Tuesday, October 09, 2007


Tosfos states that if a person would destroy his fellow’s eye while he was killing him, it would not be regarded as if he blinded him and murdered him (in which case, you might think that we should punish him for both actions, by executing him and exacting payment for the eye); but rather, it is considered as if he killed him in a more painful manner. Chashukei Chemed derives from this Tosfos that there is no prohibition to wound a fellow at a time that he is being executed anyway.

Using this principle, it is possible to answer the following question posed by Reb Yosef Engel in Gilyonei HaShas to Avoda Zara (10b). The Gemora states: The Caesar decreed that Ketiah (a gentile) should be put to death. As they were escorting him to the death chamber, a certain matron called out and said, “Woe is to the ship that leaves without paying its taxes first.” Rashi explains: Ketiah was being executed for supporting the Jews; if he would not circumcise himself before his death, he will not merit a portion in the World to Come together with them. Ketiah thereby, fell on top of his foreskin and cut it off. He said, “I now have paid my tax. I will leave this world and enter into the World to Come.”

Reb Yosef Engel asks: It appears that Ketiah did not satisfy all the requirements of conversion, for he didn’t immerse in a mikvah and he didn’t accept the yoke of fulfilling all the mitzvos; if so, shouldn’t there have been a prohibition to cut his foreskin? Isn’t he violating the prohibition of wounding oneself?

In the sefer Shabbos Shaboson, the following novel ruling is brought in the name of Rav Yosef Tzikonovsky: If one is being brought to be executed, he is allowed to circumcise himself even though his brothers had died on account of circumcision (normally, that would preclude a third brother from circumcision). Since he is going to die anyway, he would be permitted to circumcise himself, although the procedure itself can lead to his death. He provides a fascinating source from the Abudraham: It is our custom, when saying the words: “V’omer lach b’damayich chayi,” that we place some of the wine on the lips of the child. This is based upon the Medrash which states that after the sin of the Golden Calf, as some of the Jewish people were being killed, Moshe would circumcise them, Aharon would uncover the foreskin and Yehoshua would give them to drink (from the ashes of the Golden Calf causing them to die). All forty years in the Desert, there was no circumcision because of the burdens of traveling and because the Northern Wind did not blow (which was necessary to heal them). Moshe and Aharon did not want them to die without a circumcision and without accepting the yoke of mitzvos. Yehoshua gave them to drink, leading to their death. We give the circumcised child to drink and say: This circumcision and drinking should lead to life, not death.

Accordingly, Ketiah, could circumcise himself prior to his death, and he needn’t be concerned with the prohibition of wounding himself unnecessarily.


Anonymous said...

Doesn't Haflaah say that this is the reason why Avraham did not circumcise himself - before the commandment, he had an issur of performing milah on himself because of chavalah?

Avromi said...

Yes he does! It is also used to ask on the Rambam who holds that an idolater may perform a milah in order to receive reward; how can that be if he is violating the prohibition of wounding himself?

Anonymous said...

what's the issur on a goy to wound himself?

Anonymous said...

The lashon of "woe to the ship etc." is also in Devarim Rabbah where a goy saved world Jewry from annihilation and the wife of the goy, when hearing these words from the Chachamim, brought out his orlah to show that he had done milah.

Avromi said...

There are those that learn from Rashi in this week's parsha 9:5 that a goy has an issur chavalah.

Riva in lech lecho says it even applies to himself.