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The Bavli, N'darim 20:2, reads:

וברותי מכם המורדים והפושעים בי אמר רבי לוי אלו בני תשע מדות בני אסנ״ת משגע״ח בני אימה בני אנוסה בני שנואה בני נידוי בני תמורה בני מריבה בני שכרות בני גרושת הלב בני ערבוביא בני חצופה איני והאמר רבי שמואל בר נחמני אמר רבי יונתן כל אדם שאשתו תובעתו הויין לו בנים שאפילו בדורו של משה רבינו לא היו כמותם שנאמר הבו לכם אנשים חכמים ונבונים וכתיב ואקח את ראשי שבטיכם ולא כתיב נבונים וכתיב יששכר חמור גרם וכתיב מבני יששכר יודעי בינה לעתים ההיא דמרציא ארצויי

Or, in my own, loose translation:

"I will pick from among you the rebels and those who deliberately sin against me" [Y'chezkel 20:38]. Rabbi Levi said:

These [mentioned in the above-quoted verse] are the sons of nine מדות‎(?): the sons of [things whose acronym is] אסנ״ת משגע״ח: the sons of fear, the sons of a forced woman, the sons of a hated woman, the sons of נידוי-type excommunication, the sons of exchange, the sons of argument, the sons of drunkenness, the sons of a woman divorced by the heart, the sons of mixture, the sons of a brazen woman [who duns her husband for intercourse].

Is that a fact? But Rabbi Sh'muel b. Nachmeni said that Rabbi Yonasan said:

Any man whose wife duns him is having sons like whom weren't even in the generation of our leader Moshe….

Ah, but that's where she attracts him [without outright dunning him].

See the commentaries and Orach Chayim 240:3 for the exact interpretations of these "sons", but, roughly, they're the product, the offspring, of intercourse in which the man was thinking of another woman, or in which the man was drunk, or other such examples.

I understand that actions have consequences and that a child can have a status of, for example, mamzer, with the (slight) loss of privileges thereunto appertaining, because of the intercourse of which he's a product. No problem. But how can he be, or why is he, called a sinner ("the rebels and those who deliberately sin against me") based on the intercourse of which he's a product? He hasn't sinned.

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How does a mamzer experience only a "slight" loss of privileges? Also, the first part of the section you quoted, which refers to these people as בני תשע מדות, argues in favour of it being a reference to those who possess certain qualities, and not at all to those who are merely the product of such unions. Maybe your question would be improved if you translated the passage rather than summarise it? I for one don't understand it as you appear to be doing. I see the statement of Rabbi Yonatan as related but distinct. –  Shimon bM Feb 28 '13 at 23:39
@ShimonbM, a mamzer can enter any contract, be motzi anyone y'de chovaso in any mitzva, can rule on halachic sh'elos, and the list goes on. The only thing he can't do, AFAIK, is marry a non-mamzer born-Jewess. –  msh210 Feb 28 '13 at 23:42
I'm sure that a mamzer considers his inability to marry whom he pleases only a slight aggravation, in light of his glorious ability to have somebody say amen after his berakhot. –  Shimon bM Feb 28 '13 at 23:48
@ShimonbM, I was writing not from his point of view. Re the rest of your first comment, I'm unclear as to what מדות means here, whether בני refers to the fathers or the children. (Specifically, if בני refers to the fathers, then בני אנוסה בני שנואה are odd ways of referring to them: I can't offhand think of another time בני is used non-literally with a person as its סומך (second noun). Moreover, I can't imagine how אנוסה and שנואה could be called מדות.) –  msh210 Mar 1 '13 at 0:21
What makes you think that we are even speaking of parentage? If you remove Rabbi Yonatan's comment (which is, as I said, related to the issue but is distinct from it), the passage is speaking about people who possess particular qualities and has nothing to do with fathers and children. Rabbi Yonatan's statement concerns the sort of offspring that such a person might have, but I see no reason to retroject his assertion onto the original formulation. בני מדות refers to people who possess certain attributes - people in general, not fathers in particular. –  Shimon bM Mar 1 '13 at 0:25

1 Answer 1

up vote 2 down vote accepted

It would seem that the description of such a child as “rebellious” and “transgressor” is not in reference to the parents' wrongful conduct at the time of intercourse, but rather to the child's own predisposition to future sin as a result of this. The Zohar (See Zohar II, 204b; III, 80-82, explained in the end of the 2nd chapter of Tanya) writes that during intercourse, the soul of the child is drawn down, and that pure thoughts and intentions at this moment are essential in bringing down a pure and holy soul. Therefore, improper conduct at this time can result in a child who is more prone to sin.

[Incidentally, the Beis Yosef (OC 340) quotes the opinion of the Ravaad who renders “בני” as “people who”, and understands it as referring to the parents and not the child. As for your proof against this, I would suggest that he understands that if R' Yonosan has such positive things to say about the children of such a union, he would not consider the parents to be sinners.]

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+1 and thank you! Does Tanya or the Zohar refer specifically to this g'mara? (Tanya doesn't seem to, according to the page you linked to anyway.) –  msh210 Feb 28 '13 at 23:33

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