Talmudic Evidence of a Trial Prosecuted by Yohanan b. Zakkai

The following three Talmud excerpts are evidence that Yohanan b. Zakkai once prosecuted a case of sexual transgression in the court of Philip the Tetrarch.

Mishnah Sanhedrin 1:2

Antigonus the Prince asked Rabban Yoḥanan ben Zakkai, “The ox will be stoned and the master also die (Ex. 21:29). Why?”
He said to him, “The accomplice of a thief is like a thief.”
When he went out, the student asked, “Master, this one you pushed away with a reed, but to us, what will you reply?”
He said to them, “It is written, The ox will be stoned and also its master will die…

Massekhet Semahot 8.7

The dorshe hamurot used to say, You shall surely destroy all the places where the nations whom thou shall dispossess served their gods, upon the high mountains and upon the hills, and under every green tree; you shall tear down their altars, and dash to pieces their pillars (Deut. 12:2-3). How did the wood and stones sin? But on account of them there came upon man confusion, and therefore Scripture said, You shall destroy their altars.

And behold it is a deduction: If in the case of stone and wood, which have neither merit nor demerit, neither good nor evil, because on their account confusion comes upon man, Scripture said to destroy their altars, a man who causes others to sin, and turns them from the way of life to the way of death, how much more so will he suffer.

ySanhedrin 7.5

And so too, if a woman approaches any beast and lies with it, you shall kill the woman and the beast, they shall be put to death, their blood is upon them (Lev. 20:16). If the woman sinned, what sin did the beast commit? But because there came upon man confusion on its account, Scripture said to kill the beast, that the cow should not go into the market place and people say, “See, there is the cow on whose account so-and-so was put to death.”

Yoḥanan b. Zakkai’s commentary follows here.

And behold, it is a matter of deduction: If in the case of the beast, who has neither merit nor demerit, because on its account man was brought into confusion, Scripture said to stone it, a man who causes his fellow to sin, and leads him from the way of life to the way of sin, how much the more (will he suffer).

These Talmud passages are found together in a single footnote on page 93 of Jacob Neusner’s book, A Life of Yohanan b. Zakkai, Ca. 1-80 C.E., published by E.J. Brill, which can often be purchased online.

About Ron Goetz

Husband, Father, Author
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