Copyright (c) 2013 by Gary Konecky and Loving Ministries / G-d Loves You

In our exploration of Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, we discussed the Talmudic passage (Baba Metzia 59a) that dealt with oven of Aknai. While this passage is significant in its own right, the passage is part of a larger discussion in the Talmud (Baba Metzia 58b) that concerns the issue of shaming one's fellow.

Before we start our exploration of this larger Talmudic passage, some background information relating to Talmudic study is in order:

  • As is typical for a Talmudic discussion, the subject is presented tersely, with issues being discussed and key concepts being implied.

  • Following each page of quoted Talmud, there are numerous notes that are indicated by numbers in parenthesis ( ).

  • As is the format of the Talmud, our discussion starts with a Mishnah (in all CAPS), and is followed by a Gemara that then discusses that Mishnah.

  • Quotes from scripture are used as proof texts and are in italics. The other reason scripture is quoted is to explore the meanings of the scriptural verses themselves. You may wish to have a copy of the Hebrew Bible handy.

  • Some names of places and objects are also in italics.

  • Palestine was the name given to the ancient land of Israel when the Romans conquered Israel and unsuccessfully attempted to wipe out all evidence of the Jewish presence in Israel. The term Palestinian historically meant the Jews until Yassar Arafat's creation of the terrorist PLO in the 1960s.

  • It is also important to remember that the sages of the Talmud would cite the most extreme case when making a point. The reason being that if the extreme example is upheld, then the position is valid in more typical and less extreme circumstances.

  • The term “overreaching” in this discussion means overcharging as defined elsewhere in the Talmud.

  • Gehenna is the name of the Jewish concept of Hell.

  • Halachah is Jewish religious law.

As for the passage itself, we have a critical question to ponder as we start our exploration of this passage. We already know from Part 14 that there is a despite among the sages over the ritual purity or impurity of the oven of Aknai. We also know that the dispute is resolved by the sages declaring their independence from Heaven, and that this development marks the end of the age of prophecy.

Why is this story about the end of the age of prophecy included in a discussion about the prohibition shaming someone? Is a verbal wrong more heinous than a monetary wrong? Is there a link between shaming someone and oppressing them? Is any of this relevant, not only for us, but for our political and religious leaders? Does this discussion have any bearing on the still ongoing epidemic of school bullying and cyber-bullying?

Let us start by turning to the Talmud (Baba Metzia 58b):


With this Mishnah, our discussion commences. Why is the repentant sinner and the convert singled out specifically for protection against someone shaming them? Does any of this have anything to do with the destruction of The Holy Temple, which was in Jerusalem? What is the meaning of and thou shalt fear thy God? How is shaming someone the same as shedding their blood?

The Talmud now proceeds to discuss the above Mishnah:

GEMARA. Our Rabbis taught: Ye shall not therefore wrong one another;12 Scripture refers to verbal wrongs. You say, verbal wrongs; but perhaps that is not so, monetary wrongs being meant? When it is said, And if thou sell aught unto thy neighbour, or acquirest aught of thy neighbour [ye shall not wrong one another],13 monetary wrongs are already dealt with. Then to what can I refer, ye shall not therefore wrong each other? To verbal wrongs. E.g., If a man is a penitent, one must not say to him, 'Remember your former deeds.' If he is the son of proselytes he must not be taunted with, 'Remember the deeds of your ancestors.' If he is a proselyte and comes to study the Torah, one must not say to him, 'Shall the mouth that ate unclean and forbidden food,14 abominable and creeping things, come to study the Torah which was uttered by the mouth of Omnipotence!' If he is visited by suffering, afflicted with disease, or has buried his children, one must not speak to him as his companions spoke to Job, is not thy fear [of God] thy confidence, And thy hope the integrity of thy ways? Remember, I pray thee, who ever perished, being innocent?15 If assdrivers sought grain from a person, he must not say to them, 'Go to so and so who sells grain,' whilst knowing that he has never sold any. R. Judah said: One may also not feign interest in16 a purchase when he has no money, since this is known to the heart only17, and of everything known only to the heart it is written, and thou shalt fear thy God.18

R. Johanan said on the authority of R. Simeon b. Yohai: Verbal wrong is more heinous than monetary wrong, because of the first it is written, 'and thou shalt fear thy God,' but not of the second. R. Eleazar said: The one affects his [the victim's] person, the other [only] his money. R. Samuel b. Nahmani said: For the former restoration is possible, but not for the latter.

A tanna recited before R. Nahman b. Isaac: He who publicly shames19 his neighbour is as though he shed blood. Whereupon he remarked to him, 'You say well, because I have seen it [sc. such shaming], the ruddiness departing and paleness supervening.'20

Abaye asked R. Dimi: What do people [most] carefully avoid in the West [sc. palestine]? — He replied: putting others to shame.21 For R. Hanina said: All descend into Gehenna, excepting three. ‘'All' - can you really think so! But say thus: All who descend into Gehenna [subsequently] reascend, excepting three, who descend but do not reascend, viz., He who commits adultery with a married woman, publicly shames his neighbour, or fastens an evil epithet [nickname] upon his neighbour. 'Fastens an epithet' but that is putting to shame! — [It means], Even when he is accustomed to the name.22

Rabbah b. Bar Hanah said in R. Johanan's name:


Notes to Baba Mezia 58b:

(11) Ex. XXII, 20.

(12) Lev. XXV, 17.

(13) Ibid. 14.

(14) Heb. nebeloth, terefoth, q.v. GIos.

(15) Job IV, 6f.

(16) Lit., 'look up to.'

(17)מסןר ללב Lit., 'entrusted to the heart.'

(18) Lev. XXV, 17. Man cannot know whether one's intentions are legitimate or not, since they are concealed, but God knows (Rashi). [This beautiful phrase מסןר ללב which, were certain critics of Pharisaism right, ought never to have been on Pharisaic lips (Abrahams, I. Studies on Pharisaism, Second Series, p. 116), may also denote matters left to ethical research and conviction, which cannot be mastered, weighed or determined by will, but by a delicate perception, fine tact and a sensitiveness of nature. V. Lazarus, The Ethics of Judaism, I, 122 and 292.]

(19) Lit., 'makes pale'.

(20) Thus the blood is drained from the victim's face, which is the equivalent of shedding his blood. [V. Wiesner, J. Mag. f. Jud. Gesch. u. Lit. 1875, p. 11.]

(21) Lit., 'making faces white.'’

    (22) So that he experiences no humiliation, nevertheless it is very reprehensible when the intention is evil. — It is noteworthy that apart from these three - which are obviously stated in a heightened form for the sake of emphasis (V. Tosaf.) the idea of endless Gehenna is rejected. Cf. M. Joseph, Judaism as Creed and Life, pp. 145 seq. ‘'Nor do we believe in hell or in everlasting punishment . . . If suffering there is to be, it is terminable. The idea of eternal punishment is repugnant to the genius of Judaism.'

Talmud (Baba Metzia 59a):

Better it is for man to cohabit with a doubtful married woman1 rather than that he should publicly shame his neighbour. Whence do we know this? - From what Raba expounded, viz., What is meant by the verse, But in mine adversity they rejoiced and gathered themselves together... they did tear me, and ceased not?2 David exclaimed before the Holy One, blessed be He, 'Sovereign of the Universe! Thou knowest full well that had they torn my flesh, my blood would not have poured forth to the earth.3 Moreover, when they are engaged in studying "Leprosies" and "Tents"4 they jeer at me, saying, "David! what is the death penalty of him who seduces a married woman?" I reply to them, "He is executed by strangulation, yet has he a portion in the world to come. But he who publicly puts his neighbour to shame has no portion in the world to come.'"5

Mar Zutra b. Tobiah said in Rab's name - others state, R. Hana6 b. Bizna said in the name of R. Simeon the pious - others again state, R. Johanan said on the authority of R. Simeon b. Yohai: Better had a man throw himself into a fiery furnace than publicly put his neighbour to shame. Whence do we know it? - From Tamar.7 For it is written, when she was brought forth, she sent to her father-in-law [etc].8

R. Hanina, son of R. Idi, said: What is meant by the verse, Ye shall not wrong one another ['amitho]? - Wrong not a people that is with you in learning and good deeds .9

Rab said: One should always be heedful of wronging his wife, for since her tears are frequent she is quickly hurt.10

R. Eleazar said:11 Since the destruction of the Temple, the gates of prayer are locked, for it is written, Also when I cry out, he shutteth out my prayer.12 Yet though the gates of prayer are locked, the gates of tears are not, for it is written, Hear my prayer, O Lord, and give ear unto my cry; hold not thy peace at my tears.13

As we will see, there is another understanding of which gates are open, that being the gates of wounded feelings. In other words, when someone has been wronged, as in publicly humiliated, they will cry out to Heaven, most likely for revenge. As that cry will be of hurt feelings, it will be heard in Heaven. The point being a paradox in which someone who was hurt and who feels powerless, is in fact more powerful than the victor; as in the hurt person has the ultimate recourse, that is that his or her cries will be heard in Heaven, and that G-d is always ready to plead the cause of the one who has been wronged.

Resuming the text of the Talmud:

Rab also said: He who follows his wife's counsel will descend14 into Gehenna, for it is written, But there was none like unto Ahab [which did sell himself to work wickedness in the sight of the Lord, whom Jezebel his wife stirred up].15 R. Papa objected to Abaye: But people say, If your wife is short, bend down and hear her whisper! - There is no difficulty: the one refers to general matters; the other to household affairs.16 Another version: the one refers to religious matters, the other to secular questions.

R. Hisda said: All gates are locked, excepting the gates [through which pass the cries of] wrong [ona'ah], for it is written, Behold the Lord stood by a wall of wrongs, and in his hand were the wrongs.17 R. Eleazar said: All [evil] is punished through an agent, excepting wrong, for it is written, And in his hand were the wrongs.18 R. Abbahu said: There are three [evils] before which the Curtain19 is not closed: overreaching, robbery and idolatry. Overreaching, for it is written, and in his hand was the overreaching. Robbery, because it is written, Robbery and spoil are heard in her; they are before me continually.20 Idolatry, for it is written, A people that provoketh me to anger continually before my face; [that sacrificeth - sc. to idols - in gardens, and burneth incense upon altars of brick].21

Rab Judah said: One should always take heed that there be corn in his house; for strife is prevalent in a house only on account of corn [food], for it is written, He maketh peace in thy borders: he filleth thee with the finest of the wheat.22 Said R. Papa, Hence the proverb: When the barley is quite gone from the pitcher, strife comes knocking at the door23. R. Hinena b. papa said: One should always take heed that there be corn in his house, because Israel were called poor only on account of [the lack of] corn, for it is said, And so it was when Israel had sown etc., and it is further written, And they [sc. the Midianites and the Amalekites] encamped against them, [and destroyed the increase of the earth], whilst this is followed by, And Israel was greatly impoverished because of the Midianites.24

R. Helbo said: One must always observe the honour due to his wife, because blessings rest on a man's home only on account of his wife, for it is written, And he treated Abram well for her sake.25 And thus did Raba say to the townspeople of Mahuza,26 Honour your wives, that ye may be enriched.27

So far we have discovered that public humiliation is a grave sin and that G-d will plead the cause of those who are wronged and who cry out. We also learned of the importance of peace in our homes and how the sages of the Talmud felt that was to be achieved.

We now come to the dispute among the sages of the Talmud as to the ritual purity (clean) or impurity (unclean) of the oven of Aknai. When we studied this passage in Part 14, we learned that the age of prophecy was over, and that we are responsible for interpreting the Torah. The question now before us is how does this Talmud passage relate to the discussion of humiliation and of wounded feelings?

We learnt elsewhere: If he cut it into separate tiles, placing sand between each tile: R. Eliezer declared it clean, and the Sages declared it unclean;


Notes to Baba Mezia 59a:

(1) E.g., one who was freed with a divorce, as to the validity of which doubts arose.

(2) Ps. XXXV, 15.

(3) Because of the many insults I am made to bear, which as stated above, drain the flesh of its blood.

(4) Two tractates in the sixth order of the Talmud, called ‘Purity.’ These are tractates of extreme difficulty and complexity, and have no bearing upon adultery or the death penalty. Thus David complained that even when engaged on totally different matters which required all their thought, they yet diverted their attention in order to humiliate him (Tosaf.). In Sanh. 107a, the reading is: ‘when they are engaged in the study of the four modes of death imposed by the Court, etc.

(5) Now Bath Sheba was a doubtful married woman, because every soldier of David's army gave his wife a conditional divorce before he left for the front, to take retrospective effect from the time of delivery in case he was lost in battle. So that when David took Bath Sheba it was doubtful whether she would prove a married woman at the time or not; and David maintained that his offence was not so grave as that of his companions.

(6) Var. lec.: Huna.

(7) Judah's daughter-in-law, with whom he unwittingly cohabited. Subsequently, on her breach of chastity being discovered, he ordered her to be burnt, and only rescinded the order when she privately sent proof to him of his own complicity; v. Gen. XXXVIII.

(8) Ibid. 25. She left it to him to confess but did not openly accuse him, choosing death rather than publicly putting him to shame.

(9) This is a play of words on עמיתו (‘his fellowman’) reading it as two words, עם אתי the ‘people that is with him.’

(10) Lit., ‘her wronging is near;’ — a woman is very sensitive, and therefore quick to feel and resent a hurt.

(11) [MS.M. ‘For R. Eleazar said,’ the statement of R. Eleazar being thus added in elucidation of Rab's dictum.]

(12) Lam. III, 8.

(13) Ps. XXXIX, 13; the idea is that the destruction of the Temple may have made it more difficult to commune with God, yet earnest prayer from the depths of the heart is always accepted.

(14) Lit., ‘fall’.

(15) I Kings, XXI, 25; thus Ahab's downfall is ascribed to his action in allowing himself to be led astray by Jezebel.

(16) A man should certainly consult his wife on the latter, but not on the former, — not a disparagement of woman; her activities lying mainly in the home.

(17) אנך Amos VII, 7(E.V. ‘plumbline’) is here connected with אונאה, ‘overreaching’, ‘wronging’, i.e., God is always ready to plead the cause of one who has been wronged.

(18) I.e., God in person punishes these.

(19) The Curtain of Heaven. [Hiding. so to speak, human failings from the Divine gaze.]

(20) Jer. VI, 7.

(21) Isa. LXV, 3.

(22) Ps. CXLVII, 14: the two halves of the verse are parallel to each other.

(23) Lit., ‘house’.

(24) Jud. VI, 3, 4, 6.

(25) Gen. XII, 16.

(26) A large Jewish commercial town, situate on the Tigris. Raba had his academy there.

    (27) The foregoing passages are Instructive on the Talmudic attitude to women. Though recognising the evil influence a bad woman can wield upon her husband, as evidenced by Ahab and Jezebel, these sayings breathe a spirit of tenderness and honour. As she is highly sensitive, the greatest care must be taken not to wound her feelings, and a husband must adapt himself to his wife; whilst it is emphatically asserted that prosperity in the home, as well as the blessings of home life, are to a great extent dependent upon her.

Talmud (Baba Metzia 59b):

and this was the oven of 'Aknai.1 Why [the oven of] 'Aknai? - Said Rab Judah in Samuel's name: [It means] that they encompassed it with arguments2 as a snake, and proved it unclean. It has been taught: On that day R. Eliezer brought forward every imaginable argument,3 but they did not accept them. Said he to them: “If the halachah agrees with me, let this carob-tree prove it!'’ Thereupon the carob-tree was torn a hundred cubits out of its place - others affirm, four hundred cubits. 'No proof can be brought from a carob-tree,' they retorted. Again he said to them: 'If the halachah agrees with me, let the stream of water prove it!' Whereupon the stream of water flowed backwards - 'No proof can be brought from a stream of water,' they rejoined. Again he urged: ‘'If the halachah agrees with me, let the walls of the schoolhouse prove it,' whereupon the walls inclined to fall. But R. Joshua rebuked them, saying: ‘'When scholars are engaged in a halachic dispute, what have ye to interfere?' Hence they did not fall, in honour of R. Joshua, nor did they resume the upright, in honour of R. Eliezer; and they are still standing thus inclined. Again he said to them: ‘'If the halachah agrees with me, let it be proved from Heaven!'’ Whereupon a Heavenly Voice cried out: 'Why do ye dispute with R. Eliezer, seeing that in all matters the halachah agrees with him!'’ But R. Joshua arose and exclaimed: 'It is not in heaven.'4 What did he mean by this? - Said R. Jeremiah: That the Torah had already been given at Mount Sinai; we pay no attention to a Heavenly Voice, because Thou hast long since written in the Torah at Mount Sinai, After the majority must one incline.5

We just had an exchange between the sages of the Talmud. R Eliezer, having exhausted every argument, brings forth a series of miracles with the participation of Heaven. Clearly, from a heavenly perspective he is right. But is he? The sages got their own way, contrary to the wishes of Heaven. Are they wrong? The answers will challenge us, and in the process, hopefully, we will learn to be better people.

Let us start by analyzing R. Eliezer's conduct. R. Eliezer is so convinced he is right that he is willing to go to any lengths to prove he is right. He goes so far as to cause the walls of the schoolhouse to begin to fall. The text uses the words בית המדרש, which means House of Study. In other words, the sages are sitting in a House of Study (what is more commonly known as a synagogue) where they are having this discussion. R. Eliezer is so convinced of the rightness of his position that he is willing to cause the destruction of the very synagogue in which they are sitting, while they are sitting in it no less. Is this the act of a reasonable man or a fanatic? In our own lives, how many times have we come across people whose behavior is reminiscent of R. Eliezer? How often have we seen people risk everything on a matter of principle, or to prove a point?

The sages, who clearly are dismissive of R. Eliezer, are no better. In fact, we will soon discover they may be worse than R. Eliezer, and not for the reason of disregarding the miracles and the Heavenly Voice.

R. Nathan met Elijah6 and asked him: What did the Holy One, Blessed be He, do in that hour? - He laughed [with joy], he replied, saying, 'My sons have defeated Me, My sons have defeated Me.'’ It was said: On that day all objects which R. Eliezer had declared clean were brought and burnt in fire.7 Then they took a vote and excommunicated him.8 Said they, 'Who shall go and inform him?' 'I will go,' answered R. Akiba, 'lest an unsuitable person go and inform him, and thus destroy the whole world.'9 What did R. Akiba do? He donned black garments and wrapped himself in black,10 and sat at a distance of four cubits from him. 'Akiba,' said R. Eliezer to him, 'what has particularly happened to-day?'11 ‘'Master,' he replied, 'it appears to me that thy companions hold aloof from thee.'’ Thereupon he too rent his garments, put off his shoes, removed [his seat] and sat on the earth, whilst tears streamed from his eyes.12 The world was then smitten: a third of the olive crop, a third of the wheat, and a third of the barley crop. Some say, the dough in women's hands swelled up.

At this point in our story, clearly the Holy One, Blessed be He, is delighted the sages have triumphed over Heaven. Does this make the sages the good guys? In the context of this story (as explored in Part 14) it does, as G-d is delighted that the Jewish people, through the rabbis and sages, have taken ownership of the Torah that was given to them at Mount Sinai. G-d's joy is akin to that of a proud father who has seen his children grow up and come of age. The question before us is not that question, but in terms of the larger discussion, a discussion about humiliating someone, a discussion of hurting someone's feelings, are the sages good guys? The answer is no it does not, for the sages followed their triumph by engaging in the sin of publicly humiliating R. Eleizer by expelling him from their presence.

This brings me to our leaders today. How many of our clergy and politicians deliberately and willfully set out to destroy those who oppose their point of view? Look at the hateful, vengeful, mean-spiritedness, the lies, the slander, the gossip, the pettiness, that passes for our public discourse today. How many of us endorse or derive pleasure from this? How many of us get a thrill from the scandals sheets that pass for journalism today?

Then there are the controversial issues of our time, abortion being one, and gay and lesbian rights being another. Look at what is said and how it is said. These statements are not statements made in the heat of the moment. They are statements representative of a decades long hatred. These are not statements of respectful disagreement, but statements of visceral hatred with the express intent of destroying those they seek to oppress (gays, lesbians, and women).

While the Westboro Baptist Church may be the most offensive example of clergy enjoying and indulging in this vile hatred, the fact is the Mormon Church, the Roman Catholic Church and some Jewish clergy have made remarks that are as offensive as those of the Westboro Baptist Church.

We also have those that disguise their hatred by the use of euphemisms or similar tactics. What used to be plain ole' Jew hate is now fashionably dressed up as “legitimate criticism of Israel.” This approach is endorsed by the Arab and Muslim dominated United Nations that equated Zionism (the thousands of years longing of the Jewish people to return to their homeland, a homeland that despite forced exile was never completely abandoned by the Jewish people, even under the most repressive circumstances) with racism. The UN, born out of the ashes of World War Two, the UN born out of the deaths of millions and millions of people, has in mere decades transformed itself from an instrument of peace into an instrument of diplomatic warfare against the Jewish people.

With these few examples, we discover that our leaders are no better, and may be worse, than the leaders whose acts are described in this Talmud passage.

Returning to the Talmud:

A Tanna taught: Great was the calamity that befell that day, for everything at which R. Eliezer cast his eyes was burned up. R. Gamaliel13 too was travelling in a ship, when a huge wave arose to drown him. ‘'It appears to me,' he reflected, 'that this is on account of none other but R. Eliezer b. Hyrcanus.' Thereupon he arose and exclaimed, 'Sovereign of the Universe! Thou knowest full well that I have not acted for my honour, nor for the honour of my paternal house, but for Thine, so that strife may not multiply in Israel!' At that the raging sea subsided.

Having been excommunicated, it would seem that R. Eliezer is powerless. Yet that is not the case. In fact, as a result of his humiliation, as a result of his being wounded, he is more powerful than before; for his prayers, prayers of intense pain, prayers of vengeance, went directly to G-d by entering Heaven not through the locked gates of prayer, but by going through the gates of tears and of wounded feelings. His power is clearly demonstrated by the near drowning of R. Gamaliel, the prime mover in the banning of R. Eliezer. R. Eliezer's intense pain, and resultant cries, are also evident in the destruction that resulted from those cries.

We also learn something implied earlier, that being our intentions matter. Early in this discussion, we repeatedly encountered the scriptural phrase and thou shall fear thy God. This phrase is used in scripture to indicate that even if no one knows what we are thinking and what our motives are, even if what we are doing does not appear a sin in the eyes of others, G-d knows what is in our hearts, and He knows if it is a sin or not, and He will hold us accountable for our actions. As proof of this, we have R. Gamaliel's surviving the raging seas because his intention was; “that I have not acted for my honour, nor for the honour of my paternal house, but for Thine, so that strife may not multiply in Israel!”

Before we resume our exploration of this discussion in the Talmud, some background material is in order:

  • In the Jewish calendar, months are typically 29 days (a defective month), or 30 days (a full month).

  • The reference to falling upon one's face during prayer, refers to the שמונה עשרה. The שמונה עשרה is main prayer of the prayer service. It used to consist of Eighteen Benedictions (the version said today consists of the original 18 plus an additional blessing) that were said. The benedictions praised G-d; asked for G-d's forgiveness; repented of one's sins; prayed for health and a livelihood; thanked G-d, prayed for peace; as well as saying numerous benedictions asking G-d for the Messiah to come, that the Temple be restored to its place in Jerusalem, and Temple Service be restored to the restored Holy Temple in Jerusalem.

  • The שמונה עשרה is followed by the one praying taking the opportunity to say a private prayer. In Talmudic times, it was customary for one to fall upon one's face when praying this private prayer.

With these thoughts in mind, let us return to the Talmud:

Ima Shalom was R. Eliezer's wife, and sister to R. Gamaliel. From the time of this incident onwards she did not permit him to fall upon his face.14 Now a certain day happened to be New Moon, but she mistook a full month for a defective one.15 Others say, a poor man came and stood at the door, and she took out some bread to him.16 [On her return] she found him fallen on his face. 'Arise,' she cried out to him, 'thou hast slain my brother.'’ In the meanwhile an announcement was made from the house of Rabban Gamaliel that he had died. 'Whence dost thou know it?' he questioned her. ‘'I have this tradition from my father's house: All gates are locked, excepting the gates of wounded feelings.'17

With this thought in mind, we learn something counter-intuitive. When we wound someone with our words, when we humiliate someone, we perceive them to be weakened by our words, and indeed they may be. But, our very action in humiliating them, may well mean that they will pray and ask for vengeance upon us, and that prayer will enter Heaven through the gate of wounded feelings, and that this will result in them being more powerful than the one who humiliated them. With this thought in mind, we return to the discussion of the sin of wounding someone's feelings.

Concluding the discussion in the Talmud:

Our Rabbis taught: He who wounds the feelings of a proselyte transgresses three negative injunctions, and he who oppresses him infringes two. Wherein does wronging differ? Because three negative injunctions are stated: Viz., Thou shalt not wrong a stranger [i.e., a proselyte],18 And if a stranger sojourn with thee in your land, ye shall not wrong him,19 and ye shall not therefore wrong each his fellowman,20 a proselyte being included in 'fellowman.'’ But for 'oppression'’also three are written, viz., and thou shalt not oppress him,21 Also thou shalt not oppress a stranger,22 and [If thou lend money to any of my people that is poor by thee,] thou shalt not be to him as a usurer23 which includes a proselyte! - But [say] both [are forbidden] by three [injunctions].

It has been taught: R. Eliezer the Great said: Why did the Torah warn against [the wronging of] a proselyte in thirty-six, or as others say, in forty-six, places? Because he has a strong inclination to evil.24 What is the meaning of the verse, Thou shalt neither wrong a stranger, nor oppress him; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt? It has been taught: R. Nathan said: Do not taunt your neighbour with the blemish you yourself have.25 And thus the proverb runs:26 If there is a case of hanging in a man's family record, say not to him,27 'Hang this fish up for me.'’


Notes to Baba Mezia 59b:

(1) This refers to an oven, which, instead of being made in one piece, was made in a series of separate portions with a layer of sand between each. R. Eliezer maintains that since each portion in itself is not a utensil, the sand between prevents the whole structure from being regarded as a single utensil, and therefore it is not liable to uncleanness. The Sages however hold that the outer coating of mortar or cement unifies the whole, and it is therefore liable to uncleanness. (This is the explanation given by Maimonides on the Mishnah, Kel. V, 10. Rashi a.l. adopts a different reasoning). ‘Aknai is a proper noun, probably the name of a master, but it also means 'snake'. (Gr. ** ) which meaning the Talmud proceeds to discuss.

(2) Lit., 'words'.

(3) Lit., 'all the arguments in the world'.

(4) Deut. XXX,12.

(5) Ex. XXIII,2; though the story is told in a legendary form, this is a remarkable assertion of the independence of human reasoning.

(6) It was believed that Elijah, who had never died, often appeared to the Rabbis.

(7) As unclean.

(8) Lit., 'blessed him,' a euphemism for excommunication.

(9) I.e., commit a great wrong by informing him tactlessly and brutally.

(10) As a sign of mourning, which a person under the ban had to observe.

(11) Lit., 'what is this day (different) from yesterday (or to-morrow)?'’

(12) Rending the garments etc. were all mourning observances. (In ancient times mourners sat actually upon the earth, not, as nowadays, upon low stools.) - The character of R. Eliezer is hotly contested by Weiss and Halevi. The former, mainly on the basis of this story (though adducing some other proof too), severely castigates him as a man of extreme stubbornness and conceit, who would brook no disagreement, a bitter controversialist from his youth until death, and ever seeking quarrels (Dor. II, 82). Halevy (Doroth 1, 5, pp. 374 et seqq.) energetically defends him, pointing out that this is the only instance recorded in the whole Talmud of R. Eliezer's maintaining his view against the majority. He further contends that the meekness with which he accepted his sentence, though he was sufficiently great to have disputed and fought it, is a powerful testimony to his humility and peace-loving nature.

(13) The Nasi and the prime mover in the ban against R. Eliezer.

(14) After the Eighteen Benedictions there follows a short interval for private prayer, during which each person offered up his own individual supplications to God. These were called supplications (תהנון), and the suppliant prostrated himself upon his face; they were omitted on New Moons and Festivals. — Elbogen, Der judische Gottesdienst, pp. 73 et seqq. Ima Shalom feared that her husband might pour out his grief and feeling of injury in these prayers, and that God, listening to them, would punish R. Gamaliel, her brother.

(15) Jewish months consist of either 30 days (full) or 29 (defective). Thinking that the previous month had consisted of 29 days, and that the 30th would be New Moon, she believed that R. Eliezer could not engage in these private prayers in any case, and relaxed her watch over him. But actually it was a full month, so that the 30th was an ordinary day, when these prayers are permitted.

(16) I.e., she did not mistake the day, but was momentarily forced to leave her husband in order to give bread to a beggar.

(17) Lit., 'wrong', v. p. 354, n. 4. She felt sure that R. Eliezer had seized the opportunity of her absence or error to cry out to God about the ban.

(18) Ex. XXII, 20.

(19) Lev. XIX, 33.

(20) Lev. XXV, 17.

(21) Ex. XXII, 20.

(22) Ex. XXIII, 9.

(23) Ex. XXII, 24

(24) So Rashi in Hor. 13a. Jast.: because his original character is bad - into which evil treatment might cause him to relapse.

(25) Thus be translates the verse: Do not wrong a proselyte by taunting him with being a stranger to the Jewish people seeing that ye yourselves were strangers in Egypt.

(26) Lit., 'people say.'

  1. [So MS.M.; cur. edd. read, 'to his fellow'.]

This Talmud passage is an excellent example of the destructive power of public humiliation. As human nature has not changed in the years since this was written, it's message is as timely as ever, and should be heeded as a warning to all of us, for we have the power to abuse our power of speech.



The Soncino Talmud, Judaic Classics by David Kantrowitz, Version 3.0.8, Copyright 1991-2004, Davka Corporation.

Hebrew – English Edition of the Babylonian Talmud, Baba Mezia, translated into English with notes, glossary, and index by H. Freedman, Ph.D., copyright (c) 1986 by The Soncino Press, Ltd., published by The Soncino Press.

My gratitude to Dr. Micah Goodman of the Shalom Hartman Institute for his inspirational insights into this remarkable Talmud passage.

Ban Ki-moon Admits: UN is Biased Against Israel

Make a Free Website with Yola.