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Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Sanhedrin

Folio 39a

[as illustrations to the verses]. [a] The fathers have eaten sour grapes and the children's teeth are set on edge;1  [b] Just balances, just weights,2  [c] The righteous is delivered out of trouble and the wicked comes in in his stead.3

The Emperor4  once said to Rabban Gamaliel:5  Your God is a thief, for it is written, And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man [Adam] and he slept [and He took one of his ribs etc.]6  Thereupon his [the Emperor's]7  daughter said to him: Leave him to me and I will answer him, and [turning to the Emperor] said: 'Give me a commander.'8  'Why do you need him?' asked he. — 'Thieves visited us last night and robbed us of a silver pitcher, leaving a golden one in its place.' 'Would that such visited us every day!' he exclaimed. 'Ah!' she retorted, 'was it not to Adam's gain that he was deprived of a rib and a wife9  presented to him in its stead to serve him?' He replied: 'This is what I mean: he should have taken it from him openly.'10  Said she to him: 'Let me have a piece of raw meat.' It was given to her. She placed it under her armpit,11  then took it out and offered it to him to eat. 'I find it loathsome,' he exclaimed. 'Even so would she [Eve] have been to Adam had she been taken from him openly,' she retorted.12

The Emperor also said to Rabban Gamaliel: I know what your God is doing, and where He is seated. Rabban Gamaliel became, [as it were] overcome and sighed, and on being asked the reason, answered. 'I have a son in one of the cities of the sea, and I yearn for him. Pray tell me about him.'13  'Do I then know where he is,' he replied. 'You do not know what is on earth, and yet [claim to] know what is in heaven!' he retorted.

Again the Emperor said to Rabban Gamaliel: 'It is written, He counteth the number of the stars etc.14  In what way is that remarkable; I too can count them!' Rabban Gamaliel brought some quinces, put them into a sieve, whirled them around, and said: 'Count them.' 'Keep them still,' he requested. Thereupon Rabban Gamaliel observed, 'But the Heavens revolve so.' Some say that the Emperor spoke thus to him: 'The number of the stars is known to me.' Thereupon Rabban Gamaliel asked him, 'How many molars and [other] teeth have you' Putting his hand to his mouth, he began to count them. Said he to him, 'You know not what is in your mouth and yet wouldst know what is in Heaven!'

Again the Emperor said to Rabban Gamaliel, 'He who created the mountains did not create the wind, for it is written, For lo, there is a former of mountains and creator of wind.'15  — According to this reasoning, when we find it written of Adam, And He created…16  and, And he formed:17  would you also say that He who created this [one limb] did not create that [another limb]? Further there is a part of the human body just a handbreadth square, which contains two holes,18  and because it is written, He that planteth ear, shall he not hear; he that formeth the eye, shall he not see?19  would you maintain there too that He who created the one did not create the other? 'Even so,' he answered. 'Yet,' he [Rabban Gamaliel] rejoined, 'at death both20  are brought to agree!

A magi21  once said to Amemar: From the middle of thy [body] upwards thou belongest to Ormuzd;22  from the middle downwards, to Ahriman.23  The latter asked: Why then does Ahriman permit Ormuzd to send water24  through his territory?

The Emperor proposed to R. Tanhum, 'Come, let us all be one people.' 'Very Well,' he answered, 'but we who are circumcised cannot possibly become like you;25  do ye become circumcised and like us.' The Emperor replied: 'You have spoken well; nevertheless, anyone who gets the better of the king [in debate] must be thrown into the vivarium,26  So they threw him in, but he was not eaten. Thereupon a heretic remarked: 'The reason they did not eat him is that they are not hungry.' They threw him [the heretic] in, and he was eaten.27

The Emperor said to Rabban Gamaliel: 'Ye maintain that upon every gathering of ten [Jews] the Shechinah rests:28  how many Shechinahs are there then?' Rabban Gamaliel called [Caesar's] servant, and tapped him on the neck,29  saying, 'Why does the sun enter into Caesar's house?'29  'But,' he30  exclaimed, 'the sun shines31  upon the whole world!' 'Then if the sun, which is but one of the countless myriads of the servants of the Holy One, blessed be He, shines on the whole world, how much more the Shechinah of the Holy One, blessed be He, Himself!'

A certain Min said to R. Abbahu: 'Your God is a jester,32  for He said to Ezekiel. Lie down on thy left side,33  and it is also written, Lie on thy right side.'34  [Just then] a disciple came and asked him: 'What is the reason for the Sabbatical year?' 'Now,' said R. Abbahu, 'I shall give you an answer which will suit you both equally. The Holy One, blessed be He, said to Israel, Sow your seed six years but omit the seventh, that ye may know that the earth is mine35  They, however, did not do so, but sinned and were exiled. Now, it is the universal practice that a king of flesh and blood against whom his subjects36  have rebelled, if he be cruel, kills them all; if merciful, he slays half of them; but if he is exceptionally merciful,37  he only chastises the great ones.38  So also, the Holy One, blessed be He, afflicted Ezekiel in order to cleanse Israel from their iniquities.'

A certain Min said to R. Abbahu: Your God is a priest, since it is written, That they take for me Terumah [wave offering].39  Now, when He had buried Moses,40  wherein did He bathe [after contact with the corpse]?41  Should you reply, 'In water: is it not written, Who hath measured the waters in the hollow of His hand?42  — 'He bathed in fire,' he answered, 'for it is written, Behold the Lord will come in fire.'43  'Is then purification by fire effective?' 'On the contrary,' he replied, 'bathing [for purposes of purification] should essentially be in fire, for it is written, And all that abideth not the fire ye shall make to go through the water.'44 

A Min once said to R. Abina: It is written, And what one nation in the earth is like Thy people, [like] Israel.45  Wherein lies their superiority: ye too are combined with us, for it is written, All the nations are as nothing before Him?46  He answered: One of yourselves [Balaam] has already testified for us, as it is written,

Original footnotes renumbered. See Structure of the Talmud Files
  1. Ezek. XVIII, 2.
  2. Lev. XIX, 36.
  3. Prov. XI, 8 Rashi gives the parables in question, as follows, combined in a single story. [Cf. however, Ms.M.: 'We have only one'.] A fox once craftily induced a wolf to go and join the Jews in their Sabbath preparations and share in their festivities. On his appearing in their midst the Jews fell upon him with sticks and beat him. He therefore came back determined to kill the fox. But the latter pleaded: 'It is no fault of mine that you were beaten, but they have a grudge against your father who once helped them in preparing their banquet and then consumed all the choice bits.' 'And was I beaten for the wrong done by my father?' cried the indignant wolf. 'Yes,' replied the fox, 'the fathers have eaten sour grapes and the children's teeth are set on edge. However,' he continued, 'come with me and I will supply you with abundant food. He led him to a well which had a beam across it from either end of which hung a rope with a bucket attached. The fox entered the upper bucket and descended into the well whilst the lower one was drawn up. 'Where are you going?' asked the wolf. The fox, pointing to the cheese-like reflection of the moon, replied: 'Here is plenty of meat and cheese; get into the other bucket and come down at once.' The wolf did so, and as he descended, the fox was drawn up. 'And how am I to get out?' demanded the wolf. 'Ah' said the fox 'the righteous is delivered out of trouble and the wicked cometh in in his stead. Is it not written, Just balances, just weights'?
  4. [H] So. Ms.M. Cur. edd. [H] 'an infidel'.
  5. Gamaliel II, also known as Gamaliel of Jabneh [He visited Rome twice — once during the reign of Domitian and again during that of Nerva, his successor, and the disputations that follow may have taken place on one of these occasions, probably the latter, v. Graetz, MGWJ I, 192ff]
  6. Gen. II, 21.
  7. [So Midrash ha-Gadol, p. 84].
  8. [H], guard in charge of a military company.
  9. Lit., 'a handmaid'.
  10. I.e., when he was awake.
  11. Rashi translates: She placed it under the hot ashes, and after roasting it, etc.
  12. One often takes an instinctive dislike to food or other objects if they are first seen in their raw state (Rashi). According to the rending adopted, the flesh was repulsive because it had come into contact with her body. Likewise, had Adam known that Eve was part of his body, he might have been repelled.
  13. Lit., 'show him to me.'
  14. Ps. CXLVII, 4.
  15. Amos IV, 13. That is how the Emperor must have translated the verse, drawing an inference from the two different words used to denote creation (E.V. = he that formeth the mountains and createth the wind.
  16. Gen I, 27.
  17. Ibid. II, 7.
  18. The part containing both eye and ear.
  19. Ps. XCIV, 9. Two different expressions are used for the creation of the eye and ear respectively.
  20. The one who planted and the one who created. I.e., assuming that there were two creators of man, he could not completely die unless both agreed; otherwise, the creator of the eye might insist that the eye goes on living, whilst the creator of the ear might wish it to die.
  21. A priest of the Zoroastrian Religion.
  22. Ormuzd, the principle of light, life and good, in the Zoroastrian system, constantly at war with Ahriman (q.v.).
  23. Angra Mainyus Lit., 'the Destroyer', the head of the forces of darkness, death and evil. Warfare must be waged between the two, Ormuzd and Ahriman, for twelve thousand years, at the end of which Abriman will be defeated by Ormuzd V. J.E. I, 294. s. v. Ahriman. Hence the upper part of the body, which contains the head and heart, and consequently what is good in man, belongs to the former; the lower half of the body, the seat of the sexual and excretory organs, to the latter.
  24. I.e., the excreta.
  25. Circumcision cannot be effaced entirely.
  26. An enclosure in which wild beast or fish are kept. Perhaps the arena.
  27. [Herford, op. cit. 253, suggests this Emperor to have been Julian the Apostate (361-363).
  28. Cf. Aboth III, 6.
  29. So Rashi. Others translate: Struck him with his ladle.
  30. I.e., why doest thou permit it to enter?
  31. Rashi: the infidel.
  32. Lit., 'rests'.
  33. I.e., He makes His prophets ridiculous.
  34. Ezek. IV, 4.
  35. Ibid. verse 6.
  36. Cf. Lev. XXV, 3; 21.
  37. Lit., 'His country.'
  38. Lit., 'A merciful one full of mercy.'
  39. I.e., the leaders.
  40. Ex. XXV. 2. Wave offering, as a rule, were given to Priests.
  41. Deut. XXXIV, 6.
  42. V. Lev. XXII, 4-6.
  43. Isa. XL, 12. I.e., He could not bathe in water, relatively so scanty compared with Himself.
  44. Ibid. LXVI, 15.
  45. Num. XXXI, 23. Essentially therefore, purification is by fire.
  46. II Sam. VII, 23.
  47. Isa. XL, 17.

Sanhedrin 39b

And he [Israel] shall not be reckoned amongst the nations.1

R. Eleazar opposed [two verses]: It is written, The Lord is good to all,2  but it is also written, The Lord is good unto them that wait for Him!3  — This may be compared to a man who has an orchard. When he irrigates it, he irrigates the whole; but when he prunes, he prunes only the best [trees].4

THEREFORE EVERY SINGLE PERSON etc. And there went out the song5  throughout the host:6  R. Aha b. Hanina said: [It is the song referred to in the verse.] When the wicked perish, there is song;7  [thus] when Ahab b. Omri perished there was 'song'. But does the Holy One, blessed be He, rejoice over the downfall of the wicked? Is it not written, [That they should praise] as they went out before the army, and say, Give thanks unto the Lord for His mercy endureth for ever;8  concerning which R. Jonathan asked: Why are the words, He is good9  omitted from this expression of thanks? Because the Holy One, blessed be He, does not rejoice in the downfall of the wicked.10  For R. Samuel b. Nahman said in R. Jonathan's name: What is meant by, And one approached not the other all night?11  In that hour the ministering angels wished to utter the song [of praise]12  before the Holy One, blessed be He, but He rebuked them, saying: My handiwork [the Egyptians] is drowning in the sea; would ye utter song before me!13  — Said R. Jose b. Hanina: He Himself does not rejoice, yet He causes others to rejoice. Scripture supports this too, for it is written, [And it shall come to pass, that as the Lord rejoiced over you to do good … so yasis will the Lord] cause rejoicing [over you by destroying you],14  and not yasus [so will the Lord rejoice etc.]15  This prove it.

[And dogs licked his blood] and the harlots washed themselves:16  R. Eleazar said: This was in clear fulfilment of two visions, one of Micaiah, the other of Elijah. In the case of Micaiah it is written, If thou returned at all in peace the Lord hath not spoken by me.17  In the case of Elijah it is written, In the place where dogs licked the blood of Naboth.18

[With reference to the harlots:] Raba said, they were real [pictures of] harlots. Ahab was frigid by nature [passionless], so Jezebel painted pictures of two harlots on his chariot, that he might look upon them and become heated.19

And a certain man drew his bow at a venture20  and smote the king of Israel.21  R. Eleazar said: The word means 'without intention'. Raba said: In order to fulfil22  the two visions, that of Micaiah and that of Elijah.

(Mnemonic: He called, merited, to Edom.)

It is written, And Ahab called Obadiah who was over the household — Now Obadiah feared the Lord exceedingly.23  What did he24  say to him? — R. Isaac answered: He spoke thus to him: Of Jacob it is written, I have observed the signs and the Lord hath blessed me [Laban] for thy sake;25  and of Joseph it is written, The Lord blessed the Egyptian's house for Joseph's sake,26  whilst my house27  has not been blessed! Perhaps [it is because] you are not a God-fearing man? Thereupon a Heavenly voice issued and proclaimed, And Obadiah feared the Lord greatly, but the house of Ahab is not fit for a blessing.

R. Abba said: Greater [praise] was expressed of Obadiah than Abraham, since of Abraham the word 'greatly' is not used,28  while of Obadiah it is.

R. Isaac said: Why did Obadiah attain29  the gift of prophecy? — Because he hid a hundred prophets in caves, as it is written, For it was so when Jezebel cut off the prophets of the Lord that Obadiah took a hundred prophets and hid them, fifty in a cave.30  Why just fifty? — R. Eleazar said: He learnt this lesson from Jacob,31  as it is written, 'Then the camp which is left shall escape.32  R. Abbahu said: It was because the one cave could not hold more than fifty.

'The vision of Obadiah. Thus said the Lord God concerning Edom.33  Why particularly Obadiah against Edom? — R. Isaac said: The Holy One, blessed be He, said: Let Obadiah, Who has lived with two wicked persons34  and yet has not taken example by their deeds, come and prophesy against the wicked Esau,35  who lived with two righteous persons36  and yet did not learn from their good deeds.

Ephraim Maksha'ah,37  the disciple of R. Meir, said on the authority of R. Meir: Obadiah was an Edomite proselyte: and thus people say, From the very forest itself comes the [handle of the] axe [that fells it].38

And he [David] smote Moab, and measured them with a line, casting them down to the ground.39  R. Johanan said on the authority of R. Simeon b. Yohai: Thus the proverb runs, From the very forest itself comes the [handle of the] axe [that fells it].40  When R. Dimi came [from Palestine] he said [similarly]: The joint putrefies from within.

Then he took his eldest son that should have resigned in his stead and offered him for a burnt offering upon the wall.41  Rab and Samuel [differ therein:] One said: [He offered him] to God; the other, To a heathen deity. Now, on the view that it was to God, it is correct: hence it is written, And there came great wrath upon Israel.42  But if it be maintained that he was offered to a heathen deity, why, And there was great wrath etc.? — Even as R. Joshua b. Levi [taught]: For R. Joshua b. Levi opposed [two verses]: It is written, Neither have ye done according to the ordinances of the nations that were round about you;43  yet it is [elsewhere] written, But ye have done according to the ordinances of the nations that were round about you?44  [That means:] Ye did not act as the right minded,45  but as the corrupt amongst them.46

And they departed from him and returned to the earth.47  R. Hanina b. Papa said: In that hour the wicked of Israel descended to the lowest depths [of depravity].48

And the damsel was fair, until [she was] exceedingly [so].49  R. Hanina b. Papa said: Yet she never attained to half of Sarah's beauty, for it is written, 'until … exceedingly', 'exceedingly' itself not being included.50

Original footnotes renumbered. See Structure of the Talmud Files
  1. Num. XXIII, 9.
  2. Ps. CXLV, 9.
  3. Lam. III, 25.
  4. The world and all in it was given to all, but only the good are fully cared for.
  5. [H], E.V. 'cry'.
  6. I Kings XXII, 36, with reference to Ahab's death at Ramoth in Gilead.
  7. [H] Prov. XI, 10.
  8. II. Chron. XX, 21, with reference to Jehoshaphat king of Judah, when he went to engage in war with the Ammonites and Moabites.
  9. [H], as in Ps. CVII, 1.
  10. [H], can also be rendered 'it is good'.
  11. Ex. XIV, 20.
  12. Cf. Isa. VI, 3. And one (angel) called unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, etc.
  13. The verse is thus taken to mean that one (angel) did not approach the other, calling upon him to join in the Song (Maharsha).
  14. Deut. XXVIII, 63. [H], in the Hiphil (causative).
  15. [H], in the Kal.
  16. I Kings XXII, 38. The verse ends, according to the word of the Lord which he spake and R. Eleazar's comment is based on that (Maharsha).
  17. I Kings XXII, 28.
  18. Ibid. XXI, 19.
  19. The harlots washed means, therefore, that their pictures were smeared with blood.
  20. Lit., 'in his innocence.'
  21. Ibid. verse 34.
  22. Lit., 'to make perfect.'
  23. I Kings XVIII, 3.
  24. So Ms.M. Cur. edd.: 'What does the verse say?' which Rashi explains: What connection have the two facts related in the verse?
  25. Gen. XXX, 27.
  26. Ibid. XXXIX, 5.
  27. Lit., 'the house of that man'.
  28. Cf. Gen. XXII, 12.
  29. The Heb. [H] denotes to merit something, and to attain through merit.
  30. Kings XVIII, 4. If the one cave was discovered the others might escape.
  31. Who divided his followers into camps.
  32. Gen. XXXII, 9.
  33. Obad. I, 1.
  34. Ahab and Jezebel.
  35. I.e., Edom; Esau is the 'father' of Edom.
  36. I.e., Isaac and Rebecca.
  37. 'The disputant', or 'seller of cucumbers.'
  38. I.e., the descendant of Edom was found to be the most suitable person to reprimand them. From this narrative it appears that the Rabbis of the Talmud identified Obadiah, the governor of Ahab's household with the Obadiah of the minor Prophets. [This view is shared also among moderns by Hoffmann and Keil.]
  39. II Sam. VIII, 2.
  40. David was descended from Ruth the Moabitess.
  41. II Kings III, 27.
  42. Ibid. Because of their failure to show loyalty to God in comparison with the devotion shown by the Moabite King.
  43. Ezek. V, 7.
  44. Ibid. XI, 12.
  45. As, for example, is related of Eglon, king of Moab who, when Ehud said to him: I have a message from God unto thee, (Judges III, 20) arose out of his seat as a sign of respect.
  46. E.g., in allowing human beings as sacrifices, as did the king of Moab.
  47. Lit., translation of II Kings III, 27; E.V. 'to their land'.
  48. Interpreting 'to the earth' in the sense of (moral) degradation.
  49. Lit., rendering of I Kings I, 4, with reference to Abishag.
  50. 'Until' ([H]) is taken in the sense of 'up to' but not including. I.e., she reached only the point of medium beauty. This Haggadic interpretation is quoted here in order to group together the two sayings of the one teacher.