כ״ט באלול ה׳תשע״ז (September 20, 2017)

Sanhedrin 67a-b: An Inciter

The Mishna on today’s daf records a second Temple period “sting” operation.

Ordinarily, Jewish courts are unable to carry out punishments unless there are a pair of witnesses who could testify that they had warned the perpetrator that the act he was about to perform was forbidden and would have consequences when raised in court. One exception is the case of a meisit – an inciter (see Devarim 13:7-11), who does not need to be warned; as long as two witnesses testify that this individual tried to convince someone to worship an idol, he will be punished by the court. According to the Mishna, if the meisit tried to convince a single individual to perform idol worship, the will suggest to the person that he respond by saying that he has friends who might also be interested, so that others will hear, as well. If the meisit is reluctant to do so, then the beit din will recommend that the person who was approached should suggest that the meisit repeat the details to him privately, and arrange for witnesses to sit quietly in the dark and listen while the meisit repeats his call to idol worship. If he responds to the question “but how can we abandon the true God in heaven and worship avoda zara?” by recanting, then nothing will happen to him. But if he says “that is what is appropriate and that is what we are obligated to do” the witnesses will testify in court and he will be punished according to the law.

A section of the Gemara that does not appear in standard texts recounts that this method was used to convict ben Stada of Lod, who was found guilty and hanged on erev Pesaḥ. The continuation of this Gemara tries to identify this individual and concludes that the person who was hanged was named ben Pandera and that his mother, Miryam Megadla Neshaya (Miriam who braided women’s hair) was also known by the derogatory nickname “Stada.”

Based on the obvious parallels between this story and Christian traditions, many – including the Christian censor – understood that the character referred to here as ben Stada/ben Pandera was Jesus, which led to the removal of the entire passage from standard Talmud texts. Tosafot view that identification as erroneous based on the chronology of the story as it is presented. Among modern scholars the suggestion has been made that ben Stada was the name of an enchanter who came from Egypt who was also mentioned in Josephus.

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