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Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Sanhedrin

Folio 74a

R. Papa said: This refers to seduction [not outrage], and therefore agrees with all.1  Abaye said: This applies where she could have been saved at the cost of one of the limbs [of the violator].2  and agrees with R. Jonathan b. Saul. For it has been taught: If one was pursuing his fellow to slay him, and he could have been saved3  by maiming a limb [of the pursuer] but did not thus save himself [killing him instead], he is executed on his account.4

What is R. Jonathan b. Saul's reason? — Because it is written, if men strive [and hurt a woman …] he shall be surely punished … and pay as the judges determine. And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life.5  Whereon R. Eleazar said: The verse refers to attempted murder,6  for it is written, And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life7  and yet the Divine Law states, If no mischief follows, he shall surely be punished. Now this is correct if you say that where the pursued can be saved at the cost of one limb [of the pursuer] the latter may not be slain: hence it is conceivable that he shall be punished [by paying monetary compensation]. But if you maintain that he may be slain, how is it possible for him to be punished!8  Perhaps it is different here, because his liability to death is incurred on account of one person, but his monetary obligation on account of another?9  — That makes no difference. For Raba10  said: If a man was pursuing after his fellow [to slay him]. and broke some utensils, whether of the pursued or of some other person. he is free from liability. Why so? Because he is liable to be killed. If the pursued broke some articles: if they belonged to the pursuer, he is not liable for them; if to someone else, he is. 'If they belonged to the pursuer he is not liable', — because his property is not more precious than his own person.11  But 'if to someone else, he is', — because he saved himself at his neighbour's expense. But if one pursuer was pursuing another pursuer to save him [the latter's victim] and broke some utensils, whether of the pursuer. or the pursued. or of any other person, he is not liable for them. This should not be so in equity12  but if thou wilt not rule thus, no man will save his neighbour from a pursuer.13


It has been taught: R. Simeon b. Yohai said: An idolater may be saved [from sin] at the cost of his own life. This is deduced by reasoning from the minor to the major: If the dishonouring of a human14  being must be averted even at the cost of [the violator's] life, how much more so the dishonouring of the All-Highest.15  But can we punish16  as a result of an ad majus conclusion? — He maintains that we can.

It has been taught: R. Eliezer, son of R. Simeon, said: He who desecrates the Sabbath may be saved [from sin] by his own life. He agrees with his father, that punishment is imposed as a result of an ad majus conclusion, and then he deduces the Sabbath from idolatry by [a gezerah shawah based on the use of] 'profanation' in connection with the Sabbath and idolatry.17

R. Johanan said in the name of R. Simeon b. Jehozadak: By a majority vote, it was resolved in the upper chambers of the house of Nithza in Lydda18  that in every [other] law of the Torah, if a man is commanded: 'Transgress and suffer not death' he may transgress and not suffer death, excepting idolatry, incest, [which includes adultery] and murder.19  Now may not idolatry be practised [in these circumstances]? Has it not been taught: R. Ishmael said: whence do we know that if a man was bidden, 'Engage in idolatry and save your life', that he should do so, and not be slain? From the verse, [Ye shall therefore keep my statutes and my judgements,' which if a man do] he shall live in them:20  but not die by them. I might think that it may even be openly practised. but Scripture teaches, Neither shall ye profane my holy name; but I will be hallowed?'21  — They22  ruled as R. Eliezer. For it has been taught, R. Eliezer said: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.23  Since 'with all thy soul' is stated, why is 'with all thy might' stated? Or if 'with all thy might' be written, why also write 'with all thy soul'? For the man to whom life is more precious than wealth, 'with all thy soul' is written;24  whilst he to whom wealth is more precious than life is bidden, 'with all thy might' [i.e., substance].25

Incest and murder [may not be practised to save one's life], — even as Rabbi's dictum. For it has been taught: Rabbi said, For as when a man riseth against his neighbour, and slayeth him, even so is this matter.26  But what do we learn from this analogy of a murderer? Thus, this comes to throw light and is itself illumined. The murderer is compared to a betrothed maiden: just as a betrothed maiden must be saved [from dishonour] at the cost of his [the ravisher's] life, so in the case of a murderer, he [the victim] must be saved at the cost of his [the attacker's] life. Conversely, a betrothed maiden is compared to a murderer: just as one must rather be slain than commit murder, so also must the betrothed maiden rather be slain than allow her violation. And how do we know this of murder itself? — It is common sense. Even as one who came before Raba27  and said to him, 'The governor of my town has ordered me, "Go and kill so and so; if not, I will slay thee"'. He answered him, 'Let him rather slay you than that you should commit murder; who knows that your blood is redder? Perhaps his blood is redder.'28

When R. Dimi came,29  he said: This was taught only if there is no royal decree,30  but if there is a royal decree, one must incur martyrdom rather than transgress even a minor precept. When Rabin came, he said in R. Johanan's name: Even without a royal decree, it was only permitted in private; but in public one must be martyred even for a minor precept rather than violate it. What is meant by a 'minor precept'? — Raba son of R. Isaac said in Rab's name:

Original footnotes renumbered. See Structure of the Talmud Files
  1. For if she is seduced of her own consent, she may not be saved at the cost of her seducer's life, nevertheless, the fine is imposed.
  2. Without killing him.
  3. Here Rashi explains, either by the pursued, or by another person. On 57a he states, 'by the pursued'.
  4. Hence, in such circumstances the violator is not liable to death, and consequently liable to the fine.
  5. Ex. XXI. 22ff.
  6. I.e., he who injured the woman was striving to kill his opponent.
  7. Ibid. The extreme penalty, though the murder of the woman is unintentional, is explicable only on the above assumption.
  8. V. p. 490, n, 1.
  9. I.e., he is liable to be slain because he seeks to slay his combatant; but the monetary liability arises through his injury to the woman. Where, however, these liabilities are incurred on account of two different persons it may be that the one does not cancel the other.
  10. In B.K. 117b the text is Rabbah.
  11. And just as he would not have been punished had he killed him, so he is not liable for destroying his property.
  12. For if he who saves himself at another's expense is liable for the damage, how much more so when one saves another at a third party's expense.
  13. Lest in doing so he causes damage for which he will have to pay. Hence reverting to the subject under discussion, in the case of one man striving to kill another and injuring a woman, it must be assumed that he was not liable to be slain, and this is only possible if his opponent could be saved by a limb of the murderer, which proves R. Jonathan b. Saul's assertion.
  14. Viz., that of a betrothed maiden.
  15. Idolatry, by recognizing a divine power in addition to God's, dishonours Him, conceding to another that which is His alone.
  16. In this case, indemnify his slayer.
  17. The Sabbath: Everyone that profaneth it shall surely be put to death (Ex. XXXI, 14) idolatry: And thou shalt not let any of thy seed pass through the fire to Moloch, neither shalt thou profane the name of the Lord thy God, (Lev. XVII, 21).
  18. A town in South Palestine (Roman name Diospolis).
  19. According to Graetz, Geschichte, IV, p.p. 155 and 428ff this took place during the Hadrianic persecutions consequent upon the failure of the revolt of Bar Cochba 132-135 C.E. [According to Halevy Doroth i.e., p. 371. before the fall of Bether].
  20. Lev. XVIII, 5.
  21. Lev. XXII, 32.
  22. The Sages that met at the house of Nithza.
  23. Deut, VI. 5.
  24. I.e., even to give thy soul (life) in His service.
  25. This proves that one must incur a martyr's death rather than practice idolatry, for 'and thou shalt love the Lord thy God' means that we must not worship any other in His place.
  26. Deut. XXII, 26.
  27. Var. lec., Rabbah.
  28. I.e., you have no right to murder him to save yourself: his life is no less valuable than your own.
  29. V. p. 390 n. 1.
  30. Forbidding the practice of Judaism, the action being by an individual.

Sanhedrin 74b

Even to change one's shoe strap.1  And how many make it public? — R. Jacob said in R. Johanan's name: The minimum for publicity is ten.

It is obvious that Jews are required [for this publicity], for it is written. But I will be hallowed among the children of Israel.2  R. Jeremiah propounded: What of nine Jews and one Gentile? — Come and hear: For R. Jannai, the brother of R. Hiyya b. Abba learned: An analogy is drawn from the use of tok ['among'] in two passages. Here is written, But I will be hallowed among [be-tok] the children of Israel; and elsewhere, separate yourselves from among [mi-tok] this congregation:3  just as there the reference is to ten, all Jews, so here too — ten, all Jews.4  But did not Esther transgress publicly?5  — Abaye answered; Esther was merely natural soil.6  Raba said: When they [sc. the persecutors] demand it for their personal pleasure. it is different.7  For otherwise, how dare we yield to them' [sc. the Parsees or fire worshippers] our braziers [or fire bellows] and coal shovels?8  But their personal pleasure is different;9  so here too [in Esther's case].10  This [answer] concurs with Raba's view expressed elsewhere. For Raba said: If a Gentile said to a Jew. 'Cut grass on the Sabbath for the cattle, and if not I will slay thee', he must rather be killed than cut it; 'Cut it and throw it into the river, he should rather be slain than cut it. Why so? — Because his intention is to force him to violate his religion.

It was asked of R. Ammi: Is a Noachide bound to sanctify the Divine Name or not? — Abaye said, Come and hear: The Noachides were commanded to keep seven precepts.11  Now, if they were commanded to sanctify the Divine Name, they are eight. Raba said to him: Them, and an pertaining thereto.12

What is the decision? — The disciples of Rab13  said: It is written, In this thing, the Lord pardon thy servant, that when my master goeth into the house of Rimmon to worship there, and he leaneth on my hand, and I bow myself in the house of Rimmon.14  And it is written, And he said unto him, Go in peace.15

Original footnotes renumbered. See Structure of the Talmud Files
  1. When religion itself is persecuted even the most insignificant religious custom or habit must be defended at all costs, having regard to the higher principle at stake. [The shoe latchets worn by Jews were white, those worn by heathens black. v. Nacht. JQR, (N.S.) VI, p. 12.]
  2. Lev. XXII, 23.
  3. Num. XVI, 21.; v. Meg. 23b. A further analogy is there drawn from the use of congregation ('edah vsg) in two passages; one, just quoted, and the second, How long shall I bear with this evil congregation. ('edah) Ibid. XIV, 27. 'Congregation' there refers to the Spies sent out by Moses. As Joshua and Caleb had dissociated themselves from their evil report, ten were left, all Israelites, cf. Supra Mishnah I.i.
  4. Therefore one is not called upon to suffer martyrdom if bidden to transgress in the presence of nine Jews and one Gentile.
  5. By permitting a Gentile — Ahasuerus — to take her to wife.
  6. Which is tilled, i.e., she was only the passive object of his embraces.
  7. And not as a measure of religious persecution.
  8. The passage is obscure. The interpretation here is that of Levy. Who adopts the reading [H]. This refers to the Guebres, who permitted no fires in private dwellings on the festival days, and forced the Jews to give up to them their brazers (or bellows) and coal shovels, and themselves sit in darkness. On this interpretation [H] is derived from [H], the sound made by blowing up a fire. The Munich edition reads[H] or [H] (another reading), bears a strong resemblance to dominica: now, dies dominica (the Lord's Day) signifies Sunday, and aedes dominica signifies church; [H], for which an alternative reading is [H], may be a Greek word ([G]) also meaning church. In Raba's time there were Christian communities in Persia, observing their Sunday as strictly as the Jews observed the Sabbath, who therefore arranged for the Jews to heat their churches on that day, as they probably did a similar service for the Jews on the Sabbath (M. Jast. in REJ 1884, pp. 277ff.)
  9. I.e., They do not demand the fire as a religious act, whereby the Jew shall associate himself in idolatrous worship, but merely desire its warmth in their churches.
  10. Ahasuerus made her transgress for his personal pleasure, not because he desired her to violate her religion.
  11. V. supra 56a.
  12. I.e. sanctifying the Divine Name by observing their seven precepts is not a separate precept, but included therein.
  13. V. p. 387 n. 7.
  14. II Kings V, 18.
  15. Ibid. 19.