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Translation:Babylonian Talmud (Sanhedrin 3b–4b)

Babylonian Talmud (Sanhedrin 3b–4b)  (circa 500 C.E.) 
by rabbinic literature, translated from Hebrew by David Ben-Abraham and  Wikisource
(Translated from the original Hebrew and Aramaic)

(Page 3b)

תנו רבנן דיני ממונות בשלשה רבי אומר בחמשה כדי שיגמר הדין בשלשה The Rabbis taught: (Tosefta Sanhedrin 1:1) "Court cases involving monetary matters are settled in a court of three judges. Rebbe says in a court of five judges, so that a verdict might be reached by [a majority of] three."

To which last statement an explanation was demanded by those studying this Baraitta:


אטו בתלתא מי לא גמר דינא בתרי "Had there only been three, is a verdict not also reached by [a majority of] two?!"

This difficulty was later addressed by the scholars, saying that his words can be explained in the following way, viz.,


הכי קאמר מפני שגמר דין בשלשה אלמא קסבר תלתא כי כתיבי בגמר דינא כתיבי "Its meaning is thus. Seeing that the rendering of any judgment is [ordinarily made] by three judges, it is for this reason that he (Rebbe) holds the opinion that when the Torah writes about [the necessity of having] three judges, the sense is that the verdict be reached by three judges."

At which explanation a strong rebuttal was issued, prompting the Gemara to write:


מגדף בה רבי אבהו אלא מעתה תהא סנהדרי גדולה צריכה מאה וארבעים ואחד כדי שיגמר הדין בשבעים ואחד ותהא סנהדרי קטנה צריכה ארבעים וחמשה כדי שיגמר הדין בשלשה ועשרים אלא אספה לי שבעים איש אמר רחמנא משעת אסיפה שבעים ושפטו העדה והצילו העדה נמי משעת שפיטת העדה הכי נמי ונקרב בעל הבית אל האלהים משעת קריבה שלשה Rabbi Abhu would cast affronts at that explanation, saying: "If that were the case, we would also need the Greater Sanhedrin to be comprised of one-hundred and forty-one judges in order that the verdict be reached by seventy-one judges!" (Meaning, since a Great Sanhedrin is only made-up of seventy-one judges and no more, if we were to require complete agreement between all three judges in ordinary cases, we would likeness need to require complete agreement between all seventy-one judges as arbitrators in the more difficult cases brought before them, in which case it would require adding to their number). "Moreover," says Rabbi Abhu, "we would also need the Lesser Sanhedrin to be comprised of forty-five judges in order that the verdict be reached by twenty-three judges! Rather, God has said (Numbers 11:16): 'Gather unto me seventy men,' [that is], from the time of their gathering there ought to be seventy [men]. [The Scripture also says] (Numbers 35:24-25): 'the congregation shall then judge, &c. and the congregation shall deliver,' – likewise, the requisite here is from the very hour of arbitration! [Meaning, a congregation of ten to judge, and a congregation of ten to deliver, and three to make them unequal in number, to ensure a majority vote]. In the same way we find the Scripture (Exodus 22: 7), 'then the master of the house shall be brought unto the judges' (Heb. elohim), [that is], from the time the litigant approaches, there should be in place a panel of three [judges]!"

Note: Rabbi Abhu's clever way of countering the scholars' remark leaves Rebbe's teaching (which required five judges)
without a clear explanation. He went on, therefore, to explain Rebbe's position in the following way:


אלא היינו טעמא דרבי אשר ירשיעון אלהים תרי נאמר אלהים למטה ונאמר אלהים למעלה מה למטה שנים אף למעלה שנים ואין בית דין שקול מוסיפין עליהם עוד אחד הרי כאן חמשה "Rather, this is Rebbe's reason [for requiring five judges]. [The Scripture says] (Exodus 22:8): 'He whom the judges shall find guilty, etc.' [The words, shall find guilty, are expressed by the Hebrew in one singular word, viz., yarsheeʿoun, yet, this word is written out in the Hebrew as a defective verb lacking the letter waw (= ירשיען), but which was still given the equivalent vowel symbol of "u," or what is known in Hebrew as qubbutz, beneath the letter ʿayin (ע), so that the verb remains in the plural form יַרְשִׁיעֻן]. Here we learn of the necessity of there being at least two judges. [Meaning, since the verb has come down unto us in the plural form]. Now below [that passage of Scripture] it says elohim (i.e. the Hebrew word for "judge/s," which we have already established is at least two), and above [that passage of Scripture] it says elohim. Just as the word [written] below means two, so does that word above mean two, but since a court cannot be equal in number, they add thereto another member, hence: five judges!"

At this point, Rabbi Abhu also seeks to explain the Rabbis' position in the above Tosefta (Sanhedrin 1:1)
where they only require three judges. For they take the same verse and read into it a singular verb,
rather than a plural verb.


ורבנן ירשיען כתיב "But the Rabbis have it written [there as] Yarshee'an." [Meaning, since the verb ירשיען is written out in the Hebrew in defective scriptum, lacking the letter waw, and which letter would have otherwise made the verb plural, the Rabbis, therefore, had it as a tradition to expound the word as it appears written in the text, viz. Yarshee'an (Heb. יַרְשִׁיעַן), in the singular. In this case, the noun elohim (= "judge") which precedes the verb, and which once again is written after the verb, is to be understood as meaning one single judge in each case].

(Page 4a)

א"ר יצחק בר' יוסי אמר ר' יוחנן רבי ורבי יהודה בן רועץ ובית שמאי ור"ש ור' עקיבא כולהו סבירא להו יש אם למקרא Continuing along this train of thought, the Gemara says:
Rabbi Yitzhaq, the son of Rabbi Yose, said in the name of Rabbi Yoḥanan: "Rebbe and Rabbi Yehudah the son of Ro'etz and the school of Shammai, along with Rabbi Shimon and Rabbi Akiva – all of them hold the opinion that the tradition of reading (i.e. orthography and the letters with their vowel symbols) is authoritative in biblical interpretation."

רבי הא דאמרן ור' יהודה בן רועץ דתניא שאלו תלמידים את ר' יהודה בן רועץ אקרא אני שבעים יכול תהא יולדת נקבה טמאה שבעים אמר להן טימא וטיהר בזכר וטימא וטיהר בנקבה מה כשטיהר בזכר בנקבה כפלים אף כשטימא בזכר בנקבה כפלים לאחר שיצאו יצא ומחזיר אחריהם אמר להן אי אתם זקוקים לכך שבועיים קרינן ויש אם למקרא
ב"ש דתנן ב"ש אומרים כל הניתנין על מזבח החיצון שנתנן במתנה אחת כיפר ובחטאת שתי מתנות ובית הלל אומרים אף בחטאת שנתנן במתנה אחת כיפר ואמר רב הונא מ"ט דב"ש
The Gemara proceeds to explain:

Rebbe, lo, it is as we have already stated, (i.e. in Exodus 22:8, Yarsheeʿoun is to be read in the plural form, based on its vowel assignment), but Rabbi Yehudah, the son of Ro'etz, is as it is written in a Baraitta (Sifra): "[Certain] disciples asked Rabbi Yehudah, the son of Ro'etz: 'Shall I read, shivʿim (i.e. "seventy," by a play on the word שבעים in Leviticus 12: 5)? Is it possible that she who gives birth to a female remains unclean seventy [days]?' He said to them: 'It has rendered, both, uncleanness and cleanness with a male child, and has rendered, both, uncleanness and cleanness with a female child. Just as when he rendered cleanness with a male child, with a female child the time-frame is double, so, too, when he rendered uncleanness with a male child, with a female the time-frame would be double.' After they had gone out, he went out and followed after them. He [then] said to them: 'You do not stand in need of that [rationalization]. [After all], we read shevuʿayim שְׁבֻעַיִם (meaning, "two weeks"), and the tradition of reading (i.e. orthography and the letters with their vowel symbols) is authoritative in biblical interpretation.' "

The school of Shammai, as it is written in the Mishnah (Zevahim 4:1): "The school of Shammai say: 'Any [offering] whose blood is put upon the outer altar, [and] which was given as a single oblation, makes atonement,[1] but with the Sin-offering (Heb. ḥaṭāth = חטאת) it requires [at least] two oblations.' And the school of Hillel say: 'Even with the Sin-offering which was given as a single oblation, it [still] makes atonement.' "

Now Rav Huna has asked, what is the reason for the school of Shammai? [Meaning, why do they require at least two oblations for the Sin-offering, when the school of Hillel would only require one oblation whenever the officiating priest could not bring all four?]

קרנות קרנות קרנות הרי כאן שש ארבע למצוה ושתים לעכב Rav Huna proceeds to answer his own question:

It is because they read thrice in the Scriptures (Leviticus ch. 4: vss. 18, 30 & 34), qarnoth (i.e. horns [of the altar]) קַרְנֹת, qarnoth קַרְנֹת, [and once again] qarnoth קַרְנֹת, which when taken together amount to six: four [blood oblations are to be put on the four corners of the altar] as a first rule, but only two [blood oblations] being actually indispensable.

[Meaning, since the school of Shammai will recognize here the principle, Yesh em lemiqra (i.e. the Torah can be expounded by the way a word was meant to be vocalized, in accordance with a word's vowel assignments), and that since each noun is written in the plural, each word having literally the meaning of two horns, we find a total of six horns altogether that are mentioned in these verses. However, since, in fact, there are only four horns on the altar, each requiring its own blood oblation, the other two are left for an exegesis, namely, only two horns are indispensable].

ובית הלל אומרים קרנות קרנת קרנת הרי כאן ארבע ג' למצוה ואחת לעכב

ואימא כולהו למצוה כפרה בכדי לא אשכחן

ר"ש דתניא שתים כהלכתן ושלישית אפילו טפח ר"ש אומר שלש כהלכתן ורביעית אפילו טפח
Having explained the school of Shammai, Rav Huna proceeds to explain the school of Hillel:

Now the school of Hillel say (Leviticus ch. 4: vss. 7, 18 & 25) qarnoth קַרְנֹות, qarnath קַרְנַת, [and once again] qarnath קַרְנַת, which when taken together amount to four: three (should be: "four") [blood oblations are to be put on the four corners of the altar] as a first rule, but only one [blood oblation] being actually indispensable. [Meaning, the school of Hillel will recognize here the principle, Yesh em lemesoreth (i.e. the Torah can be expounded based on its traditional way of writing, without specific vowel assignments), and he would therefore read into the noun קרנת a very different order of vocalization, making two of the words appear as it were in the singular, while one appears in the plural].

Now [if you were to] say that all of them (i.e. the blood oblations) are to be put [upon the altar] as a first rule, we have not found such a thing as ineffective atonement.

Rabbi Shimon, as it is written in the Baraitta: "[The Rabbis would say]: 'Two [erected sides are the minimum requirement], according to halacha, [in one's Sukkah], while the third [side is sufficient that it be] even a hand-breadth [in width].' [Meaning, it is not necessary that the third wall built into one's Sukkah project outwards far enough so as to enclose the main part of a man's head and body, but rather it is only necessary that it extend outwards at least one hand-breadth in length. Moreover, it is not necessary that that same wall touch one of the two other larger erected walls, but can be distanced from one of them within the space of three hand-breadths in order for it to be reckoned as joined with the others – making up a total of three walls]. Rabbi Shimon says: 'Three [erected sides are the minimum requirement], according to halacha, while the fourth [side is sufficient that it be] even a hand-breadth [in length].' "

במאי קמיפלגי רבנן סברי יש אם למסורת ור"ש סבר יש אם למקרא

רבנן סברי יש אם למסורת בסכת בסכת בסוכות הרי כאן ארבע דל חד קרא לגופיה פשו להו תלת אתאי הלכתא גרעתא לשלישית ואוקימתא אטפח

ור"ש סבר בסוכות בסוכות בסוכות הרי כאן שש דל חד קרא לגופיה פשו להו ארבע אתאי הלכתא גרעתא לרביעית ואוקמיה אטפח
The Gemara proceeds to explain the differences between the two:

"What are they divided over? The Rabbis hold the view that the traditional Scripture text is authoritative in biblical interpretation (Hebrew: Yesh em lemesoreth). [Meaning, since the Hebrew characters in the Torah are written without phonetics, one is able to assign to the text any vocalization that he chooses if it serves his purpose in a particular exegesis]. But Rabbi Shimon holds the view that the tradition of reading (i.e. orthography and the letters with their traditional vowel symbols received orally at Sinai) is authoritative in biblical interpretation (Hebrew: Yesh em lemiqra). [Meaning, you must not, in this particular instance, stretch the meaning of the text by reading into the word other phonetics not traditionally associated with that word].

The Rabbis hold [to the principle] Yesh em lemesoreth(namely, in Leviticus 23: 42-43), בַּסֻּכַּת (singular), בַּסֻּכַּת (singular) and בַּסֻּכּוֹת (plural), which make for a total of four [erected sides]. Take away one verse seeing that it is needed for its own sake [and is not superfluous], you are then left with [only] three [sides]. [Meaning, since the other words are mainly redundant, they are given over to exegesis. Hence: three sides being the minimum requirement in a Sukkah]. An oral teaching delivered by Moses at Sinai then comes along and you diminish [the width of] the third side, letting it stand at only a hand-breadth.[2]

Now Rabbi Shimon holds [to the principle] Yesh em lemiqra (ibid.), [namely], בַּסֻּכֹּת (plural), בַּסֻּכֹּת (plural) and בַּסֻּכּוֹת (plural), which when taken together amount to a total of six [sides]. Take away one verse seeing that it is needed for its own sake [and is not superfluous], you are then left with four [sides]. An oral teaching delivered by Moses at Sinai then comes along and you diminish [the width of] the fourth side, letting it stand at only a hand-breadth."

ר"ע דתניא ר"ע אומר מניין לרביעית דם שיצאה משני מתים שמטמא באהל שנאמר על כל נפשות מת לא יבא שתי נפשות ושיעור אחד ורבנן נפשת כתיב Rabbi Akiva, as the oral teaching that says: "Rabbi Akiva says, From whence do we know that a quarter-log of blood which issues forth from two dead persons would cause defilement within a tent-like enclosure? As it says (Lev. 21:11): 'He (i.e. the high priest) is not to come upon any souls of the dead;' [Meaning], two souls having the [combined] quantity [of blood] equivalent to that of one [dead man]."

[NOTE: Here, in the biblical verse, the Hebrew word used for 'the dead' is מֵת and is written in the singular, while the word 'souls' (= נַפְשֹׁת) is written in the plural. Rabbi Akiva interprets the word 'souls' as 'blood,' or two pools of blood, just as we find in the Torah (Deut. 12:23): Ki hadam hu hanefesh –'For the blood is the soul.' Meaning, although no single slain corpse had the quantity of blood needed to make-up defilement, but when the blood of two dead men are combined they make-up the designated quantity of one quarter log of blood, and this would suffice to render defilement to that house or to any tent-like enclosure wherein that blood lay].

"However, as for the Rabbis, it is written [there] nafeshath (= נַפְשַׁת) [in the singular]."

מתקיף לה רב אחא בר יעקב מי איכא דלית ליה יש אם למקרא והתניא בחלב אמו יכול בחלב אמרת יש אם למקרא אלא דכ"ע יש אם למקרא This entire statement made by Rabbi Yitzhaq, the son of Yose, who in turn quoted from Rabbi Yochanan, saying that only the forenamed Rabbis hold to the principle of "Yesh em lemiqra," prompted a strong censure from Rav Acha bar Yaakov. The Gemara proceeds from there to say:

"Rav Acha bar Yaakov objected strongly to that [entire statement], saying: 'Is there anyone who doesn't accept the principle of Yesh em lemiqra?' " [A rhetorical question, meaning, of course there isn't anyone who denies this principle of logic. Everyone accepts it].

Rav Acha bar Yaakov goes on to prove his point, saying:

"But, behold, it's written in a Baraitta: '[The scripture says] (Exo. 23:19): '[You shall not seethe the kid of a goat] in its mother's milk' (= בַּחַלֵב אִמֹּו). Perhaps you are to say there: '[You shall not seethe the kid of a goat] in its mother's tallow?' (= בַּחֵלֶב). (Page 4b) [No]! You have said that the tradition of reading as being authoritative in biblical interpretation [is what holds up here].' [Learn from it], rather, that everyone holds to the principle of Yesh em lemiqra!"

  1. As it is written: "...and the blood of your sacrifices shall be poured out upon the altar of the Lord your God" (Deuteronomy 12:27).
  2. Meaning, the third side of the Sukkah does not necessarily need to touch one of the other two sides of the Sukkah, but can actually be distanced from the adjoining side at a hand-breadth.