For the week ending 1 May 2010 / 16 Iyyar 5770

Sanhedrin 79 - 85

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
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  • Slaying an unintended victim of a murderous attack
  • The condemned murderer who cannot be executed in the prescribed manner
  • The condemned animal which gave birth
  • Must the warning to a sinner mention exact penalty awaiting him
  • A sinner condemned to be executed in one way who subsequently commits an even graver sin
  • The Prophet Yechezkel's description of sinner and saint
  • Special punishment of a serial sinner and a murderer who cannot be executed for lack of proper testimony or warning
  • The seriousness of relations with a non-Jewess
  • The skull of a sinful king
  • The heroism of Pinchas in punishing such an offender
  • Which violations of the sacred service by a kohen make him liable for early death
  • Punishment of the non-kohen who performs the sacred service
  • Which sins are punishable by strangulation
  • When wounding or cursing a parent is a capital sin
  • When kidnapping is punishable by death

The Long and Short of Knives

  • Sanhedrin 82a

"He rose from among the congregation and took a spear in his hand." (Bamidbar 24:7)

Thus is described the heroic action of Pinchas ben Elazar in bringing an end to the plague suffered by his people as a result of the great public sin perpetrated by the head of the Tribe of Shimon with a Midianite woman. Only after clearing the issue with Moshe that the two deserved to die did Pinchas leave the Beit Midrash where this discussion took place and take the spear for his mission. From this the gemara deduces that it is forbidden to enter a Beit Midrash carrying a weapon.

In Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim (151:6) an opinion is cited that it is forbidden to enter a Beit Knesset carrying a long knife. The reason given is that prayer lengthens life, while a knife shortens it, so that it is improper for the instrument that shortens life to be found in the proximity of a life-prolonger.

The Turei Zahav (TaZ) commentary calls attention to what is written in Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 180:5 that it is customary to cover a knife while saying Birkat Hamazon. The reason for this is that the table upon which we eat is compared to the sacrificial altar that prolongs life, so that it is improper for any sword-like life shortener to be visible above it once we finish eating.

But why is there a distinction made between a long knife and a short one in regard to the synagogue while even a short one should be covered while reciting Birkat Hamazon?

The resolution provided by TaZ is that since all that has to be done in regard to the table is to cover the knife, it makes sense that even a short one should be covered. In regard to the synagogue, however, the knife must be put aside before entering, thus denying its owner the ability to make any use of it. Since it is not common to use a long knife in such a place, it alone was banned, while no restriction was placed on a short knife.

What the Sages Say

"Wherever there is a danger that the Holy Name will be desecrated (by flagrant sinning), there is no need to withhold preventive action out of respect for one's teacher."

  • The Sage Shmuel - Sanhedrin 82a

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