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Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Sanhedrin

Folio 65a


GEMARA. Why are both a Ba'al ob and Yidde'oni mentioned here [as being executed], whilst in the list of those who are punished by extinction only Ba'al ob is included, but Yidde'oni is omitted?5  — R. Johanan said: Because both are stated in one negative precept.6  Resh Lakish said: Yidde'oni is omitted [in Kerithoth], because it involves no action.7  Now, according to R. Johanan, why is a Ba'al ob mentioned [rather than a Yidde'oni]? — Because it is written first in the Scripture. Now why does Resh Lakish reject R. Johanan's answer? — R. Papa said: They are stated separately in the verse decreeing death.8  But R. Johanan maintains: Offences which are distinct in their injunctions [there being a different one for each], are held to be separate [in their atonement]; but if only in the decree of death, they are not regarded as separate.

Now, why does R. Johanan reject Resh Lakish's answer? — He can tell you: The Mishnah of Kerithoth is taught in accordance with R. Akiba's views, that action is unnecessary [for a sin offering to be incurred]. But Resh Lakish maintains: Granted that R. Akiba does not require a great action, but he requires at least a small one. But what action is there in blasphemy [which is included in the enumeration]? — The movement of the lips. But what action is done by a Ba'al ob? — The knocking of his arms.9  Now, is this so even in the view of the Rabbis? But it has been taught: [The idolater] is liable [to a sacrifice] only for that which entails an action, e.g., sacrificing, burning incense, making libations and prostration. Whereon Resh Lakish observed: Which Tanna maintains that a sacrifice is due for prostration? R. Akiba, who rules that a deed entailing [much] action is unnecessary. But R. Johanan said: It even agrees with the Rabbis, for in bending his body, he performs an action. Now, since Resh Lakish maintains that in the view of the Rabbis bending one's body is not regarded as an action, surely the knocking of the arms is not one? — Well then Resh Lakish's statement [that the Ba'al ob performs an action] is made on the view only of R. Akiba, but not of the Rabbis. If so, should not the Mishnah there state, [But the Rabbis maintain that] the blasphemer and Ba'al ob are excluded?10  — But 'Ulla answered: The Mishnah there refers to a Ba'al oh who burnt incense to a demon.11  Raba asked him: But is not burning incense to a demon idolatry?12  — But Raba said: It [i.e., the Ba'al ob in Kerithoth] refers to one who


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    burns incense as a charm.13  Abaye said to him: But burning incense as a charm is to act as a charmer, which is merely prohibited by a negative precept? — That is so, but the Torah decreed that such a charmer is stoned.14

Our Rabbis taught: [There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or daughter pass through to the fire …] Or a charmer.15  This applies to one who charms large objects, and to one who charms small ones,16  even snakes and scorpions. Abaye said: Therefore even to imprison wasps or scorpions [by charms], though the intention is to prevent them from doing harm, is forbidden.

Now, as for R. Johanan, why does he maintain that in the view of the Rabbis the bending of one's body [in prostration] is an action, whilst the movement of the lips is not? — Raba said: Blasphemy is different, since the offence lies in the intention.17

Original footnotes renumbered. See Structure of the Talmud Files
  1. Lev. XIX, 31. 'He that hath a familiar spirit'.
  2. [H] ventriloquist, necromancer.
  3. Both refer to making the dead speak thus.
  4. Lev. XIX, 31, lit., 'a warning', carrying with it no penalty.
  5. Ker. 2a.
  6. Lev. XIX, 31. Regard not them that have familiar spirits, and wizards. Now in Ker. 2a, where the Mishnah teaches that thirty six offences are punished by extinction, the Gemara explains that the number — 36 — intimates that if one committed them all in one state of unawareness, he is bound to offer 36 separate sacrifices. Since however, those two are forbidden by one injunction, only one atonement must be made for both. Consequently, the two cannot be taught there.
  7. The Mishnah there refers to transgressions, the deliberate committal of which is punished by extinction, whilst if unwitting, a sin offering is due; but this is brought only for an offence involving action.
  8. Ibid. XX, 27. A man also that hath a familiar spirit, or (not and) that is a wizard, shall surely be put to death. 'Or', ut is a disjunctive particle. Since they are thus sharply distinguished, one would have to make two separate atonements for the unwitting transgression, if the offence of wizardry incurred a sin offering at all.
  9. By flapping his arms about the Ba'al ob made it appear that the dead was speaking from his armpits
  10. In Ker. 2a the Rabbis state that a blasphemer is exempted from a sin offering, since his offence involves no action. But according to Resh Lakish, that they regard a Ba'al ob as doing no action too, they should have stated that he also is exempted.
  11. I.e., to the spirit of necromancy. That of course is an action even in the view of the Rabbis. This answer is given on the basis of Resh Lakish's statement.
  12. And does not come under the heading of Ba'al ob at all. Idolatry is taught there separately.
  13. To exorcise the demons (Jast.). Rashi reverses the interpretation: to call up the demons, that they may assist him in his sorcery. This is not idolatry, for the demons are not thereby worshipped as divinities, but it comes under the heading of Ba'al 'ob.
  14. Consequently, for unwitting transgression a sin offering is due. But the charmer who is punished by lashes is one who charms animals by bringing them together.
  15. Deut. XVIII, 10f.
  16. Large objects, viz., cattle, and beasts; small objects, creeping things, insects, etc.
  17. For blasphemy is an indictable offence only if it is mentally directed against God. If however, one reviles the Divine Name, whilst mentally employing it to denote some other object, he is not punished. Consequently, since the essence of the offence is mental, the slight action is disregarded.

Sanhedrin 65b

R. Zera objected: False witnesses1  are excluded [from the necessity of a sin offering if they unwittingly offended], since their offence entails no action.2  But why so; their offence does not depend on intention? — Raba answered: False witnesses are different, because their offence is caused by sound.3  But does not R. Johanan regard sound as a [concrete] action? Has it not been stated: If one frightened [lit. 'muzzled'] off an animal by his voice, or drove animals by his voice,4  R. Johanan ruled that he is liable to punishment,

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    because the movement of his lips is an action; Resh Lakish ruled that he is not, because this is not an action?5  — But Raba answered thus: False witnesses are different, because their offence is caused through vision.6

Our Rabbis taught: A Ba'al ob is one who speaks from between the joints of his body and his elbow joints. A yidde'oni is one who places the bone of a yidoa'7   in his mouth and it speaks of itself. An objection is raised: And thy voice shall be, as of one that hath a familiar spirit, out of the ground:8  surely that means that it speaks naturally?9  — No. It ascends and seats itself between his joints and speaks. Come and hear: And the woman said unto Saul, I saw a god-like form ascending out of the earth: [And Samuel said to Saul …]10  surely that means that it spoke naturally? — No. It settled itself between her joints and spoke.

Our Rabbis taught: Ba'al ob denotes both him who conjures up the dead by means of soothsaying11  and one who consults a skull. What is the difference between them? — The dead conjured up by soothsaying does not ascend naturally [but feet first], nor on the Sabbath; whilst if consulted by its skull it ascends naturally and on the Sabbath too. [You say,] it ascends: but whither — does not the skull lie before him? — But say thus: It answers naturally,12  and on the Sabbath too. And this question was asked by Turnusrufus13  of R. Akiba: 'Wherein does this day [the Sabbath] differ from any other?' — He replied: Wherein does one man differ from another?'14  — 'Because my Lord [the Emperor] wishes it.' 'The Sabbath too,' R. Akiba rejoined, 'then, is distinguished because the Lord wishes so.' He replied: 'I ask this: Who tells you that this day is the Sabbath?' — He answered: 'Let the river Sabbation15


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    prove it; let the Ba'al ob prove it;16  let thy father's grave, whence no smoke ascends on the Sabbath,17  prove it.' He said to him: 'You have shamed, disgraced, and reviled him [by this proof].'


Dilling discussion of highlighted text
    He who enquireth of an ob — is that not the same as one that consulteth the dead?18  — As has been taught: Or that consulteth the dead: this means one who starves himself and spends the night in a cemetery, so that an unclean spirit [of a demon] may rest upon him [to enable him to foretell the future]. And when R. Akiba reached this verse, he wept: If one who starves himself that an unclean spirit may rest upon him has his wish granted, he who fasts that the pure spirit [the Divine Presence] may rest upon him — how much more should his desire be fulfilled! But alas!19  our sins have driven it away20  from us, as it is written, But your iniquities have separated between you and your God.21


Dilling discussion of highlighted text
    Raba said: If the righteous desired it, they could [by living a life of absolute purity] be creators, for it is written, But your iniquities have distinguished between etc.22  Rabbah created a man,23  and sent him to R. Zera. R. Zera spoke to him, but received no answer. Thereupon he said unto him: 'Thou art a creature of the magicians. Return to thy dust.'

R. Hanina and R. Oshaia spent every Sabbath eve in studying the 'Book of Creation',24  by means of which they created a third-grown calf25  and ate it.


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    Our Rabbis taught: Me'onen26  — R. Simeon said: That is one who applies the semen of seven male species to his eyes [in order to perform witchcraft]. The Sages say: It is one who holds people's eyes.27  R. Akiba said: It is one who calculates the times and hours, saying, To-day is propitious for setting forth; tomorrow for making purchases; the wheat ripening on the eve of the seventh year28  is generally sound; let the beans be pulled up [instead of being harvested in the usual manner] to save them from becoming wormy.

Our Rabbis taught: A Menahesh29  is one who says: So and so's bread has fallen out of his hand; his staff has fallen out of his hand; his son called after him; a raven screamed after him, a deer has crossed his path; a serpent came at his right hand or a fox at his left;30 

  1. Lit., 'witnesses proved zomemim', v. Glos.
  2. Ker. 4a.
  3. Causing certain sounds, i.e., words, to be heard at Beth din. Since sound too is not concrete, false testimony is comparable to blasphemy, and the essence of the transgression lies in intention.
  4. The first refers to Deut. XXV, 4: Thou shalt not muzzle the ox when he treadeth out the corn; the second to Deut. XXII, 10, Thou shalt not plough with an ox and an ass together.
  5. Hence we see that R. Johanan considers voice an action?
  6. I.e., they offend by saying that they saw something: and sight does not entail work or action.
  7. Rashi, the name of a beast; Maim., the name of a bird.
  8. Isa. XXIX, 4.
  9. I.e., the dead actually speaking out of the ground.
  10. I Sam. XXVIII, 13.
  11. [H] from Syriac [H] 'to divine'. Rashi connects it with [H], 'membrum'.]
  12. I.e., not from between the necromancer's joints.
  13. Tineius Rufus, a Roman Governor of Judea.
  14. 'Why is one a noble and one a commoner?' — referring to the high office which Rufus held.
  15. A legendary river, said to flow with such a strong current on week days, carrying (for note 10 see p. 447) along stones and rubble with tremendous force, as to be quite unnavigable, but resting on the Sabbath. (Cf. Plinius, Hist. Nat. XXI, 2, and Josephus, Wars, VII, 5, 1].
  16. Who cannot conjure up the dead on that day.
  17. The whole week smoke ascended from his grave, as he was being burnt in the fires of purgatory: but even the wicked in Gehenna have rest from their torments on the Sabbath.
  18. Deut. XVIII, 11.
  19. Lit., 'What am I to do'.
  20. Lit., 'have brought (this) upon us'.
  21. Isa. LIX, 2.
  22. Ibid. Raba understands mabadilim in the sense of 'draw a distinction'. But for their iniquities, their power would equal God's, and they could create a world.
  23. By means of the Sefer Yezirah, Book of Creation. V. next note.
  24. The Book of Creation, Heb. Sefer Yezirah, is the title of two esoteric books. The older, referred to here, was a thaumaturgical work popular in the Talmudic period. It was also known as Hilkoth Yezirah (Laws of Creation), and is so called in the same story quoted on 67b. Rashi there states that the creation was performed by means of mystic combinations of the Divine Name, which does not come under the ban of witchcraft. Its basic idea is that the Creation was accomplished by means of the power inherent in those letters (Cf. Rab's saying: 'Bezalel knew how to combine the letters by which heaven and earth were created'. Ber. 55a. Cf. also Enoch LXI, 3 et seq.; Prayer of Manasseh: Ecc. R. III, 11 on the magic power of the letters of the Divine Name), and that this same power could be utilised in further creation. The work was ascribed to Abraham, which fact indicates an old tradition, and the possible antiquity of the book itself. It has affinities with Babylonian, Egyptian, and Hellenic mysticism and its origin has been placed in the second century B.C.E., when such a combination of influences might be expected. It is noteworthy that Raba's statement above, though not mentioning the Sefer Yezirah, insists on freedom from sin as a prerequisite of creation by man, v. J.E., XII, 602.
  25. (I.e., a calf that has reached one third of its full growth; others interpret: (i) in its third year; (ii) third born, fat].
  26. Observer of times, Deut. XVIII, 10.
  27. Producing hallucinations in people by opening and shutting their eyes (Rashi).
  28. Time was calculated by seven-year cycles. The seventh year was called the year of release, and the land was not to be ploughed or sown therein. Lev. XXV, 1-7.
  29. An enchanter, Deut. XVIII, 10.
  30. All these omens were regarded by the superstitious as generally bad.