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Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Sanhedrin

Folio 25a

'When is this so,'1  or 'In what case,'2  he merely aims at explaining the words of the Sages? [Whilst] R. Johanan said: 'When etc.' is explanatory, but 'In what case' indicates disagreement. Thus all agree that 'When etc. indicates explanation.3  — Do you oppose one amora4  to another?5  One Master [Rami b. Hama] holds that they [the Rabbis and R. Judah] differ; the other [R. Joshua b. Levi] holds that they do not.6  But do they really not differ? Has it not been taught:7  Whether he has another occupation or not, he is disqualified?8  — That is the view of R. Judah, stated on the authority of R. Tarfon. For it has been taught: R. Judah said on the authority of R. Tarfon: In truth, neither of them is a nazir, because a vow of neziruth9  must be free from doubt.10

A LENDER ON INTEREST … Raba said: A borrower on interest is unfit to act as witness. But have we not learnt: A LENDER [malweh] ON INTEREST [is disqualified]? — [It means] a loan [milweh]11  on interest [disqualifies the parties to the transaction].

Two witnesses testified against Bar Binithus. One said, 'He lent money on interest in my presence.' The other said, 'He lent me money on interest.' [In consequence,] Raba disqualified Bar Binithus [from acting as witness etc.]. But did not Raba himself rule: A borrower on interest is unfit to act as witness? Consequently he12 is a transgressor, and the Torah said: Do not accept the wicked as witness?13  — Raba14  here acted in accordance with another principle of his. For Raba said: Every man is a relative in respect to himself, and no man can incriminate himself.15

A certain slaughterer was found to have passed a terefah16  [as fit for food], so R. Nahman disqualified17  and dismissed him. Thereupon he went and let his hair and nails grow.18  Then R. Nahman thought of reinstating him, but Raba said to him: Perhaps he is only pretending [repentance]. What then is his remedy? — The course suggested by R. Iddi b. Abin, who said: He who is suspected of passing terefoth cannot be rehabilitated unless he leaves for a place where he is unknown and finds an opportunity of returning a lost article of considerable value, or of condemning as terefah meat of considerable value, belonging to himself.19

AND PIGEON TRAINERS: What are PIGEON TRAINERS? — Here20  it has been interpreted, [of one who says to another], 'If your pigeon passes mine [you win].'21  R. Hama b. Oshaia said: It means an Ara.22  On what ground does he who interprets [the phrase to mean] 'pigeon-racer' disagree with him who interprets it as Ara? — His answer is that the conduct of an Ara [is regarded as robbery] merely from the standpoint of neighbourliness.23  And he who interprets it as 'Ara', why does he not accept this view [sc. 'if thy pigeon etc.]? — His answer is, in that case it is identical with a dice player. And the former?24  — He [the Tanna of the Mishnah] deals with a case where he relies on his own capabilities. [i.e., dice-playing] and a case where he relies on the capabilities of his pigeon. And both are necessary. For had he dealt only with the case where a man relies upon himself, [I might have supposed that] only there was his promise without serious intent, since he thinks,

Original footnotes renumbered. See Structure of the Talmud Files
  1. [H]
  2. [H]
  3. So that R. Judah does not differ from the Rabbis. Hence they too hold that the reason for disqualification is not 'Asmakta', but for 'the sake of the welfare of humanity'.
  4. Lit., 'man'.
  5. R. Joshua b. Levi and Rami b. Hama, who have equal authority.
  6. And that R. Judah's statement is merely explanatory.
  7. 'Er. 82a.
  8. And presumably this is the view of the Rabbis, thus proving that they do differ from R. Judah.
  9. For nazir and neziruth, v. Glos.
  10. Lit., 'applies only to distinct utterance.' This refers to the following: A and B were sitting by the road-side, and a man passed them. Whereupon A said to B: If the man who has passed is a Nazir, as I maintain he is, then I too will take the vow of neziruth; and B said that he for his part would take the vow if he were not. R. Tarfon ruled that the vow is not binding even upon him whose view was subsequently found to be correct, for the vow was based on a doubtful matter, whereas neziruth requires a distinct and explicit pledge. (V. Nazir 34a). R. Judah himself may thus, notwithstanding his statement in the Mishnah, which is only explanatory of the view of the Rabbis, concur in R. Tarfon's view. With respect to the actual reasoning of the Talmud, Rashi states: This proves that in R. Tarfon's opinion, an undertaking dependent on an unknown circumstance is not binding, and therefore the same applies to gambling, each gambler undertaking to pay his opponents without knowing the latter's strength, and therefore the gambler is akin to a robber, as explained on p. 143, n. 2, whether gambling, is his sole occupation or not.
  11. [H] may be read either [H] (lender) or [H] (loan).
  12. The witness who testified that he had borrowed money from Bar Binithus on interest.
  13. Ex. XXIII 1: this is not an exact quotation, but the general implication of the text. How, then, could the evidence of the latter be accepted?
  14. Its accepting the witness's evidence against Bar Binithus.
  15. Cf. supra 9b. Consequently, his evidence is valid only with regard to the accused but not with regard to himself.
  16. V. Glos.
  17. From acting as slaughterer. According to another version he excommunicated him. Cf. Alfasi a.l.; Kesef Mishneh on Maim. Yad, Talmud Torah, VI, 14.
  18. As a sign of penitence.
  19. So exhibiting his staunch observance of the law, even in the face of loss.
  20. In Babylon.
  21. A pigeon-racer.
  22. Or Ada, a fowler, one who puts up decoy-birds to attract other birds from another's dove-cote. [Ara is connected by Ginzberg, L., with the Assyrian aru, denoting by 'gin', 'snare'; v. Krauss, S., Sanhedrin-Makkot, p. 124.]
  23. Lit., 'ways of peace', but not its law, since birds may, and often do change their homes of their own will. According to strict law, these birds are considered as semi-wild, and therefore ownerless. Yet it is robbery on account of 'the ways of peace'.
  24. How does he answer this objection?

Sanhedrin 25b

'I feel certain that I know more [than my opponent], [and so I am sure to win]; but where he relies on his pigeon's ability, I should say [that the gain is] not [illegal].1  Again, had the Mishnah dealt only with a case where he relies on his pigeon's ability. [I might have assumed that only then was the gain illegal], as he might have thought: 'Surely winning the race depends on the use of the rattle,2  and I am the more skilled in its use;' but where he depends on his own abilities, I might have said that [the gain is] not [illegal].3 Hence both are necessary.

An objection is raised: Dice-players include the following: Those who play with checkers,4  and not only with checkers, but even with nut-shells and pomegranate peel.5  And when are they considered to have repented?6  When they break up their checkers and undergo a complete reformation, so much so, that they will not play even as a pastime.7  A usurer: this includes both lender and borrower.8  And when are they judged to have repented? When they tear up their bills and undergo a complete reformation, that they will not lend [on interest] even to a Gentile. Pigeon trainers: that is those who race pigeons,9  and not only pigeons, but even cattle, beasts, or other birds. When may they be reinstated? When they break up their pegmas10  and undergo a complete reformation, so that they will not practise their vice even in the wilderness.11  Sabbatical traders are those who trade in the produce of the Sabbatical year. They cannot be rehabilitated until another Sabbatical year comes round and they desist from trading.12  Whereon R. Nehemia said: They [the Rabbis] did not mean a mere verbal repentance, but a reformation that involves monetary reparation. How so? He must declare, 'I, so and so, have amassed two hundred zuz by trading in Sabbatical produce, and behold, here they are made over to the poor as a gift.13  At any rate, cattle too are mentioned.14  Now, on the view that it means pigeon racing, it is correct, for racing of beasts, is also possible. But if it means 'an Ara', are cattle suited to this [viz. to decoy other beasts]? — Yes, in the case of the wild ox,15  on the view that this is a species of cattle. For we have learnt:16  A wild ox is a species of cattle; R. Jose said: It is a wild animal.17

A Tanna taught: [To those enumerated in the Mishnah] were added robbers and those who compel a sale.18  But are not robbers [disqualified] by Biblical law?19  — [Yes, but] it [the addition] was necessary in respect of one who appropriates the finds of a deaf-mute, an imbecile, or a minor.20  At first it was thought that this was of infrequent occurrence,21  or [that such appropriation was robbery only] judged by neighbourliness in general:22  but when it was seen that after all it was someone else's property23  that they seized,24  the Rabbis disqualified them.

'Those who compel a sale:' At first they thought, They do, in fact, pay money, and their pressure is incidental.25  But when they observed that they deliberately seized the goods,26  they made this decree against them.

A Tanna taught: They further added to the list, herdsmen,27  tax collectors and publicans.28

'Herdsmen': At first they thought that it was a question of mere chance;29  but when it was observed that they drove them there intentionally, they made the decree against them.

'Tax collectors and publicans:' At first they thought that they collected no more than the legally imposed tax. But when it was seen that they overcharged, they were disqualified.

Raba said: The 'herdsmen' whom they [the Rabbis] refer to, include the herdsmen of both large and small cattle, [i.e., both cowherds and shepherds]. But did Raba actually say so? Did he not say: Shepherds are disqualified only in Palestine, but elsewhere they are eligible; while cowherds are qualified even in Palestine?30  — That applies to breeders.31  Logic too supports this. For we learnt: [If one says,] I HAVE CONFIDENCE IN THREE COWHERDS etc. [they are acceptable].32  Surely [that implies that they are normally ineligible] for witnesses? — No: for judges.33  This is also evident from the expression: THREE COWHERDS; for if it means, qualified as witnesses, why three? What then: it refers to judges? Then why particularly cowherds; the same applies to any court of three men unversed in law?34  — He [the Tanna] means this: Even such as these, who are rarely to be found in populous areas.35

Rab Judah said: A herdsman in general36  is ineligible, while a tax collector in general is eligible.37

R. Zera's father acted as tax collector for thirteen years. When the Resh Nahara38  used to come to a town, if he [R. Zera's father] saw the scholars [of the city] he would advise them, Come my people, enter thou into thy chambers.39  And when he saw the other inhabitants of the town he would say to them: The Resh Nahara is coming to the city, and now he will slaughter the father in the presence of the son, and the son in the presence of the father;40

Original footnotes renumbered. See Structure of the Talmud Files
  1. Since he made the promise notwithstanding the doubtfulness of the issue.
  2. By which the race is started and the pigeon spurred on.
  3. As the promise might have been made with serious intent.
  4. [H] ([G] = pebble), polished blocks or stones.
  5. These latter were probably employed as a temporary means for gambling when proper dice were not obtainable.
  6. And thus become qualified again to be witnesses and judges.
  7. Lit., 'for nothing'.
  8. V. p. 144, n. 9.
  9. So the Aruch. Rashi, however, translates: Those who train pigeons to fight with each other — probably a form of cock-fighting.
  10. A fixture made of boards; a wooden contrivance that opened and shut itself, [a trap (R. Han.), or a rattle to spur on the pigeons (Rashi).]
  11. Where there is no one to see or pay. According to the view that 'pigeon trainer' means an ara, the meaning would be: 'Even in the place far from civilisation, they would not put up their pegmas' (Rashi).
  12. E.g., leave their fields free to the poor.
  13. V. Tosef. Sanh. V.
  14. Parallel with pigeons, as being trained for racing.
  15. It would appear that these were caught, domesticated, and then used to decoy beasts, also semi-domesticated and possessing owners, on perhaps similar lines to elephant hunting and taming.
  16. Kil. VIII, 6.
  17. Cattle and wild animals must not be mated with one another.
  18. Against the desire of the owner, even though they pay fairly.
  19. On the basis of Ex. XXIII, 1.
  20. Under the age of thirteen for males, and twelve for females.
  21. Which did not call for a specific legal provision.
  22. But not by Biblical law, because these have no legal powers of acquisition or possession, and therefore, Biblically speaking, their finds do not belong to them. Nevertheless, it is obvious that to enforce this in practice would lead to strife and a feeling of grievance, and hence the Rabbis conferred upon them the power of effecting possession. Thus, since such appropriation was not robbery in the Biblical sense, it was thought unnecessary to impose disqualification on its account.
  23. Though only by Rabbinical law, still, the ruling of the Rabbis was fully binding.
  24. And that it was greed for money that tempted them to transgress the laws.
  25. Yet perhaps the owners were willing to sell all the same.
  26. Without the owners' agreement to the sale.
  27. Because they allowed cattle to graze on other people's lands. This law applies only to graziers of their own cattle, but not to hired herdsmen, for it is taken for granted that a man does not trespass unless material benefit accrues to him. Cf. B.M. 5b.
  28. Government lessees who collected customs duties, market tolls and similar special imposts, thus helping the Romans to exact the heavy taxes imposed upon the Jews. Hence these men were classed with robbers.
  29. That their cattle grazed upon other people's land.
  30. V. B.K. 79b and discussion in Gemara.
  31. Who stable their cattle. Thus only shepherds are disqualified, since sheep cannot be kept tethered.
  32. Supra 24a. From which it follows that they are usually disqualified.
  33. Who must be persons learned in the law.
  34. Who are normally ineligible to act as judges.
  35. And so have little experience of ordinary human affairs; yet they are eligible by mutual agreement.
  36. I.e., of whom it is not known whether he trespasses or not. V. p. 148, n. 5.
  37. Unless it is definitely known that he is making exorbitant demands in taxation.
  38. [H] lit., 'head of the river' — chief of the district bordered by a river or canal.
  39. Isa. XXVI, 20; i.e., hide, so as to avoid giving the impression that the town was largely populated, lest it be heavily taxed.
  40. I.e., will collect heavy taxes.