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Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Yebamoth

Folio 64a

teaches that the Divine Presence does not rest on less than two thousand and two myriads of Israelites.1  Should the number of Israelites happen to be two thousand and two myriads less one, and any particular person has not engaged in the propagation of the race, does he not thereby cause the Divine Presence to depart From Israel! Abba Hanan said in the name of R. Eliezer: He deserves the penalty of death; for it is said, And they had no children,2  but if they had children they would not have died. Others say: He causes the Divine Presence to depart from Israel; for it is said, To be a God unto thee and to thy seed after thee;3  where there exists 'seed after thee' the Divine Presence dwells [among them]; but where no 'seed after thee' exists, among whom should it dwell! Among the trees4  or among the stones?


GEMARA. Our Rabbis taught: If a man took a wife and lived with her for ten years and she bore no child, he shall divorce her and give her her kethubah,7  since it is possible that it was he who was unworthy to have children from her.8  Although there is no definite proof for this statement9  there is nevertheless a [Scriptural] allusion to it: After Abram had dwelt ten years in the land of Canaan.10  This11  teaches you that the years of his stay outside the Land12  were not included in the number.13  Hence, if the man or the woman was ill, or if both were in prison, [these years] are not included in the number.14

Said Raba to R. Nahman: Let deduction be made from Isaac, concerning whom it is written, And Isaac was forty years old when he took Rebecca etc.15  and it is also written, And Isaac was threescore years old when she bore them!16  — The other replied: Isaac was barren.17  If so,18  Abraham also was barren!19  — That text20  is required For a deduction in accordance with the statement of R. Hiyya b. Abba. For R. Hiyya b. Abba stated in the name of R. Johanan: Why were the years of Ishmael counted? In order to determine thereby the years of Jacob.21

R. Isaac stated: Our father Isaac was barren; for it is said, And Isaac entreated the Lord opposite22  his wife.23  It does not say 'for his wife' but opposite. This teaches that both were barren.24  If so, And the Lord let Himself be entreated of him23  should have read, And the Lord let Himself be entreated of them!25  — Because the prayer of a righteous man the son of a righteous man is not like the prayer of a righteous man the son of a wicked man.26

R. Isaac stated: Why were our ancestors barren? — Because the Holy One, blessed be He, longs to hear the prayer of the righteous.

R. Isaac further stated: Why is the prayer of the righteous compared to a pitchfork?27  As a pitchfork turns the sheaves of grain from one position to another, so does the prayer of the righteous turn the dispensations of the Holy One, blessed be He, from the attribute of anger to the attribute of mercy.

R. Ammi stated: Abraham and Sarah were originally of doubtful sex;28  for it is said, Look unto to the rock

Original footnotes renumbered. See Structure of the Talmud Files
  1. The pl. number, [H] (myriads) and [H] (thousands), having been used in both cases. The pl. signifies not less than two.
  2. Num. III, 4, referring to the deaths of Nadab and Abihu.
  3. Gen. XVII, 7.
  4. Or 'wood'.
  5. He must take another wife.
  6. If she had no issue from him also.
  7. V. Glos.
  8. She, therefore, must not be deprived of her kethubah,
  9. As to the period of ten years.
  10. Gen. XVI, 3, with reference to Abram's marriage to Hagar.
  11. The explicit statement, dwelt … in the land.
  12. Palestine.
  13. Living outside Palestine being a sin, it is presumed that this might have been the cause of 'their childlessness.
  14. Since no propagation was possible in such circumstances.
  15. Gen. XXV, 20.
  16. Ibid. 26, which shews that he waited (60 - 40 =) twenty years!
  17. Knowing that the disability was due to his weakness he waited ten years longer than Abraham.
  18. V. supra n. 13.
  19. Why then did he not wait more than ten years?
  20. The age of Isaac, Gen, XXV, 20.
  21. And for the same reason was it necessary to give the age of Isaac. V. Meg. 17a. As the text is required for this purpose, no other deduction may be made from it. The text of the ten years of Abraham's waiting, however, as it is required for no other deduction, rightly serves the purpose of the allusion mentioned.
  22. So lit., E.V. 'for'.
  23. Gen. XXV, 21.
  24. He had to pray not only for her but for himself also.
  25. Since Isaac's prayer was not on behalf of his wife only but on behalf of himself as well.
  26. Rebekah's father, Bethuel, was a wicked man. The implication of 'him' in 'entreated of him' is that Isaac's prayer was accepted before Rebekah's.
  27. [H] or [H] of the same rt. as [H] and he entreated.
  28. [H], Glos, s.v. tumtum.

Yebamoth 64b

whence you were hewn1  and to the hole of the pit2  whence you were digged,3  and this is followed by the text, Look unto Abraham your father, and unto Sarah that bore you.4

R. Nahman stated in the name of Rabbah b. Abbuha: Our mother Sarah was incapable of procreation; for it is said, And Sarai was barren; she had no child,5  she had not even a womb.6

Rab Judah son of R. Samuel b. Shilath stated in the name of Rab: That7  was taught only in respect of the early generations who lived many years. In respect of the later generations, however, whose years of life are few, only two years and a half, corresponding to three periods of pregnancy8  [are allowed].9

Rabbah stated in the name of R. Nahman: Three years [must elapse],9  corresponding to three remembrances;10  For a Master said: Sarah, Rachel and Hannah11  were remembered on New Year's Day.12

Rabbah ruled: These general principles13  are to be disregarded.14  For consider: Who compiled our Mishnah? Rabbi, of course; but the years of life were already reduced in the days of David. For it is written, The days of our years are threescore years and ten.15

With regard to the assumption that 'it is possible that it was he who was unworthy to have children from her',16  is it not possible that it was she who was unworthy?17  — Since she is not commanded to fulfil the duty of propagation she is not so punished.18  But surely it is not so!19  For the Rabbis once said to R. Abba b. Zabda, 'Take a wife and beget children', and he answered them, 'Had I been worthy I would have had them from my first wife'! — There he was merely evading the Rabbis; for, in fact, R. Abba b. Zabda became impotent through the long discourses of R. Huna.20

R. Giddal became impotent through the discourses of R. Huna;20  R. Helbo became impotent through the discourses of R. Huna,20  and R. Shesheth also became impotent through the discourses of R. Huna.20

R. Aha b. Jacob was once attacked by dysuria,21  and when he was supported on the college cedar tree a discharge issued like a green palm shoot.

R. Aha b. Jacob stated: We were a group of sixty scholars, and all became impotent through the long discourses of R. Huna;20  with the exception of myself who followed the principle, Wisdom preserveth the life of him that hath it.22

IF HE DIVORCED HER SHE IS PERMITTED etc. Only a second husband23  but not a third;24  whose view, then, is represented by our Mishnah? — It is that of Rabbi. For it was taught: If she circumcised her first child and he died,25  and a second one who also died,25  she must not circumcise her third child; so Rabbi. R. Simeon b. Gamaliel, however, said: She circumcises the third, but must not circumcise the fourth child. But, surely, the reverse was taught;26  now which of these is the latter?27  — Come and hear what R. Hiyya b. Abba stated in the name of R. Johanan: It once happened with four sisters at Sepphoris that when the first had circumcised her child he died; when the second [circumcised her child] he also died, and when the third [circumcised her child] he also died. The fourth came before R. Simeon b. Gamaliel who told her, 'You must not circumcise [the child]'.28  But is it not possible that if the third sister had come he would also have told her the same!29  — If so,30  what could have been the purpose of the evidence of R. Hiyya b. Abba? [No]. It is possible that he meant to teach us the following: That sisters also establish a presumption!31

Raba said: Now that it has been stated that sisters also establish a presumption, a man should not take a wife either from a family of epileptics, or from a family of lepers. This applies. however, only when the fact had been established by the occurrence of three cases.32

What is the decision?33  — When R. Isaac b. Joseph came he related: Such a case was once submitted to R. Johanan in the Synagogue of Ma'on34  on the Day of Atonement which fell on a Sabbath. A woman, it happened, had circumcised her child35  who died; her second [sister circumcised her child] and he also died, and her third sister appeared before him. He said to her, 'Go and circumcise him'. Said Abaye to him:36  See, you have permitted37  a forbidden38  and a dangerous39  act.

Abaye, however, relying upon this statement40  married Homa the daughter of Isi son of R. Isaac the son of Rab Judah, although Rehaba of Pumbeditha had married her and died, and R. Isaac son of Rabbah b. Hana had subsequently married her and also died. And after he had married her, he himself died also.

Said Raba: Would any one else have exposed himself to such danger? Surely he himself had said that Abin was reliable41  but that Isaac the Red was not a person to be relied upon;41  that Abin was well acquainted with any change42  [in the views of R. Johanan] but Isaac the Red was not acquainted with any such changes! Furthermore, it might be said that their dispute43  extended only to the case of circumcision; do they, however, differ also in the case of marriage? — Yes; for so it was taught: If a woman was married to one husband44  who died, and to a second one who also died, she must not be married to a third; so Rabbi. R. Simeon b. Gamaliel said: She may be married to a third, but she may not be married to a fourth.45

In the case of circumcision, one can well understand [why the operation is dangerous with some children and not with others] since the members of one family may bleed profusely46  while those of another family may bleed little;47  what, however, is the reason in the case of marriage?48  — R. Mordecai answered R. Ashi: Thus said Abimi from Hagronia in the name of R. Huna, 'The source49  is the cause'.50  But R. Ashi stated: '[The woman's] ill luck is the cause'.50  What practical difference is there between them?51  — The difference between them is the case where the man only betrothed her and died,52  or also when he fell off a palm-tree and died.52

SAID R. JOSEPH SON OF RABA to Raba: I enquired of R. Joseph whether the halachah is in agreement with Rabbi, and he replied in the affirmative. [I asked] whether the halachah is in agreement with R. Simeon b. Gamaliel, and he again replied in the affirmative. Was he thereby merely ridiculing me?' — The other replied: No; there are several anonymous statements [in the Mishnah] and he informed53  you [that in the matter of] marriage and flogging [the anonymous Mishnah]54  agrees with Rabbi, and that in the matter of menstrual periods and the ox [whose owner has been] fore-warned55  [the anonymous Mishnah] agrees with R. Simeon b. Gamaliel.

As to marriage, there is the statement just discussed.56 

'Flogging'? — As we learned: A man upon whom the penalty of flogging had been repeatedly inflicted is to be placed57  under confinement58  and fed on barley, until his stomach bursts.59

'The menstrual periods'? — As we learned: A woman may not

Original footnotes renumbered. See Structure of the Talmud Files
  1. Allusion to the male organ. It was hewn but was not there originally.
  2. Allusion to that of the female. Cf supra n. 9. Here the deduction is from digged.
  3. Isa. LI, 1.
  4. Ibid. 2. This verse explains to whom v. 1 alludes.
  5. Gen. XI, 30.
  6. As the second section of the verse is superfluous, child, [H] is taken to imply [H] the uterus or womb.
  7. The period of ten years spoken of in our Mishnah,
  8. Each period extending over nine months with the addition of one month after each period to cover the days of levitical uncleanness to which a woman after a confinement is subjected.
  9. Before the husband must take another wife.
  10. Three Rosh Hashanah festivals. The first two days of the new year are a time of prayer on which God remembers the childless women. The festival is also known as the Day of Memorial [H]
  11. Who were originally barren. (Cf. Gen. XI, 30, XXIX, 31, I Sam. I, 2, 5).
  12. R.H. 11b, Ber. 29a.
  13. Which reduce the period of ten years in the case of later generations.
  14. Lit., 'are not'.
  15. Ps, XC, 10.
  16. Supra 64a.
  17. Why then is she entitled to receive her kethubah?
  18. By barrenness,
  19. This refers to the implication of the statement, supra, that the husband must take another wife, because it is possible that he was unworthy to have children from the first but may have them from the second.
  20. V. supra p. 416, n. 11.
  21. [H] a painful or difficult discharge of the urine, occasioned by his suppression of his needs. Aruk reads, [H] 'uratic stone'. Cf. Jast.
  22. Eccl. VII, 12.
  23. Lit., 'second, yes'.
  24. Because, having remained barren after living with two husbands for a period of twenty years, her sterility is regarded as established.
  25. As a result of the operation.
  26. Rabbi's opinion was attributed to R. Simeon and vice versa.
  27. The latter version of a statement is regarded as the more reliable, since the author may have recognized his error and changed his view.
  28. This incident must have occurred in the latter days of R. Simeon b. Gamaliel, since it was witnessed by R. Johanan who already belonged to the first generation of Amoraim. As the ruling in this incident clearly shews, R. Simeon b. Gamaliel held at that time the view attributed to him in the first cited Baraitha which must consequently be regarded as representing the later, and the more reliable version.
  29. And, consequently, the second Baraitha might represent the later version!
  30. That R. Hiyya b. Abba's statement was not intended to testify that a presumption can only be established by the threefold repetition of an act.
  31. I.e., not only is presumption established when the act or incident is repeated three times in the case of one woman, but also when it is so repeated in the case of three sisters (women).
  32. Lit., 'three times',
  33. Lit., 'what about it'.
  34. [Tell Ma'un, west of Tiberias, v, Klein, S. Beitrage, p. 60].
  35. Lit., 'and the first circumcised'.
  36. To R. Isaac b. Joseph.
  37. [I.e., by reporting R. Johanan's ruling. Var. lec., 'the Master permits a forbidden' etc., referring probably to R. Johanan].
  38. As the third child was not permitted to be circumcised, the operation constituted manual labour which is forbidden on the Sabbath.
  39. The child might have died as a result of the operation as did the other two.
  40. Of R. Isaac in the name of R. Johanan, that a presumption can only be established when an incident has occurred three times.
  41. In the reports he made in the name of R. Johanan. Both Abin and R. Isaac the Red reported rulings in the name of R. Johanan.
  42. [H] lit., 'retraction'. [H] may also signify repetition', i.e., Abin is reliable 'because he repeated and revised what he heard' while R. Isaac the Red did not. [Hyman, Toledoth p. 794 explains it as: 'return'. Abin had proved reliable and hence entrusted by Babylonian scholars with traditional teachings for him to repeat on his 'return' to Palestine, which was not the case with R. Isaac].
  43. That of Rabbi and R. Simeon b. Gamaliel.
  44. Lit., 'to the first'.
  45. Nid. 64a.
  46. Lit., 'the blood is loose'.
  47. Lit., the blood is held fast'.
  48. Why is marriage with certain women a danger?
  49. Some malignant disease in the womb.
  50. Of the death of successive husbands.
  51. R. Ashi and Abimi.
  52. Here the source cannot have been the cause and the deaths can only be attributed to ill luck. According to the former view, therefore, no presumption would thereby be constituted.
  53. Lit., 'solved', 'made clear'.
  54. The halachah is always in agreement with the anonymous Mishnah.
  55. Mu'ad ([H]) v. Glos.
  56. Supra. Since our Mishnah permits the woman to marry a second husband but not a third, it must obviously represent the view of Rabbi.
  57. If he commits an offence for the third time.
  58. Lit., 'they bring him into a vaulted chamber'.
  59. Sanh. 81b.