The four deaths mentioned in the Jewish law have a very straightforward physical impact on the body. All of them cause inability to breathe which is linked to "maintenance" of the soul, and thus cause death:

  • Crushing the chest and the lungs by stoning
  • Decapitating
  • Burning the throat and the trachea
  • Strangling

I find it difficult, however, to explain a death caused by a drop of poison - there's no physical damage is caused to the body and no disruption to breathing.

How do our sources explain the mechanism of death by poisoning?

  • 4
    when is poisoning used as a mechanism of judicial punishment?
    – rosends
    Jun 7, 2021 at 21:35
  • Why do you associate stoning with damage to the lungs specifically, and not other vital organs? IIRC, the mishnah in Sanhedrin says the stone is aimed at his heart.
    – N.T.
    Jun 8, 2021 at 1:04
  • 2
    It depends which sort of poison, CO for example binds very strongly with haemoglobin and prevents oxygen binding with the haemoglobin, so effectively strangles you. But ve'chi mah inyan shmittah etzel har sinai?
    – The GRAPKE
    Jun 8, 2021 at 5:51
  • 2
    He's not asking about judicial punishment
    – robev
    Jun 8, 2021 at 7:11
  • @robev then why start with a list of four methods of judicial killing as precedents? Death by exsanguination likewise is not about breathing, nor is having a piano dropped on your head.
    – rosends
    Jun 8, 2021 at 11:01

1 Answer 1


Not sure what you mean about death by poison because that isn't one of the four ways Beis Din carries out capital punishment so I'm assuming you mean burning the throat and the trachea (Serafa) which is done by a drop of poison rather than the use of actual fire.

The Rambam Sahedrin 15:3 describes it as follows

וּמַתִּיכִים אֶת הַבְּדִיל וְאֶת הָעוֹפֶרֶת וְכַיּוֹצֵא בָּהֶן וְהוּא זוֹרֵק לְתוֹךְ פִּיו וְהִיא יוֹרֶדֶת וְשׂוֹרֶפֶת אֶת בְּנֵי מֵעָיו

Tin, lead, and the like are melted down and then poured into his mouth. The molten metal descends and burns his innards.

IOW the poison used does in fact cause physical damage.

  • 1
    But this is sereifa?
    – The GRAPKE
    Jun 8, 2021 at 5:49
  • 1
    Yes . They didn't use fire and burn people at the stake. They burnt the person's inside
    – Schmerel
    Jun 8, 2021 at 10:43
  • Yes agreed, the question was about poisoning however. The halacha is that if the person who is sentenced is escaping, then beis din can kill him anyway they like. So I suppose they could poison him if there is no alternative.
    – The GRAPKE
    Jun 8, 2021 at 13:36
  • How do you poison someone who is escaping?
    – Schmerel
    Jun 8, 2021 at 14:25
  • Or who has escaped...
    – The GRAPKE
    Jun 8, 2021 at 14:45

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