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When someone commits a sin, is the thought of that sin considered a separate transgression? If this person, for instance, eats a forbidden food, is the thought of eating this food considered a second transgression, making this person be punished twice?

Is that true even if this person is not able, for any reason, to eat this food?

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    Relevant: הִרְהוּרֵי עֲבֵירָה קָשׁוּ מֵעֲבֵירָה Yoma 29a
    – robev
    Commented Apr 18, 2023 at 13:11
  • Adding to robev's point look at @Kouty's answer here which explains the Gemera in Yoma 29a; judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/68094/…, does this answer your question? Commented Apr 18, 2023 at 13:16

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How do we reconcile these two positions: (1) Bad thoughts are sinful and require atonement; and (2) You can't help your thoughts and must not be punished for them? In the standard Jewish fashion: By saying “You are right” and “You are right”! Here is how the Talmud resolves it:

[There is no punishment for mere intention to commit evil], for it is said [in the Book of Psalms]: If I saw iniquity in my heart, The Lord would not hear. [Ps. 66:18] When intention [is followed by action] the Holy One, blessed be He, combines it with the action [and punishes both]. When intention [is not followed by action] the Holy One, blessed be He, does not combine it with the action [and there is therefore no punishment.] [Kiddushin 40a]

Here is what is particularly artful in this teaching. On the one hand, the rabbis could not very well say that bad thoughts are punished, because Judaism is clearly a religion of action, and not one of thought or belief. But on the other hand, they are reluctant to allow unbridled bad thoughts. If you go off in a corner and fantasize about doing terrible things to someone you don't like, it is very unhealthy. So the rabbis steer us away from it by warning us that, if bad thoughts are followed by bad actions, the punishment will be both for the thoughts and the action. In other words, you will get extra punishment just for the bad thoughts. But if all you have is the bad thoughts, there is no punishment. However, there is still a need to repent for having them, because they are unhealthy. So, on Yom Kippur, we repent "For the sin that we have committed before You by sinful thoughts."

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  • Great answer! Shkoyach
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Commented Apr 19, 2023 at 8:18
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This has been discussed a lot, and there are different opinions. Some hold that thoughts of sin (hirhurei aveira) are not punishable1, and some hold they are worse than the actual sin2.

Some hold that hirhurei aveira refers only to sins of idolatry and licentiousness. The mitzva to not stray after one's eyes and heart, which is the primary source of the issur of forbidden thought, is explained to be referring specifically to these two sins3

There is an important gemara:

Thoughts of sin are worse than sin, and the illustration of this is the smell of meat (Yoma 29a).

There are many attempts to resolve this and explain it among Chazal. For example, the Vilna Gaon explains using the two words of Divine judgement mentioned in Avot 3:1, din and cheshbon, to refer to actual transgressions, and wasted opportunities respectively. Sinful thoughts are worse regarding cheshbon4.

For more resolutions, see for example this essay, where some explain that worse doesn't mean more punishable, but more difficult to fix. Some explain that the inner life of a Jew is of primary importance and in that sense, it is worse.

Either way, it is always best to listen to the advice of Chazal and avoid sinful thoughts, which generally would include deriving satisfaction from thinking about doing any aveira. One certainly is obligated to do so regarding the sins of idolatry, apostacy and licentiousness.


1 - Kiddushin 39b
2 - Moreh Nevuchim 3:8
3 - Sefer HaChinuch Mitzva 387, Sefer HaMitzvot Lavim 47
4 - Meshech Chochma Bereshit 18:28

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