10 Nov 2017

Touring the Talmud: Sanhedrin 111-113 Makkot 02-05 (Shabbat Haye Sarah) – Birds of a Feather

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Touring the Talmud:

Sanhedrin 111-113 – Makkot 02-05 (Shabbat Haye Sarah)

 Birds of a Feather

“The larger the group…the more of your beauty as an individual you have to surrender for the sake of group thought. And when you suspend your individual beauty you also give up a lot of your humanity. You will do things in the name of a group that you would never do on your own. Injuring, hurting, killing, drinking are all part of it, because you’ve lost your identity, because you now owe your allegiance to this thing that’s bigger than you are and that controls you.” 

 — George Carlin

We are a social species. Our social dynamics greatly determine how we think and act and we are highly susceptible to the influences of those with whom we live and interact. There are both positive and negative aspects to the group dynamic. Great acts can be accomplished because of the power and strength of multitudes working in tandem with each other, yet, because of the power that the group dynamic has on the individual’s thoughts and actions we must be vigilant and aware of its impact upon us.

There are different modes of societal impact on our lives. There is peer pressure — when we are influenced by our friends and contemporaries to do or say things we might not if left to our own judgment. There is groupthink in which group pressures lead to poor reality testing and moral judgment and the benefits of the group are considered over truth and ethics. There is also the herd or mob mentality in which meta-thought emerges from the interactions of the group as the mass of people takes on a mind of its own.

As individuals within a group, we take on the characteristics of both the people who make up the group — their style, language, psychology — and the dynamics that occur as a result of being within a group — people tend to relax control over their individual inhibitions as their mentality becomes that of the group.

A major factor that plays out in crowd behaviour is the anonymity that we take on by becoming a mere ‘face in the crowd’, by losing ourselves to the group. If we can use our knowledge of the hypnotic pull of the crowd mentality towards irrational and emotionally charged behaviour and rise above its influence, there is possibility that we can come back to the centre of our own being so that we might judge what is best for us to do as individuals.

While in certain situations we might be in a position to influence an unethical or immoral group of people to become rehabilitated, it is a dangerous and risky task. One must be prepared to deal with all the steady coercion that a group of people naturally exert on its members without losing oneself to them.

Torah cautions us from losing our judgment in groupthink circumstances and from relinquishing our self-discipline in herd mentalities where we could be driven to act in immoral and unethical ways. We are all ultimately responsible for our own actions:

You are not to go after the majority to do evil! (Ex., 23:2)[1]

Torah does not absolve us of our individual responsibilities simply because we might be caught in such predicaments. Therefore, we must halakhically take preventative measures so that we do not find ourselves in the wrong groups. The resistance, once we are in, is practically insurmountable.

 Happy is the man who has not…joined the company of the insolent.

(Psalms, 1:1)

 Yose ben Yoezer says, “May your house be a meeting house for Sages”…Nitai of Arbel says: “Distance [yourself] from a bad neighbour, do not befriend an evildoer.

(Pirke Abot, 1:4,7)

It is natural for a man’s character and actions to be influenced by his friends and associates and for him to follow the local norms of behaviour. Therefore, he should associate with the righteous and be constantly in the company of the wise, so as to learn from their deeds. Conversely, he should keep away from the wicked who walk in darkness, so as not to learn from their deeds…If [in the place he lives] they are wicked and sinful and do not allow him to reside there unless he mingle with them and follow their evil behaviour, he should go out to caves, thickets, and deserts [rather than] follow the paths of delinquents as [Jeremiah 9:1] states: “Who will give me a lodging place for wayfarers, in the desert.”

(Rambam, Hilkhot De’ot, 6:1)

Allowing ourselves to get sucked into the momentum of groupthink and herd mentalities is in and of itself sinful. When we do, we are subject to the fate of the group — as we become indistinguishable from it.

Humans flock — just like sheep and birds. It is a special kind of group phenomenon that occurs when a majority of people follow a small number of those who seem to know what they are doing. Rather than attempt to judge for ourselves and work to discover answers, we tend to take the path of least resistance and follow those who seem to have knowledge and competence — even if they do not. A remarkable study conducted by Leeds University examined how we instinctively follow others:

Professor Krause, with PhD student John Dyer, conducted a series of experiments where groups of people were asked to walk randomly around a large hall. Within the group, a select few received more detailed information about where to walk. Participants were not allowed to communicate with one another but had to stay within arm’s length of another person. The findings show that in all cases, the ‘informed individuals’ were followed by others in the crowd, forming a self-organising, snake-like structure…what’s interesting about this research is that our participants ended up making a consensus decision despite the fact that they weren’t allowed to talk or gesture to one another. In most cases the participants didn’t realise they were being led by others.[2]

They found that 95% of the crowd will follow 5% that exhibits any greater knowledge. When this occurs we tend to lose our individuality, personal judgment and self-awareness and we become a mindless crowd rather than conscious individuals.

Sanhedrin’s closing issue highlights this element of human sociology in quite a serious way.

It deals with what is called an Ir Hanidahat – Literally, ‘A city seduced or led astray’. It deals with a situation where two or more people influence a large portion of a city’s population to worship foreign gods. It is a unique case in Torah in which the city is considered as a single entity and the inhabitants and their property are not considered as individuals but as members of an idol-worshipping collective.

The inhabitants of the city that has been led astray [to foreign worship] are executed by decapitation if they worshipped a false deity or accepted it as a god…A city is not condemned as such a city until two or more individuals attempt to lead its inhabitants astray, as [Deuteronomy 13:14] states: “Unfaithful people have emerged….”  Those led astray must be the majority [of the city’s inhabitants]. They must number from [at least] 100 to the majority of the tribe.

(Rambam, Hilkhot Aboda Zara, 3:1-2)

If it is a minority there is not enough critical mass to establish a ‘mob’.

Another aspect of this phenomenon of social compliance is carried over from the end of Sanhedrin and discussed in the first chapter of Makkot. It deals with the case of Edim Zomemin – Witnesses that plot to convict a defendant falsely. Torah requires that if they are found to be lying before the defendant is wrongly convicted we do to them what they had hoped would happen to the defendant.

And if the witness is a false witness, and has testified falsely against his brother, you shall do unto him as he conspired to do to his brother. So shall you remove the evil from your midst. And those that remain shall hear, and fear, and shall henceforth commit no more such evil in your midst. And your eyes shall not pity: Life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.

(Deut., 19:16–21)

In order for testimony to be considered valid in a Jewish court of law there must be a minimum of two witnesses. However, the Torah writes that the issue must be substantiated by ‘two or three’ witnesses. The Talmud asks if two are acceptable, why mention three? Ribbi Akiba takes this opportunity to point out in the Mishna that although the testimony is sufficient with two, when there are three or more witnesses, the additional people are considered like full-fledged witnesses even though the judgment would be upheld with the first two alone. This teaches us that when we are part of a group we cannot simply hide our individual presence with it. Each person stands as a member of the group and is judged as part of it.

There is an initial choice. The choice to be part of the group is what counts. When we associate ourselves with any group good or bad we bear the responsibility of being part of it. This is much because we cannot be part of a group and not be influenced by it. We must expect the influence and consider it an utter reality when we make the choice to join.

For this reason we must carefully take into account with whom we will interact when we choose a university, a place of work, a neighbourhood, a city and even a country in which to live. We must consider our group of friends and choose each one knowing that those with whom we surround ourselves will have profound influence on our thinking, actions and development.

In doing so we can create meaningful and effective cohorts. We can create great change for the better with strength in numbers. And we can grow in our own virtue by being connected to and learning from the virtue of others.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Joseph Dweck


Sanhedrin 111-113/Makkot 02-05


During this week’s study of the Daf Yomi we end the tractate of Sanhedrin and begin the new Tractate of Makkot (Lashes). Some are of the opinion that originally Makot was part of Sanhedrin. The opinion of the Rambam is that this was not the case and it always stood on its own.

 While Tractate Sanhedrin deals with capital punishment and severe transgressions, Makot primarily deals with transgressions that incur more minor punishments.


Daf 111

Continuing discussions of reward and punishment and the afterlife this verse from Isaiah (5:14) is quoted and discussed: ‘Therefore, the netherworld has enlarged itself and opened its mouth without measure – (Heb=lebli hok)’

  • Resh Lakish says we learn from this that the netherworld expands to receive anyone who leaves even one hok (statute) unfulfilled.
  • Ribbi Yohanan tells him that he does not please his Master (God) by saying this. This would mean that the majority of Jews would be condemned to Gehinom! Instead Ribbi Yohanan reads it positively and says that when one learns even one statute he has a share in the World to Come, as the term ‘without measure’ refers to one who has not learned the measure of law at all.

Several other verses are discussed between Reish Lakish and Ribbi Yohanan. For each, Reish Lakish interpreted them in a way that saw people as guilty and Ribbi Yohanan replied that God would not be happy with such disparaging comments about the Jewish people. Ribbi Yohanan then interprets each one in a positive fashion.

  • Torah can only be sustained in someone who exerts oneself in the study and will not remain in the mind of one who studies in luxury.
  • Discussion between God and Moshe on the merits of the forefathers Abraham, Yitshak and Yaakob. God contrasts their piety with that of Moshe. Moshe’s faith is recognised by God to be inferior to theirs.
  • Moshe and God discuss the manner of God’s mercy for the righteous and the wicked.

MISHNA – The City that Has Been Led Astray to Foreign Worship – Ir HaNidahat

  • The inhabitants of an Ir HaNidahat have no place in the World to Come.
  • Criteria that determine a city to be Nidahat – Led Astray.
  • The seducers must be members of the city.
  • They must be adult men
  • They must have successfully seduced the majority of the city.
  • Each of the city’s residents must have been warned before performing the idolatry and two witnesses must have seen it.The difference between judging idolators as individuals or as an entire city is that:
  • Individuals are stoned and their property is retained.
  • A city is put to death by the sword and their property is burned.
  • In an idolatrous city the property of the righteous who reside in it is destroyed with that of the wicked altogether.
  • The burning down of such a city is seen as a holy offering to God.
  • The city is not to be rebuilt as a city but the land can be made into a park or garden.


  • Discussion between Reish Lakish and Ribbi Yohanan about the details of the inhabitants of the city and the tribe to which they belong.

Daf 12

  • What if the city subverted itself and was not seduced into it by others?
  • What if they were seduced by women or children and not adult men?
  • These would not create an ‘Idolatrous City’ and the inhabitants would be judged as individuals.
  • How do we determine whether the majority of the city was seduced?
  • We are concerned with judging each individual in that those who have not yet been judged must wait for a long time until their judgment comes and the Torah prohibits delaying justice.
  • Reish Lakish says that we address this by setting up several courts that judge simultaneously.
  • How long must one live in a city to be considered an inhabitant rather than a visitor?
  • 30 days
  • But we see elsewhere that it is not until one resides in the city for a whole year!
  • Yes, 30 days to be considered a resident; a year to be considered a full inhabitant.
  • Discussions regarding the applications of this law in various circumstances.
  • Why would the assets of the righteous be burned together with the wicked in the city?
  • Because it is likely that their assets were the cause of their living in that city.
  • The property that is found in the city that belongs to someone living outside the city is not burned.
  • Details on this point.
  • What is done with property or animals that was set aside and sanctified for God?
  • They are destroyed, as the offerings of the wicked are rejected by God.
  • What about animals that were set aside for tithes and first born animals that must be dedicated to God?
  • Depends whether blemished or not.
  • Second Tithes and Holy Scriptures are interred.

Daf 113

  • The city’s trees are spared if they are rooted.
  • Comparisons are made to the City of Jericho which was not to be rebuilt after its destruction.
  • Discussion about Hi’el who built the city up and lost his children as a result.
  • ‘As long as there are wicked people in the world there is wrath in the world’.
  • Who are these wicked people?
  • Theives
  • When a righteous person comes into the world good comes with him.

***End of Tractate Sanhedrin***

***Tractate Makot***

Jewish law imposes three types of punishment for transgression besides the death penalty: monetary payment, exile, and lashes. There is no incarceration in Torah, aside from, at times, securing a suspect to keep him from fleeing.

 The first chapter of Makot deals with three key issues regarding conspiring witnesses (edim zomemin):

  • How is their testimony rendered void and when are they considered to be conspiring witnesses?
  • If there is a large set of witnesses (more than two) who all conspire what is the status of those beyond the first two who create a substantial testimony? (a minimum of two witnesses is required to substantiate testimony)
  • How do we accomplish punishing the conspiring witnesses ‘as they conspired to do to their brother’ when the punishment the defendant would have received is not fitting for the conspiring witnesses? For example, if they testify that the mother of a cohen’s son was a divorcee (rendering him unfit as a cohen) we do not say that the witnesses children should then be considered as children of a divorcee. Rather, they receive forty lashes as punishment.

 These and further details of these questions are the issues dealt with in the first chapter of Makot.

Daf 02


  • The conspiring witnesses are to receive the punishment that they intended for the one on trial to receive. However, there are situations in which they cannot because it is unique to the defendant and his situation. In such cases the conspiring witnesses receive 40 lashes.


  • Similarities are drawn to another case in which conspiring witnesses are given a slightly different punishment. But here their punishment has nothing at all to do with their intended punishment for the defendant! And we do not at all accomplish the Torah’s requirement of doing to them what they intended for him!
  • The Gemara attempts to find source in the Torah for giving lashes in such situations instead of the punishment that was originally intended. Settling on the verse (Deut. 25:1-2): ‘And they vindicated the righteous and condemned the wicked and it shall be should the wicked deserve lashes…’
  • There are four cases in which the punishment of conspiring witnesses deviates from the punishment that they tried to impose with their false testimony on the defendant.
  • They are not made the son of a divorced woman or the son of a woman who did not perform Yibum (levirate marriage) (Although they planned to testify falsely about the individual as being one of these).
  • They are not exiled to a city of refuge
  • They do not pay ransom for testifying falsely that a person’s animal killed a person.
  • They are not sold as a Hebrew slave

Ribbi Akiba adds a fifth case: They do not pay a penalty if they admit their own guilt for testifying falsely in another court.

  • The gemara elaborates on the reasons for the cases.

Daf 03

  • If of the two conspiring witnesses only one admits to testifying falsely, he pays his share of the penalty.
  • The Gemara questions whether it is in the witnesses power to invalidate his own testimony.
  • If they admitted guilt for testifying in a different court and that they were ordered liable to pay a specific sum in that court we believe them and they must pay (even according to R Akiba).


  • If witnesses testified that a man divorced his wife but did not pay her the sum of her ketuba (marriage contract) and we find them to be conspiring witnesses, how do we calculate the sum that they must pay? They do not pay the sum of the ketuba that they conspired to get the husband to pay because if the man eventually does divorce he will be liable to pay it anyway. In which case they would not be making him pay something that he wasn’t eventually going to pay! Rather they pay based on the assessment of how much one would be willing to pay to purchase the rights of the marriage contract. The payout to the purchaser will only be made if the woman is widowed or divorced but not if she dies, in which case the husband inherits her property.


  • How is this assessment made?
  • Rab Natan says we evaluate based on the wife — how much one would be willing to pay her for the rights (Rashi).
  • Rab Papa agrees with Rab Natan but adds that the court assesses the sum of the contract itself without factoring in the husband’s loss of the profits that the husband would incur from the property that the wife brought into the marriage.


They testify that a man owes someone one thousand dinars as the term for payment (one month) has passed.

The borrower rejects this and says that it was not one month but ten years!

The court estimates how much a person would be willing to give in order to keep a loan of one thousand dinars in his possession and the difference between the value of that loan for thirty day term and a ten year term. The difference is the sum the conspiring witnesses must pay.


  • When one loans for a ten year term the seventh sabbatical year annuls the loan!
  • Rab Kahana objects to this, as the Mishna says that the court must evaluate how much one would pay to keep a loan for ten years. If the Sabbatical year annuls it he must pay everything and not the difference of 30 days to 10 years!
  • Raba answers that the debts discussed in the Mishna are collateral loans or loans which are assumed by the court which the sabbatical year does not annul.
  • What if when making the loan a person says I loan it to you ‘on the condition that you do not annul it on the sabbatical year’?
  • It doesn’t help and the sabbatical year annuls it.
  • Payment for loans that are made without a specific term defined, may not be demanded before thirty days.
  • Discussions on this point.

Due to the personalities involved and the structure of the conversation in the Talmud at this point another issue is raised that is discussed by the same people in the same structure (Rashi) it is otherwise unrelated to the subject matter.

  • One who unwittingly cuts open a new neck opening on a shirt on Shabbat (thus making it into a wearable garment) is liable to bring a sin offering.
  • Why is this different from cutting a stopper off of a barrel?
  • The stopper is not part of the barrel and it is meant to be removed, while the fabric of the shirt is all one piece and the opening is completely new and part of the weave of the fabric.

 Daf 04

When 1/64 of wine fell into 600 ml of water, and the clour of the water is like the colour of the wine, and that liquid fell into the water of a mikveh containing less than approx 332 liters of water (the minimum requirement of water for a mikveh) the liquid does not invalidate it.

Objections are raised.

  • Continued discussion.…


Ribbi Meir says that if the conspiring witnesses say that a person is liable to pay another two hundred dinars they are flogged and they pay the money they sought to get the other person to pay because we learn each punishment from different sources.

The Hakhamim disagree and say that if a person pays, he is not flogged for the same transgression.

Ribbi Meir says if conspiring witnesses testify falsely that a man is to receive forty lashes, they receive eighty — forty for the lashes they sought to incur for the defendant and forty for their own transgression.

Ribbi Akiba says they are only given forty lashes.


  • The Gemara explores from where Ribbi Meir draws his opinion. And analyses their dispute.

Daf 05

  • The analysis continues.


When two conspiring witnesses testify and are liable for monetary payment due to their false testimony it is divided between them. However, when they are liable for lashes, they both receive full lashes.


  • The Gemara examines the source for this law.


Established witnesses can only be renderred conspiring and false when their testimony is invalidated by another set of two witnesses. This is done by invalidating their testimony. If they, for example, testified that someone murdered another person at a specific date and time and two other witnesses testify that the witnesses could not have seen the murder as they were elsewhere at that date and time, the testimony is invalidated.


  • The Gemara examines the sources for this law.
  • The Gemara discusses variations of cases in which witnesses can be invalidated.
  • If there were more than two witnesses were found to be conspiring do all incur the punishment or only the first two?
  • Dealing with a situation in which successive testimonies are invalidated. I.e. those who invalidated the first group, are themselves invalidated by a second group, etc.


The conspiring witnesses are punished only if they are found to be false before the punishment is carried out on the defendant. Once the punishment is carried out, however, they are not punished. As it is written ‘do to them as they planned to do to their brother’ not as they actually did to their brother.

This is opposed to the understanding of the Sadducees who believed from the text that the conspiring witnesses are only culpable after the punishment was carried out on the defendant.


  • Discussion on the legality and appropriateness of this law.
  • Rabbi Yehuda ben Tabbai says that he ordered the death of a single conspiring witness in order to refute the opinion of the Sadducees. Shimon ben Shatah said to him that he shed innocent blood!
  • From then on, he weeped at the grave of the witness and took an oath never to rule halakhically unless it was approved by Shimon ben Shetah.


[1] Cf. Mishna Sanhedrin, 1:6.

[2] http://www.leeds.ac.uk/news/article/397/sheep_in_human_clothing__scientists_reveal_our_flock_mentality