Sanhedrin, Chapter Ten, Mishnah One



Chapter ten of Sanhedrin is one of the most theologically challenging chapters in the entire Mishnah.  It lists those people who have a part in the world to come (olam haba) and those who don’t.  There are two main opinions amongst Jewish authorities with regards to the definition of olam haba referred to in our chapter.  There are those who say that the mishnah refers to a future time when God will resurrect the dead (tehiyat hametim) which will happen only after the coming of the Messiah (yemot hamashiach).  Others say that the Mishnah refers to what is called to in modern language “heaven”.  This final opinion is the opinion of Maimonides (the Rambam) who wrote a lengthy treatise on our chapter in which he included his thirteen principles of faith, which were later summarized in the “Yigdal” a poem commonly sung in synagogues.  We do not have the space to go into detail with regards to the differing Jewish opinions on these concepts (olam haba, tehiyat hametim and yemot hamashiach).  Nevertheless it is worthy to mention that the Rambam categorizes three different types of approaches to “agaddah” or Rabbinic texts of legendary nature, in which he includes this entire chapter.  There are those who take each and every word literally and believe them to be true.  There are others who assume that the Rabbis meant their words to be taken literally and since these thoughts contradict provable nature, they assume the Rabbis to be foolish.  Finally, there are those who understand the legends of the Rabbis to be allegories, human language meant to convey divine truth.  The Rabbis were confined to the limited language with which all human beings communicate and therefore could not fully describe the infinite aspects of the divine.

Finally, while our chapter is theologically dogmatic, it is worthwhile noting that the Talmudic commentary on this chapter, contains, as usual, differing opinions with regards to these matters.  With some notable exceptions, Jewish thinkers have tended not to be theologically dogmatic, allowing Jews to preserve a variety of opinions and philosophies with regards to our understanding of God and creation.  When approaching this chapter we should therefore understand it to contain one opinion with regards to these matters and not the only authoritative opinion that exists.


Mishnah One 

1)                     All Israel  have a portion in the world to come, for it says, “Your people, all of them righteous, shall possess the land for ever; They are the shoot that I planted, my handiwork in which I glory” (Isaiah 60:21).

2)                     And these are the ones who have no portion in the world to come:

a)                                           He who maintains that resurrection is not a biblical doctrine, that the torah was not divinely revealed, and an epikoros.

b)                                          Rabbi Akiva says:  “Even one who reads non-canonical books and one who whispers [a charm] over a wound and says, “I will not bring upon you any of the diseases which i brought upon the Egyptians: for I the lord am you healer” (Exodus 15:26).

c)                                           Abba Shaul says: “Also one who pronounces the divine name as it is spelled.”



Section one:  All Jews have a portion in the world to come, even the executed criminals discussed in the previous chapters of Sanhedrin. Our mishnah proves this from the verse from Isaiah which states “all of them (Israel) are righteous”.  Since it is apparent that in this world not all Jews are righteous, the verse must be understood as referring to the world to come, where all Jews will be accounted as righteous.  Furthermore, the reference to the possession of the land is understood not as a literal reference to the land of Israel but as a reference to the world to come.

Section two:  While criminals can receive a portion in the world to come, those who disagree with the main tenets of Jewish faith do not.  These include:  1) that the doctrine of resurrection is mentioned in the Torah.  Although resurrection is not mentioned literally in the Torah, the Rabbis exegetically derived it from certain verses.  2)  One who denies the heavenly origin of the Torah. One who states that human beings invented the Torah, without even divine inspiration, loses his portion in the world to come.  3)  An epikoros, a Greek word, derived from the Greek philosopher, Epicurus, who encouraged people to seek out the pleasures of this world.  In Rabbinic literature this is a code word for one who despises the Torah, the commandments and the Sages.  4)  According to Rabbi Akiva one who reads sectarian works not included in the Jewish Biblical canon also does not have a portion in the world to come.  5)  Rabbi Akiva further adds to the list one who whispers medical charms.  6)  Abba Shaul adds one who pronounces God’s name by its spelling.  Outside of the Temple this was a forbidden practice.  Today we do not pronounce God’s name as it is written but rather state, “Adonai”.

Questions for Further Thought:

·                      Section 2b:  What is wrong with whispering a charm while performing an act of healing?