Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Punishment resulting from circumstantial evidence

 Bava Metzia (83b) R. Eleazar, son of R. Simeon, once met an officer of the Roman Government who had been sent to arrest thieves, How can you detect them? he said Maybe, you take the innocent and allow the guilty to escape? The officer answered, What shall I do? It is the King's command. Said the Rabbi, Let me tell you what to do. Go into a tavern at the fourth hour of the day. If you see a man dozing with a cup of wine in his hand, ask what he is. If he is a learned man, you may assume that he has risen early to pursue his studies; if he is a day labourer he must have been up early to do his work; if his work is of the kind that is done at night, he might have been rolling thin metal. If he is none of these, he is a thief; arrest him. The report of this conversation was brought to the Court, and the order was given: Let the reader of the letter become the messenger. R. Eleazar, son of R. Simeon, was accordingly sent for, and he proceeded to arrest the thieves. Thereupon R. Joshua, son of Karhah, sent word to him, Vinegar, son of wine! How long will you deliver up the people of our God for slaughter! Back came the reply: I weed out thorns from the vineyard. Whereupon R. Joshua retorted: Let the owner of the vineyard God come and weed out the thorns. One day a fuller met him, and dubbed him: Vinegar, son of wine. Said the Rabbi to himself, Since he is so insolent, he is certainly a culprit. So he gave the order to his attendant: ‘Arrest him! Arrest him! When his anger cooled, he went after him in order to secure his release, but did not succeed. Thereupon he applied to, the fuller the verse: Whoso keepeth his mouth and his tongue, keepeth his soul from troubles. Then they hanged him, and R. Eleazar son of R. Simeon stood under the gallows and wept. Said his disciples to him: ‘Master, do not grieve; for he and his son seduced a betrothed maiden on the Day of Atonement Yet in spite of this, his conscience disquieted him. Thereupon he was given a sleeping draught, taken into a marble chamber, and had his abdomen opened, and basketsful of fat removed from him and placed in the sun during Tammuz and Ab, and yet it did not putrefy


  1. Does the gemara conclude that this method based on circumstantial evidence is a good thing or bad?

  2. I take issue with your translation of נח דעתיה as "anger cooled." You do not see in the Gemara that he was angry and acted anger. Not only are you attributing a flaw but one which is not stated in the Gemara. It would be more accurate to translate it as "once his mind settled i.e. he had a chance to reflect." It is my opinion that this behavior is consistent with Rabi Elazer B R Shimon on Taanit 20a-b where he chastised someone and then regrets it. It seems that Ch"V ot is not a flaw, per se, but rather a bit rushed in his thinking. This can be a good trait under other circumstances.


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