thus,28 since R. Simeon b. Lakish said, and so it was taught in the name of R. Jose: A man should never speak in such a way as to give an opening to Satan. And R. Joseph said: What text proves this? Because it says: We were almost like Sodom.29 What did the prophet reply to them? Hear the word of the Lord, ye rulers of Sodom.30
WHEN THEY HAVE BURIED THE DEAD BODY AND RETURNED, etc. [I understand]: If they are able to begin and go through all of it, yes, but if they have only time for one section or one verse, no. This statement was contradicted by the following: When they have buried the body and returned, if they are able to begin and complete even one section or one verse, [they do so]! — That is just what he says: If they are able to begin and go through even one section or one verse before they form a row, they should begin, but otherwise they should not begin.
THOSE WHO STAND IN A ROW etc. Our Rabbis taught: The row which can see inside1 is exempt, but one which cannot see inside is not exempt. R. Judah said: Those who come on account of the mourner are exempt, but those who come for their own purposes2 are not exempt.
R. Judah said in the name of Rab: If one finds mixed kinds3 in his garment, he takes it off even in the street. What is the reason? [It says]: There is no wisdom nor understanding nor counsel against the Lord;4 wherever a profanation of God's name is involved no respect is paid to a teacher.
An objection was raised: If they have buried the body and are returning, and there are two ways open to them, one clean and the other unclean,5 if [the mourner] goes by the clean one they go with him by the clean one, and if he goes by the unclean one they go with him by the unclean one, out of respect for him. Why so? Let us say, There is no wisdom nor understanding against the Lord? — R. Abba explained the statement to refer to a beth ha-peras,6 which is declared unclean only by the Rabbis;7 for Rab Judah has said in the name of Samuel: A man may blow in front of him8 in a beth ha-peras and proceed. And Rab Judah b. Ashi also said in the name of Rab: A beth ha-peras which has been well trodden is clean.9 — Come and hear; for R. Eleazar b. Zadok10 said: We used to leap over coffins containing bodies to see the Israelite kings.11 Nor did they mean this to apply only to Israelite kings, but also to heathen kings, so that if he should be privileged [to live to the time of the Messiah], he should be able to distinguish between the Israelite and the heathen kings. Why so? Let us say, 'There is no wisdom and no understanding and no counsel before the Lord'? — [It is in accord with the dictum of Raba; for Raba said: It is a rule of the Torah12 that a 'tent'13 which has a hollow space of a handbreadth14 forms a partition against uncleanness, but if it has not a hollow space of a handbreadth it forms no partition against uncleanness.15 Now most coffins have a space of a handbreadth, and [the Rabbis] decreed that those which had such a space [should form no partition] for fear they should be confused with those which had no space, but where respect to kings was involved they did not enforce the decree.
Come and hear. 'Great is human dignity, since it overrides a negative precept of the Torah'.16 Why should it? Let us apply the rule, 'There is no wisdom nor understanding nor counsel against the Lord? — Rab b. Shaba explained the dictum in the presence of R. Kahana to refer to the negative precept of 'thou shalt not turn aside'.17 They laughed at him. The negative precept of 'thou shalt not turn aside' is also from the Torah!18 Said R. Kahana: If a great man makes a statement, you should not laugh at him. All the ordinances of the Rabbis were based by them on the prohibition of 'thou shalt not turn aside'19 but where the question of [human] dignity is concerned the Rabbis allowed the act.20
Come and hear.21 And hide thyself from them.22 There are times when thou mayest hide thyself from them and times when thou mayest not hide thyself from them. How so? If the man [who sees the animal] is a priest and it [the animal] is in a graveyard, or if he is an elder and it is not in accordance with his dignity [to raise it], or if his own work was of more importance than that of his fellow.23 Therefore it is said, And thou shalt hide. But why so? Let us apply the rule, 'There is no wisdom nor understanding nor counsel against the Lord'? — The case is different there, because it says expressly, And thou shalt hide thyself from them. Let us then derive from this [the rule for mixed kinds]?24 — We do not derive a ritual ruling from a ruling relating to property.25 Come and hear:26 Or for his sister.27 What does this teach us? Suppose he28 was going to kill his paschal lamb or to circumcise his son, and he heard that a near relative of his had died, am I to say that he should go back and defile himself? You say, he should not defile himself.29 Shall I say that just as he does not defile himself for them, so he should not defile himself for a meth mizwah?30 It says significantly, 'And for his sister': for his sister he does not defile himself,
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