In the times of the Sanhedrin and when courts existed in Eretz Yisrael, how were people found guilty of violating the commandment, 'לֹא תַחְמֹד בֵּית רֵעֶךָ לֹא תַחְמֹד אֵשֶׁת רֵעֶךָ וְעַבְדּוֹ וַאֲמָתוֹ וְשׁוֹרוֹ וַחֲמֹרוֹ וְכֹל אֲשֶׁר לְרֵעֶךָ' ( You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, his manservant, his maid-servant, his ox, his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor's.)

How exactly did the prosecutor go around proving guilt, if someone was charged with this crime?

  • 2
    Why do you think they ever did? Not all laws in Judaism are adjudicated in a human court
    – Double AA
    Jul 7, 2023 at 13:46
  • @DoubleAA The Torah is on earth and not in the heavens. Every case needs to be tried down here and not up there. Jul 7, 2023 at 13:57
  • 3
    @MarsSojourner what you are saying is not correct. For example Karais is not judge here
    – Efraym
    Jul 7, 2023 at 15:59

3 Answers 3


The Sefer HaChinuch explains the results of transgressing the 10th commandment:

וְנוֹהֶגֶת בְּכָל מָקוֹם וּבְכָל זְמַן בִּזְכָרִים וּנְקֵבוֹת. וְעוֹבֵר עָלֶיהָ וְחָמַד, וַאֲפִלּוּ עָשָׂה בּוֹ שׁוּם מַעֲשֶׂה אֵינוֹ חַיָּב מַלְקוּת, לְפִי שֶׁהוּא דָּבָר שֶׁנִּתָּן לְהִשָּׁבוֹן, שֶׁהֲרֵי אֲפִלּוּ אֲנָסוֹ מִמֶּנּוּ לְהִשָּׁבוֹן נִתָּן. וּמִכָּל מָקוֹם הֲרֵי הוּא כְּעוֹבֵר עַל מִצְוַת הַמֶּלֶךְ יִתְעַלֶּה, וְכַמָּה שְׁלוּחִים יֵשׁ לַמֶּלֶךְ יִתְעַלֶּה לִטּוֹל נִקְמָתוֹ מִמֶּנּוּ


And [it] is practiced in every place and at all times by males and females. But one who transgresses it and covets — even if he does some act with it — is not liable for lashes, as it is something that can be remedied by returning the object. As behold, even if he took it from him by force, it is [still] possible to return it. And nonetheless, behold, he is like one that transgresses the commandment of the King, may He be elevated — and how many are the messengers of the King, may He be elevated, to take His vengeance from him!

There is no court-imposed punishment and therefore there is no need to establish guilt. The King will judge and do the necessary.

  • 1
    Wouldn't you need a court to enjoin him to return it? Or does it only apply by self-assessment?
    – shmosel
    Jul 7, 2023 at 17:46

The Talmud makes clear that, while coveting is forbidden, there is no punishment for it:

[There is no punishment for mere evil intention], for it is said [in the Book of Psalms]: If I saw iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not hear. [Ps. 66:18]… [If evil] intention does not [lead to action], the Holy One, blessed be He, does not [punish it]. [Kiddushin 40a]

The Talmud also describes one way we can go about not coveting: Taking action not to look into our neighbors’ affairs. It says that if two people share the same courtyard, each can force his neighbor to build a wall in the middle so neither can look into the other's half. [Bava Batra 2a]

The Talmud even goes beyond that, asserting that

Damage caused by looking is also damage. [Bava Batra 2b]

This implies that the neighbor is somehow harmed by mere thought. So coveting is damaging to the neighbor even if no action results from it.


The Torah uses two different words in the tenth commandment. In Exodus it says לֹא תַחְמֹד but in Deuteronomy it adds לֹ֨א תִתְאַוֶּ֜ה. The Rambam qualifies this by saying that one does not transgress לֹא תַחְמֹד until he actually takes the item, either by force or by convincing the person to sell it to him. However, לֹ֨א תִתְאַוֶּ֜ה is transgressed even with thought alone. In either case, one is not liable to a court punishment because it does not count as "an action" that is punishable. (The Raavad disagrees and says the reason he is not liable to punishment is because he can return the item, which takes away the laws punishment).

The Rambam in Gezeila V'aveida 1:9-12

כָּל הַחוֹמֵד עַבְדּוֹ אוֹ אֲמָתוֹ אוֹ בֵּיתוֹ וְכֵלָיו שֶׁל חֲבֵרוֹ אוֹ דָּבָר שֶׁאֶפְשָׁר לוֹ שֶׁיִּקְנֵהוּ מִמֶּנּוּ וְהִכְבִּיר עָלָיו בְּרֵעִים וְהִפְצִיר בּוֹ עַד שֶׁלְּקָחוֹ מִמֶּנּוּ אַף עַל פִּי שֶׁנָּתַן לוֹ דָּמִים רַבִּים הֲרֵי זֶה עוֹבֵר בְּלֹא תַּעֲשֶׂה שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (שמות כ יד) (דברים ה יח) "לֹא תַחְמֹד". וְאֵין לוֹקִין עַל לָאו זֶה מִפְּנֵי שֶׁאֵין בּוֹ מַעֲשֶׂה. וְאֵינוֹ עוֹבֵר בְּלָאו זֶה עַד שֶׁיִּקַּח הַחֵפֶץ שֶׁחָמַד. כָּעִנְיָן שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (דברים ז כה) "לֹא תַחְמֹד כֶּסֶף וְזָהָב עֲלֵיהֶם וְלָקַחְתָּ לָךְ". חִמּוּד שֶׁיֵּשׁ בּוֹ מַעֲשֶׂה:

Anyone who covets a servant, a maidservant, a house or utensils that belong to a colleague, or any other article that he can purchase from him and pressures him with friends and requests until he agrees to sell it to him, violates a negative commandment,even though he pays much money for it, as Exodus 20:14 states: "Do not covet." The violation of this commandment is not punished by lashes, because it does not involve a deed. One does not violate this commandment until one actually takes the article he covets, as reflected by Deuteronomy 7:25: "Do not covet the gold and silver on these statues and take it for yourself." Implied is that the Hebrew tachmod refers to coveting accompanied by a deed

כָּל הַמִּתְאַוֶּה בֵּיתוֹ אוֹ אִשְׁתּוֹ וְכֵלָיו שֶׁל חֲבֵרוֹ. וְכֵן כָּל כַּיּוֹצֵא בָּהֶן מִשְּׁאָר דְּבָרִים שֶׁאֶפְשָׁר לוֹ לִקְנוֹתָן מִמֶּנּוּ. כֵּיוָן שֶׁחָשַׁב בְּלִבּוֹ הֵיאַךְ יִקְנֶה דָּבָר זֶה וְנִפְתָּה בְּלִבּוֹ בַּדָּבָר עָבַר בְּלֹא תַּעֲשֶׂה שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (דברים ה יח) "לֹא תִתְאַוֶּה" וְאֵין תַּאֲוָה אֶלָּא בַּלֵּב בִּלְבַד

Anyone who desires a home, a wife, utensils, or anything else belonging to a colleague that he can acquire from him, violates a negative commandment at the time he thinks in his heart, "How is it possible to acquire this from him?" and his heart is aroused by the matter, as Deuteronomy 5:18 states: "Do not desire...." Desire refers to feelings in the heart alone

הָא לָמַדְתָּ שֶׁהַמִּתְאַוֶּה עוֹבֵר בְּלָאו אֶחָד וְהַקּוֹנֶה דָּבָר שֶׁהִתְאַוָּה בְּהֶפְצֵר שֶׁהִפְצִיר בַּבְּעָלִים אוֹ בְּבַקָּשָׁה מֵהֶן עוֹבֵר בִּשְׁנֵי לָאוִין. לְכָךְ נֶאֱמַר (שמות כ יד) (דברים ה יח) "לֹא תַחְמֹד" וְ(דברים ה יח) "לֹא תִתְאַוֶּה". וְאִם גָּזַל עָבַר בִּשְׁלֹשָׁה לָאוִין

Thus, we see that a person who desires another person's property violates one negative commandment. One who purchases an object he desires after pressuring the owners and repeatedly asking them, violates two negative commandments. For that reason, the Torah prohibits both desiring and coveting. If he takes the article by robbery, he violates three negative commandments

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