The Babylonian Talmud
Category: Judaism
20:31 h
The Babylonian Talmud (Talmud Bavli) consists of documents compiled over the period of late antiquity (3rd to 6th centuries). The Babylonian Talmud comprises the Mishnah and the Babylonian Gemara, the latter representing the culmination of more than 300 years of analysis of the Mishnah in the Talmudic Academies in Babylonia. Tradition ascribes the compilation of the Babylonian Talmud in its present form to two Babylonian sages, Rav Ashi and Ravina II.

The Babylonian Talmud

Translated by
Michael L. Rodkinson

Preface to the Second Edition

THE translator of the Talmud, who has now reached the thirteenth volume of his task, covering twenty-one tracts of this great work, certainly cannot point with any great pride to the fact that this is the second edition of his translation which first appeared in 1896, for he believes that the opening and bringing to light of a book so long withheld from the gaze of the curious, and even the learned, should have attracted more attention and deserved greater consideration than it has received. However, he is glad to see that thousands of readers have at last taken advantage of the opportunity of looking into the “sealed book,” and to such an extent that second editions have become necessary, both of this volume and of the Tract Rosh Hashana of the fourth volume, which he has reëdited and enlarged upon, adding many historical facts and legends, so that they now appear as practically new works.

This is certainly an encouragement to him to continue his work, with the hope that in time it will gain the proper recognition and proper attention which he thinks this great work of the sixth century should receive at the hands of all scholars and even laymen.

In revising this volume the translator had in mind the many criticisms which have been passed upon his effort and which have appeared in various papers throughout different countries, but he gave his attention to those only which were not prompted by animosity and jealousy. He begs to call the attention of all critics to the dictum of the Talmud, “Kal Hat’haloth Kashoth” (all beginnings are difficult); for, bearing this in mind, they would no doubt have been more moderate.

The translator will be very grateful to critics who will call his attention to any mistakes made in the translation of the original text. However, he will positively ignore criticisms of the kind described above.

The translator further hopes that this and the succeeding volumes will meet with the favor and approval of the public, which will be sufficient reward to repay him for his efforts.

M. L. R.

NEW YORK, June, 1901.

Editor’s Preface

[To the first edition.]

THE Hebrew edition of Rosh Hashana contains an elaborate introduction in three chapters, the translation of which does not appear as yet. Its contents include many important rules which we have followed in the entire work, but we do not feel called upon at this time to engross the time of the English reader by reciting them. We, however, deem it a duty to say a few words, so that the reader may understand our position and the reason why we have undertaken a work which will probably be productive of much adverse criticism in certain quarters.

The fate of the Talmud has been the fate of the Jews. As soon as the Hebrew was born he was surrounded by enemies. His whole history has been one of struggle against persecution and attack. Defamation and deformation have been his lot. So too, has it been with the Talmud. At the beginning of its formative period, viz., the development of the Mishna, it was beset by such enemies as the Sadducees, the Boëthusians, and other sects, not to mention the Roman Government. When its canon was fixed, the Karaites tried to destroy or belittle its influence, and since that time it has been subjected to an experience of unvarying difficulty. Yet, with remarkable truth, the words of Isaiah [xliii. 2] may be applied to both: “When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee; when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee.” There is, however, one point concerning which this simile is not true. The Jew has advanced; the Talmud has remained stationary.

Since the time of Moses Mendelssohn the Jew has made vast strides forward. There is to-day no branch of human activity in which his influence is not felt. Interesting himself in the affairs of the world, he has been enabled to bring a degree of intelligence and industry to bear upon modern life that has challenged the admiration of the world. But with the Talmud it is not so. That vast encyclopædia of Jewish lore remains as it was. No improvement has been possible; no progress has been made with it. Issue after issue has appeared, but it has always been called the Talmud Babli, as chaotic as it was when its canon was originally appointed. Commentary upon commentary has appeared; every issue of the Talmud contains new glosses from prominent scholars, proposing textual changes, yet the text of the Talmud has not received that heroic treatment that will alone enable us to say that the Talmud has been improved. Few books have ever received more attention than this vast storehouse of Jewish knowledge. Friends and enemies it has had. Attack after attack has been made upon it, and defence after defence made for it; yet whether its enemies or its defenders have done it more harm it would be hard to tell. Not, forsooth, that we do not willingly recognize that there have been many learned and earnest spirits who have labored faithfully in its behalf; but for the most part, if the Talmud could speak, it would say, “God save me from my friends!” For the friends have, generally, defended without due knowledge of that stupendous monument of rabbinical lore; and the enemies have usually attacked it by using single phrases or epigrams disconnected from their context, by which method anything could be proven. In both cases ignorance has been fatal. For, how many have read the whole Talmud through and are thus competent to judge of its merits? Is it right to attack or defend without sufficient information? Is it not a proof of ignorance and unfairness to find fault with that of which we are not able to give proper testimony?

Let us take the case of those persons in particular who attacked the Talmud and made it the object of their venomous vituperation. Is it possible that they could have believed it a work capable of teaching the monstrous doctrines so frequently attributed to it, when that work says, among other things, “When one asks for food, no questions shall be asked as to who he is, but he must immediately be given either food or money”? Could a work be accused of frivolity and pettiness that defines wickedness to be “the action of a rich man who, hearing that a poor man is about to buy a piece of property, secretly overbids him”? (Qiddushin, 59a.) Could there be a higher sense of true charity than that conveyed by the following incident? Mar Uqba used to support a poor man by sending him on the eve of each Day of Atonement four hundred zuz. When the rabbi’s son took the money on one occasion he heard the poor man’s wife say, “Which wine shall I put on the table? Which perfume shall I sprinkle around the room?” The son, on hearing these remarks, returned with the money to his father and told him of what he had heard. Said Mar Uqba: “Was that poor man raised so daintily that he requires such luxuries? Go back to him and give him double the sum?” (Ketuboth, 7a.) This is not recorded by the Talmud as an exception; but it is the Talmudical estimate of charity. The Talmud is free from the narrowness and bigotry with which it is usually charged, and if phrases used out of their context, and in a sense the very reverse from that which their author intended, are quoted against it, we may be sure that those phrases never existed in the original Talmud, but are the later additions of its enemies and such as never studied it. When it is remembered that before the canon of the Talmud was finished, in the sixth century, it had been growing for more than six hundred years, and that afterward it existed in fragmentary manuscripts for eight centuries until the first printed edition appeared; that during the whole of that time it was beset by ignorant, unrelenting, and bitter foes; that marginal notes were easily added and in after years easily embodied in the text by unintelligent copyists and printers, such a theory as here advanced seems not at all improbable.

The attacks on the Talmud have not been made by the enemies of the Jews alone. Large numbers of Jews themselves repudiate it, denying that they are Talmud Jews, or that they have any sympathy with it. Yet there are only the few Karaites in Russia and Austria, and the still fewer Samaritans in Palestine, who are really not Talmud Jews. Radical and Reform, Conservative and Orthodox, not only find their exact counterparts in the Talmud, but also follow in many important particulars the practices instituted through the Talmud, e.g., New Year’s Day, Pentecost (so far as its date and significance are concerned), the QADDISH, etc. The modern Jew is the product of the Talmud, which we shall find is a work of the greatest sympathies, the most liberal impulses, and the widest humanitarianism. Even the Jewish defenders have played into the enemy’s hands by their weak defences, of which such expressions as “Remember the age in which it was written,” or “Christians are not meant by ‘gentiles,’ but only the Romans, or the people of Asia Minor,” etc., may be taken as a type.

Amid its bitter enemies and weak friends the Talmud has suffered a martyrdom. Its eventful history is too well known to require detailing here. We feel that every attack on it is an attack upon the Jew. We feel that defence by the mere citation of phrases is useless and at the best weak. To answer the attacks made upon it through ludicrous and garbled quotations were idle. There is only one defence that can be made in behalf of the Talmud. Let it plead its own cause in a modern language!

What is this Talmud of which we have said so much? What is that work on which so many essays and sketches, articles and books, have been written? The best reply will be an answer in negative form. The Talmud is not a commentary on the Bible; nor should the vein of satire or humor that runs through it be taken for sober earnestness. Nor is the Talmud a legal code, for it clearly states that one must not derive a law for practical application from any halakhic statement, nor even from a precedent, unless in either case it be expressly said that the law or statement is intended as a practical rule [Baba Bathra, 130b]. Further: R. Issi asked of R. Jo’hanan: “What shall we do if you pronounce a law to be a Halakha?” to which R. Jo’hanan replied: “Do not act in accordance with it until you have heard from me, ‘Go and practice.’” Neither is the Talmud a compilation of fixed regulations, although the Shul’han Arukh would make it appear so. Yet, even when the Shul’han Arukh will be forgotten, the Talmud will receive the respect and honor of all who love liberty, both mental and religious. It lives and will live, because of its adaptability to the necessities of every age, and if any proof were needed to show that it is not dead, the attacks that are with remarkable frequency made on it in Germany might be given as the strongest evidence. In its day the Talmud received, not the decisions, but the debates of the leaders of the people. It was an independent critic, as it were, adapting itself to the spirit of the times; adding where necessary to the teachings of former days, and abrogating also what had become valueless in its day. In other words, the Talmud was the embodiment of the spirit of the people, recording its words and thoughts, its hopes and aims, and its opinions on every branch of thought and action. Religion and Ethics, Education, Law, History, Geography, Medicine, Mathematics, etc., were all discussed. It dealt with living issues in the liveliest manner, and, therefore, it is living, and in reading it we live over again the lives of its characters.

Nothing could be more unfair, nothing more unfortunate than to adopt the prevailing false notions about this ancient encyclopædia. Do not imagine it is the bigoted, immoral, narrow work that its enemies have portrayed it to be. On the very contrary; in its statements it is as free as the wind. It permits no shackles, no fetters to be placed upon it. It knows no authority but conscience and reason. It is the bitterest enemy of all superstition and all fanaticism.

But why speak for it? Let it open its mouth and speak in its own defence! How can it be done? The Talmud must be translated into the modern tongues and urge its own plea. All that we have said for it would become apparent, if it were only read. Translation! that is the sole secret of defence! In translating it, however, we find our path bristling with difficulties. To reproduce it as it is in the original is in our judgment an impossible task. Men like Pinner and Rawicz have tried to do so with single tracts, and have only succeeded in, at the best, giving translations to the world which are not only not correct but also not readable. If it were translated from the original text one would not see the forest through the trees. For, as we have said above, throughout the ages there have been added to the text marginal notes, explanatory words, and whole phrases and sentences inserted in malice or ignorance, by its enemies and its friends. As it stands in the original it is, therefore, a tangled mass defying reproduction in a modern tongue. It has consequently occurred to us that, in order to enable the Talmud to open its mouth, the text must be carefully edited. A modern book, constructed on a supposed scientific plan, we cannot make of it, for that would not be the Talmud; but a readable, intelligible work, it can be made. We have, therefore, carefully punctuated the Hebrew text with modern punctuation marks, and have reëdited it by omitting all such irrelevant matter as interrupted the clear and orderly arrangement of the various arguments. We have also omitted repetitions; for frequently the same thing is found repeated in many tracts; while in this translation each statement is to be found only once, and in the proper place for it. In this way there disappear those unnecessary debates within debates, which only serve to confuse and never to enlighten on the question debated. Thus consecutiveness has been gained, but never at the expense of the Talmud, for in no case have we omitted one single statement that was necessary or of any importance. In other words, we have merely removed from the text those accretions that were added from outside sources, which have proven so fruitful a source of misunderstanding and misrepresentation.

We continue our labors in the full and certain hope that “he who comes to purify receives divine help,” and that in our task of removing the additions made by the enemies of the Talmud we shall be purifying it from the most fruitful source of the attacks made on it, and thereunto we hope for the help of Heaven. As we have already said, we feel that this work will not be received everywhere with equal favor. We could not expect that it would. Jewish works of importance have most usually been given amid “lightning and thunder,” and this is not likely to prove an exception.

We are always ready to accept criticism, so long as it is objective, and we shall gladly avail ourselves of suggestions given to us, but we shall continue to disregard all personal criticism directed not against our work but against its author. This may serve as a reply to a so-called review that appeared in one of our Western weeklies.

At the same time we deem it our duty to render to Dr. Isaac H. Wise, the venerable President of the Hebrew Union College of Cincinnati, our heartfelt thanks for the several evenings spent in revising this volume, and for many courtesies extended to us in general.


CINCINNATI, May, 1896.

Brief General Introduction
to the
Babylonian Talmud

ON this, the appearance of our latest literary undertaking, we deem a few explanatory remarks necessary. The brief outline of the origin of the Talmud that follows may suggest the thought that we have departed from the usual manner of dealing with the questions here discussed, the more so since we have, for the sake of brevity, refrained from citing the authorities on which our statements are based. We wish, therefore, to declare here that we do not venture to make a single statement without the support of authorities well known in Hebrew literature. Our method is to select such views as seem to us the best authenticated in the historical progress of Judaism. As we have taken our choice from the numerous works on our subject, the student is entitled to adopt or to reject the views that we represent.

Most of the Mishnayoth date from a very early period, and originated with the students of the Jewish academies which existed since the days of Jehoshaphat, King of Judah [II Chron. xvii. 9].

The rabbinical students of ancient times noted the essence of the academical teachings in brief form, and, as a rule, in the idiom in which it was spoken to them, so that they could afterward easily commit it to memory. They have sometimes, however, added comments and extensive explanations in the form of notes, so that the mass of their learning, embraced in course of time, according to some authorities, as many as six hundred divisions.

The source of the Mishnayoth was the customs and regulations practised by the authorities in their administration of religious and civil affairs: such as the Sabbath, Prayers, Cleanliness (considered actually Godliness), Permitted and Forbidden Foods, and controversies arising concerning Slavery. Indebtedness and corporal punishment are subjects of academical discussion, conducted with the aim of perfecting them into national statutes enforceable in all Jewish communities alike.

In course of time, however, when those Mishnayoth were noted down from earlier existing copies, many additions were made. Finally Rabbi Jehudah the Prince, generally called Rabbi, concluded to collect all the Mishnayoth in his college for proper arrangement. From these he selected six divisions, called according to the subject they deal with, viz.: Seeds, Feasts, Women, Damages, Sacrifices, and Purifications, and he proclaimed them holy for all Israel. Of the Mishnayoth so treated by Rabbi some were left entirely intact, and were reproduced in their original form. To others he parenthetically added brief comments of his own, and there are still others that he changed in form completely, because already in his day old customs had changed and taken new forms.

Such of them as he desired to make final and indisputable national laws he incorporated into the Mishna without mentioning the names of their authors. Where, however, he could formulate no definite decision himself, or where they were well known to the public, he gave full information of their authors as well as the names of those opposed to their conclusions, without any decision on his part. In still others he mentioned no names, but contented himself with saying “A’herim,” i.e., “Anonymous teachers say,” not wishing to specify their authority for certain reasons.

Rabbi did not seek the compliance and agreement of all his contemporaries in his arrangement of the Mishna, and many differed from his conclusions and even arranged Mishnayoth in accordance with their own views. Being, however, a man of great prominence, influence, and wealth, Rabbi succeeded in quelling opposition and in making his conclusions as acceptable as the Mosaic law itself; and his great pupils, seeing that his intentions were only to prevent dissensions and his only aim the public weal, supported him nobly, until his teachings were accepted as the law of the nation.

Many Mishnayoth were rejected and destroyed by Rabbi, but, not being in possession of all those he wished to destroy, he went in search of them to colleges outside of his jurisdiction. There, however, he met with great opposition. Some of the Mishnayoth were hidden beyond his reach, others were secretly preserved and arranged within the very limits of his domain and promptly brought to light after his death. But Rabbi’s pupils did not dignify them with the name MISHNA, implying “next to Mosaic law,” but called them TOSEPHTOTH, meaning “additions of a later period,” or merely additional, not principal, matter. Some of them were also named BORAITHOTH (outsiders), i.e., secondary, not academical matter. They spread, however, very rapidly after Rabbi’s death, and to such an extent as to threaten the Mishnayoth of Rabbi with entire extinction. Such would actually have been the result, had not the pupils of Rabbi organized again colleges whose aim was to perpetuate the Mishnayoth of Rabbi, which they also accomplished. Colleges of that character were those of Rabh and Samuel in Babylon and Rabbi Janai and Rabbi Jo’hanan in Palestine. These colleges made strenuous efforts to explain and harmonize the Mishnayoth of Rabbi with the teachings of the Boraithoth, generally regarded as those of Rabbi Hyya and Rabbi Oshia, who were greatly admired by the public. At times the Mishna of Rabbi was abbreviated and replenished with the text of the Boraitha, or explained with an opposing opinion, so as to harmonize it with the latter or suit the new conditions and consequent changes of the custom that originally caused the conclusion of the Mishna. Where, however, they found no other way to suit their purpose, they inserted a new Mishna of their own composition into the text of Rabbi.

The teachers mentioned in the Mishna of Rabbi or in the Boraithoth and Tosephta were called Tanaim (singular Tana) signifying Instructors, Professors. The teachings of the colleges, covering a period of some centuries, which also found adherents and became the traditional law, were called GEMARA, signifying “conclusion.” The intention was to harmonize Mishna and Boraitha, and, in most cases, to arrive at a final decision as to the theory of the law (as Rabbi the proper interpretation or Jo’hanan prohibited compliance with the Halakha unless it is mandatory). These Gemara teachers were called AMORAIM (interpreters), i.e., they interpreted to the public the difficult passages in the Mishna. Being classified as interpreters only, they had no authority to deviate from the spirit of the Mishna unless supported by another Tana opposing the Mishna, in which case they could follow the opinion of the Tana with whom they agreed. Rabhina and R. Ashi, who lived at the end of the fifth century (third century of Amoraim), began to arrange the Gemara, but without success, and commenced a second time to arrange it. Unfortunately they died before accomplishing their task, and the Gemara had to undergo the chances of transmission from hand to hand until the appearance upon the scene of Rabana Jose, president of the last Saburaic College in Pumbeditha, who foresaw that his college was destined to be the last, owing to the growing persecution of the Jews from the days of “Firuz.” He also feared that the Amoraic manuscripts would be lost in the coming dark days or materially altered, so be summoned all his contemporary associates and hastily closed up the Talmud, prohibiting any further additions. This enforced haste caused not only an improper arrangement and many numerous repetitions and additions, but also led to the “talmudizing” of articles directly traceable to bitter and relentless opponents of the Talmud. The time (Rabana Jose conducted his college only seventeen years) being too short for a proper and critical review of each and every subject, many theories were surreptitiously added by its enemies, with the purpose of making it detestable to its adherents. Of such character is the expression, “That of R. Ashi is a fabrication,” which is repeated numerous times throughout the Talmud and which could by no means have originated with the Amoraim, which as a rule were very guarded in their expressions and would never have dreamed of applying it or similar expressions to such Talmudical authorities as R. Ashi and Mar, his son, much less to the Patriarchs or the Prophets. This closing up of the Talmud did not, however, prevent the importation of foreign matter into it, and many such have crept in through the agency of the “Rabanan Saburai” and the Gaonim of every later generation.

The chief aim of the authors of the Gemara being to perpetuate the Mishna as the sole source of the Jewish religious and civil code after the Mosaic laws themselves, they not only directed all their energy to the discussion and perfecting of its deductions, but treated its very words and letters as inspired and as holy as the Bible itself, forming at times conclusions from a superfluous word or letter. Oftentimes, when they found the Mishna differing with an established custom in their days, they resorted to subtle inquiry and minute discussion, until they succeeded in establishing harmony between the differing points. All these efforts were directed to refute and disprove the assertions of the different sects who opposed the oral law and who were inclined to adhere to the written law solely. Therefore the Rabbis of the Gemara said “MINALAN?” (Wherefrom its source?) or “MINOH HANNE MILI?” (which means “Whence is all this deduced?”) in the treatment of a subject not plainly specified in the Bible; and also the exclamatory remark “PESHITA!” (It is self-evident!) as regards subjects plainly enumerated in the Scriptures which do not admit of any other interpretation. Of the same origin is the question “LEMAI HILKHETHA?” (For what purpose was this Halakha stated?) with reference to an obsolete custom. So much for the general history of the Talmud.

Introduction to Tract Sabbath

WITH this tract we commence the translation of the section of the Talmud called Moed (Festivals), containing the following tracts: Sabbath, Erubhin, Rosh Hashana, Yuma, Shekalim, Sukkah, Megillah, Taanith, Pesachim, Betzah, Hagigah, and Moed Katan. All these tracts are entirely devoted to precepts pertaining to the observance of the festivals and Sabbath, such as the performance of the different ritual ceremonies on feast-days, the manner of sanctifying the Sabbath, and the ordinances relating to mourning for the dead both on Sabbath and week-days.

The commandments on which these precepts are founded, or from which they are derived, are contained in various portions of the Pentateuch. The fourth commandment of the Decalogue enacts (Exod. xx. 8-11 and Deut. v. 12-15): “The seventh day shall ye keep holy.” In various other parts of the Pentateuch the due observance of the Sabbath is repeatedly ordained; in some instances merely mentioning the day as one to be kept inviolate and holy; and in others employing greater emphasis, referring to the history of creation, and establishing the observance as a sign of the covenant between the Lord and Israel. Such texts are Exod. xiii. 12; xvi. 15; xxxi, 13-17; xxxiv. 21; xxxv. 1-3; Lev. xix. 29; xxiii. 32; Num. xv. 9, etc. While the general principle is thus frequently inculcated, its special application, however, and specific enactments as to what constitutes a violation of the Sabbath, are nowhere fully carried out in the Pentateuch, and thus but few texts of the Scriptures serve as a direct basis for the minute and numerous enactments of the rabbinical law.

The Mishna enumerates thirty-nine “Abhoth” or principal acts of labor, the performance of any one of which constitutes a violation of the Sabbath. Every other kind of work becomes illegal only if it can be classified under one or any of these principal acts of labor. Thus, for instance, under the principal act of ploughing, every analogous kind of work, such as digging, delving, weeding, dunging, etc., must be classified. In addition to these thirty-nine principal acts and their accessories and derivatives, there are other acts which are especially prohibited by the rabbinical law as tending to violate the Sabbath rest (Shbhuth). For the violation itself various degrees of culpability are established, and various degrees of punishment awarded. All these subjects relating to the due observance of the Sabbath, and pointing out its violation in every possible way, form the contents of the treatise Sabbath.

In order properly to understand the Mishna, and to avoid tedious repetitions, it is necessary to commence with the explanation of certain general principles and technical expressions predominating in the text.

Wherever throughout the Mishna the expression guilty, culpable (Hayabh), or free (Patur) is used, the meaning of the former (guilty) is that the transgressor acting unintentionally must bring the sin-offering prescribed in the law; of the second expression (free), that the accused is absolved from punishment.

If through the performance of an unprohibited act some other (prohibited) occupation is inadvertently entered upon, it constitutes no offence, providing the latter is not done intentionally nor the lawful occupation entered upon with the covert purpose of making it serve as a subterfuge to do that which is prohibited.

In the degrees of violation the nature of the occupation must be considered, as various kinds of labor may be required to perform and complete one act, and thus the offender may become amenable to several penalties. On the other hand, the rule is laid down that such occupations as only destroy, but do not serve an end in view, do not involve culpability (in the rigorous sense of the word); nor yet does work which is but imperfectly or incompletely performed involve culpability.

The prohibition to carry or convey any object from one place to another, which in Chap. I., § 1, of this treatise is called “Yetziath (Ha) Shabbath” (which means transfer on the Sabbath) and forms the thirty-ninth of the principal acts of labor, requires particular attention and explanation from the complexity of cases to which it gives rise. All space was by the Tanaim divided into four distinct kinds of premises, explained in the Gemara of this chapter. When in the text of the Mishna the question is about carrying and conveying from one place to another, it does not apply to the “free place,” as that is subject to no jurisdiction. Moreover, the open air above private property has no legal limitation, whereas that over public property or unclaimed ground (carmelith) only belongs thereto to the height of ten spans (see explanation of the Gemara). The carrying or conveying from one kind of premises to another does not constitute a complete or perfect act, unless the same person who takes a thing from the place it occupies deposits it in another place.

The tracts Sabbath and Erubhin will contain the laws for the observance of rest on Sabbath, and these laws can be divided into two separate parts. Firstly, the part prohibiting labor on the Sabbath day, at the same time defining what is to be termed labor and what does not constitute an act of labor; and secondly, the part ordaining how the day is to be sanctified and distinguished from a week-day in the manner of eating, drinking, dress, lighting of candles in honor of the Sabbath, and incidentally the lighting of candles in honor of the festival of ‘Hanukah (the Maccabees).

It has been proven that the seventh day kept holy by the Jews was also in ancient times the general day of rest among other nations, and was usually spent by the people of those days in much the same way as it is spent now, wherever local laws do not restrict buying and selling, namely: In the forenoon prayers were recited and the necessities of life for the day were bought, while the afternoon was devoted to pleasure-seeking, merrymaking, visiting, and so forth. The Jews living prior to the time of Ezra and Nehemiah, and even during the latter’s régime, were wont to spend the Sabbath in the same manner as their pagan neighbors. It was this fact that caused the sages of Nehemiah’s time to fear that should the Jews, who were always in the minority as compared with other nations, continue this method of keeping the Sabbath and join in the merrymaking and pleasures of their neighbors, mingling freely with their sons and daughters, assimilation was almost inevitable, especially as the Jewish race was scattered over all the known world and was nowhere in very large numbers.

The sages then devised means to keep the Jew from mingling with the Gentile and from participating in the pleasures and carousals of his neighbors. This can be seen from Nehemiah, xiii. 1-26: “In those days saw I in Judah some treading wine-presses on the Sabbath,” etc. “In those days also saw I Jews that had married wives of Ashdod, of Ammon, and of Moab,” etc. “Ye shall not give your daughters unto their sons nor take their daughters unto your sons, or for yourselves.” Thus we see that Nehemiah began by prohibiting traffic and the carrying of burdens on the Sabbath [ibid. xiii. 19] and ended by prohibiting intermarriage with foreign women. About this time also another prophet, the second Isaiah — who, though not possessing the temporal power of Nehemiah, was gifted with that persuasive eloquence that appealed to the heart — preached against indulging in pleasures on the Sabbath day. He says [Isaiah, lviii. 13-14]: “If thou turn away thy foot from the Sabbath” (meaning if thou keep away from drinking-places, dancing-houses, etc., on the Sabbath and follow not the custom of other nations), “and call the Sabbath a delight” (meaning the rest on the Sabbath shall constitute thy pleasure), “the holy of the Lord, honorable; and shalt honor him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words. Then shalt thou delight thyself in the Lord; and I will cause thee to ride the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father; for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.” (The inference is very plain. The prophet wishes to impress the Jew with the fact that the Lord will reward those with the heritage of Jacob who have kept away from mingling with the pleasures of other nations. Read ibid. lvii., especially verses 10, 11, and 12.)

After the establishment of a permanent government among the Jews, however, it was found that the exhortations of the prophets after the manner of Isaiah were of no avail; the people still continued seeking pleasures on the Sabbath, after the manner of other nations, and were still wont to enjoy the pastimes of their neighbors. The enforcement of the prohibition of carrying burdens was then decided upon to act as a check upon the people by defining minutely the meaning of burdens, and the prohibition was interpreted to include not only heavy burdens, but all portable articles, such as money, trinkets, eatables, etc., while only necessary articles of clothing and apparel were permitted to be worn. To such an extent was the matter carried that even the wearing of rings, with the exception of such as had the name of the wearer engraved upon them, was not permitted. In fact, everything that could be converted into money was included in the definition of burdens. Beggars were not permitted to solicit alms on the Sabbath, contrary to the customs of other nations, so as not to afford any one an excuse for carrying money on that day.

The enforcement of such a law, however, was practically impossible in the case of people who remained in their houses, and certain modifications were made. These modifications were as follows: The laws were made to apply only on public grounds but were not valid on private grounds, so that in a private house a person was permitted to carry whatever was necessary. Private grounds were also established by the institution of Erubhin, i.e., where a street or a public place was inhabited by Jews alone a small amount of meal was collected from each household; from the meal a cake was made and hung conspicuously in that locality. The point where the street inhabited by Jews alone commenced and the point where it ended were joined by a piece of twine, and thus definitely marked. Thus public grounds were turned into private grounds, from the fact that each household contributing a share of meal made them all in a manner copartners in one object. The walking of more than two thousand ells outside of the city limits was also prohibited. Within the city limits, be the city ever so large, walking was permitted.

The possibility of confinement in the house on the Sabbath becoming conducive to the performance of labor was offset by the establishment of a law prohibiting all the different modes of labor used in the construction of the tabernacle, besides all manner of agricultural labor. This again brought about the detailing of all the different modes of labor employed in the construction of the tabernacle and in agriculture, all of which is discussed in these treatises of Sabbath and Erubhin.

Naturally the institution of laws carries with it provisions for the penalties attending their infraction, and these penalties were divided into three classes:

First, the penalties for unintentional infractions.

Secondly, for intentional infractions.

Thirdly, for intentional violations where the violator had been previously forewarned of the penalty by two witnesses.

Ocean 2.0 Reader. Empty coverOcean 2.0 Reader. Book is closedOcean 2.0 Reader. FilterOcean 2.0 Reader. Compilation cover