Yishai said in a comment elsewhere on this forum :

It has been pointed out in Rishonim that some sins are so bad they can't get a punishment - because the punishment creates forgiveness, but when the sin is too great, forgiveness is not an option.

  1. Which sins are these and who are the Rishonim that said this?
  2. How could a sin be so great so as to be beyond punishment, when even the gravest sins are not [they are punished by capital punishment]?
  • I recall hearing some variation of this thought applied to the whole idea of Pharaoh's heart being hardened during the Makkos. Mar 6, 2019 at 5:01
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    I think this relates to Makkos 2b saying that logically, it is plausible to say that someone who killed by mistake should go to exile, whilst we shouldn't allow someone who killed intentionally to go to exile as that would afford him atonement Mar 6, 2019 at 12:07

2 Answers 2


I found a case attributed to the Semag (one of the last ba'alei Tosfos) where a sin is so heinous that not only is forgiveness not an option, but we don't administer capital punishment since putting this person to death won't serve as atonement (ie we let him live).

But first some background.

There's a prohibition of offering one's children to Molech, a type of avodah zara. Leviticus 18:21 states:

וּמִֽזַּרְעֲךָ֥ לֹא־תִתֵּ֖ן לְהַעֲבִ֣יר לַמֹּ֑לֶךְ וְלֹ֧א תְחַלֵּ֛ל אֶת־שֵׁ֥ם אֱלֹהֶ֖יךָ אֲנִ֥י יְהוָֽה׃

Do not allow any of your offspring to be offered up to Molech, and do not profane the name of your God: I am the Lord.

Sanhedrin 64a discusses this in more depth, lots of rishonim weigh in, and Sefer Chinuch, Mitzvah 208 codifies this. The punishment for passing one's child to Molech is death by stoning.

Continuing the discussion about Molech, the gemara (Sanhedrin 64b) proceeds to make a shocking(!) inference:

אמר רב אחא בריה דרבא העביר כל זרעו פטור שנאמר מזרעך ולא כל זרעך

Rav Aḥa, son of Rava, says: [One who] passed all his offspring [through fire to the priests of Molekh is] exempt, as it is stated: “of your offspring,” [indicating:] But not all your offspring.

The Semag (סמ"ג · לאו · מ) offers a WILD rationale for this reasoning.

העביר כל זרעו פטור שנאמר כי מזרעו נתן למולך מקצת זרעו ולא כל זרעו ויש טעם בזה לתשובת המינים מפני שבמיתת ב"ד מתכפרין המומתין וזה עשה כל כך עבירה גדולה שאין הקב"ה רוצה שיהא לו שום כפרה

If one passed all of his children [to Molech] he is exempt [from being put to death via beis din], because it says [a person who gives] from his seed to Molech. ie some of his seed, not all of his seed, and there is a reason for this to answer the heretics, namely that death via beis din redeems the said person who was put to death, and this person [who passed ALL of his children to Molech] did such a huge aveirah that Hashem doesn't want him to receive any redemption at all [ie via being put to death via beis din]

Bottom line: the Semag says the punishment of stoning is only for a person that gives "some" of his children to Molech. But if that person gave "all" of his children to Molech, it's such a big aveirah that there is no forgiveness and we don't give him a kaparah by putting him to death.

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    Was the above story an oddity, or would it be generally maintained as valid? For example, if someone were to be judged as having committed a sin and scheduled for capital punishment, if they then committed further sins so heinous that they couldn't be forgiven, would their execution be canceled? Or for a specific example, if someone offered some of their children to Molech, and were scheduled to be executed for it, could they attempt to offer the remainder to avoid that execution?
    – Nat
    Mar 6, 2019 at 13:48
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    @Nat In practice, the imposition of any death penalty in the Judaic judicial system was an oddity. It's unlikely that the specific scenario you outlined happened.
    – Isaac Moses
    Mar 6, 2019 at 14:40
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    @Nat That is Tosafot's question (you already deserve the death penalty after killing the first child, so how does killing more help?). They give two answers: 1. This is only applicable if someone has one child (in which case that is all his offspring). 2. The case is if someone kills all his children at the same time.
    – b a
    Mar 6, 2019 at 16:50
  • @ba : from what I've read, passing children to molech is not killing them. It just seems to be a certain ritual manner of worship to that idol. sefaria.org/Sanhedrin.64b.9?lang=bi&with=all&lang2=en
    – user9806
    Mar 6, 2019 at 20:31
  • Thank you for your answer @alicht. What's still puzzling is why this particular sin would be singled out as the worst averiah from all others (I could probably think of worse). But be that as it may, what happens to this person? Is he punished in the afterlife instead of by humans in this world? That would also seem to be a kind of kaparah. Is he not punished anywhere (this world or next world)? That seems inconsistent as well - since then he gets off scot free.
    – user9806
    Mar 6, 2019 at 20:36

This answer is not about Rishonim, but the very idea of sin too severe to be punished.

The tradition I've got from R' Moshe Luria Z"l (Beis Gnozay), there's no sin too severe to justify the complete extermination of the Jewish soul.

  1. This is similar to the idea of עצם הלוז - the "indestructible" bone (WIKI) from which a person is resurrected in the days of Moshiach. The Midrash explains that no matter how bad the body is decomposed, this bone always remains to allow the resurrection. Allegorically, the Jewish soul never gets totally corrupted, but some part stays pure to allow the continuation.

  2. Another allegory the Gemorrah elsewhere brings is a tree, that's been cut, but as long as the roots exist, it grows back. Even if most of the soul is soiled and needs thorough cleansing, the root of the Jewish soul gets never stained.

  3. The 600k letters of the Torah analogy: as every Jewish soul is connected or stems from a letter of the Torah, it can't totally vanish, as it would "lack" the letters of the Torah.

  4. Yet another proof is from the accepted Halachah on us, the Jews, being G-d's sons as R' Meir (B"B 10) even when we don't follow His commandments. As no father, no matter how angry he is with his sons, will attempt to murder them, God's will never let us be cut out.

  5. The Torah uses the word כרת to designate the cutting of a soul from "the tree of souls" and thus ending its existence. For example:

    וּשְׁמַרְתֶּם אֶת הַשַּׁבָּת כִּי קֹדֶשׁ הִוא לָכֶם מְחַלְלֶיהָ מוֹת יוּמָת כִּי כָּל הָעֹשֶׂה בָהּ מְלָאכָה וְנִכְרְתָה הַנֶּפֶשׁ הַהִוא מִקֶּרֶב עַמֶּיהָ

    The Gemorrah (for example M"K 28) tries to define כרת, but stays within earthy terms (similar to מיתה בידי שמיים):

    אמר רבה: [מיתה] מחמשים ועד ששים שנה זו היא מיתת כרת. מת בחמשים שנה זו היא מיתת כרת חמשים ושתים שנה זו היא מיתתו של שמואל הרמתי ששים זו היא מיתה בידי שמים"

    One can conclude that despite its severity the Sages prefer to "pass the responsibility to the heavenly court", rather than proclaim the total abolition of a Jewish soul.

  6. As I often point out, many interpretations should be taken as motivational rather than informational. Just like we, parents, tell to our kids: "if you put your fingers in the outlet you'll die" or "if you drop out of school you'll be poor and starving as an adult". Therefore those statements should be processed with caution.

  7. (some Kabbalic thoughts) There are 5 parts/levels of a Jewish soul, (נרנח"י) and different sins impair different parts of the soul. A Jewish court has only the jurisdiction to judge the sins that impair the lower parts (נפש, רוח) but not the higher ones.

    Therefore some serious sins mentioned in the Torah are either punished by Kares or left [intentionally] totally unpunished (by our courts) (ז"ל, בועל ארמית, and more), in other words, only G-d can treat such impairment.

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