Samson had carnal relations with three women. The first one – Eshes Timnah – he married. Then there was an encounter with the unidentified harlot, and Delilah.

The Mishna in Sota (9b) states: מַתְנִי׳ שִׁמְשׁוֹן הָלַךְ אַחַר עֵינָיו — לְפִיכָךְ נִקְּרוּ פְּלִשְׁתִּים אֶת עֵינָיו MISHNA: Samson followed his eyes, therefore the Philistines gouged out his eyes

The Mishna does not specify which woman is the subject of its quid-pro-quo. All of them? Only the first? Afterall, regarding Woman Number 1, Eshes Timna, the Navi (Judges 14:3) clearly states:

וַיֹּ֨אמֶר שִׁמְשׁ֤וֹן אֶל־אָבִיו֙ אוֹתָ֣הּ קַֽח־לִ֔י כִּי־הִ֖יא יָשְׁרָ֥ה בְעֵינָֽי׃ Samson answered his father, “Get me that one, for she is the one that is pleasing in my eyes.

Irrespective of who the Mishna had in mind, remarkably, the Gemara does not immediately attempt to exonerate Samson.

The Gemarra in Sota then quotes the following Tosefta:

גְּמָ׳ תָּנוּ רַבָּנַן: שִׁמְשׁוֹן בְּעֵינָיו מָרַד, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: ״וַיֹּאמֶר שִׁמְשׁוֹן אֶל אָבִיו אוֹתָהּ קַח לִי כִּי הִיא יָשְׁרָה בְעֵינָי״ — לְפִיכָךְ נִקְּרוּ פְּלִשְׁתִּים אֶת עֵינָיו

GEMARA: The Sages taught (Tosefta 3:15): Samson rebelled with his eyes, as it is stated: And Samson said to his father: Get her for me; for she is pleasant in my eyes” (Judges 14:3). Therefore, the Philistines gouged out his eyes

The Tosefta, unlike the Mishna, is 100% clear on which woman it is referring to -- Eshes Timnah – and it uses a strong verb (unlike the mishna) – rebelled … the bottom line here: Samson "rebelled" with his eyes (with Woman Number One) and therefore lost them.

The Gemara reacts to the Tosefta immediately and attempts to vindicate Samson:

אִינִי? וְהָכְתִיב: ״וְאָבִיו וְאִמּוֹ לֹא יָדְעוּ כִּי מֵה׳ הִיא״. כִּי אֲזַל מִיהָא — בָּתַר יַשְׁרוּתֵיהּ אֲזַל.

The Gemara asks: Is that so? But isn’t it written: “But his father and his mother knew not that it was from the Lord (Judges 14:4), indicating that Samson was on a Divine mission? The Gemara ultimately answers in any event Samson when he went, he followed his inclination and did not act for the sake of Heaven.

The Gemara however made no attempt to redeem Samson after the Mishna's statement. The Samson indictment is nearly identical in both the Mishna and Tosefta, but there are at least two differences. 1) Each may be discussing different women... 2) Moreover, the word rebelled was not used in the Mishna.

It's a mystery.

The Maharsha on Sota 9b:

איני והכתיב ואביו ואמו לא ידעו כי מה' כו'. אמתניתין לא קשיא להו דמה שהלך אחר עיניו גם זה היה מה' כדי להתנקם בפלשתים ולא בא לידי עבירה שלא נשאה כלל אבל מה שאמר הכא שבעיניו מרד בהקב"ה פריך שפיר הא כתיב מה' הוא ומשני כי אזיל מיהא בתר ישרותיה כו'

Is he suggesting that the Mishna is discussing the two women who Samson did not marry and therefore there was no sin and it was all part of God's plan and thus the Gemara had nothing to react to?! But, why is there no sin to cohabit with the latter two women? And EVEN per the Mishna, whatever/whovever it is talking about, it states that Samson lost his eyes because of what he did! Isn’t the Mishna's intimation of loss/punishment enough for the Gemara to immediately react and attempt to vindicate Samson? Why wait for the Tosefta to challenge this Samson-caused-his-own-blindness premise?

  • 2
    You should add your translation of the Maharsha, so we can understand your comments on it. I don't see how the words of the Maharsha support your question.
    – MichoelR
    Dec 31, 2023 at 20:24
  • @MichoelR Thx. The Maharsha states: 'the Gemara had no question on the Mishna because the fact that he followed his eyes was in accord with God's plan to seek vengeance from the Plishtim and he did not sin because he didn't marry her. But here (Tosefta) where it states that he rebelled against God the Gemara appropriately asks 'but it was from God ...'"
    – GratefulD
    Dec 31, 2023 at 20:43
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    So your point is based on the phrase "he did not marry her"? (And you're adding the outside knowledge that the first woman was the one that Tanach says he married?) All this would be good to include in your question above.
    – MichoelR
    Dec 31, 2023 at 21:15

2 Answers 2


Putting aside the Maharsha, the typical structure of the gemara is exactly this. That after a Mishna, we have Torat HaTannaim = related Tannaitic statements, then Torat HaAmoraim = statements from Amoraim about the Topic, and Shakla veTarya = unattributed Aramaic statements analyzing all of the above, wrapped around the various attributed (earlier statements).

The Tosefta would be cited because it expressed the same idea, though in slightly different language, so perhaps clarifies the Tannaim's mindset. After presenting both salient sources, the Mishnah and Tosefta, the Talmudic Narrator (Stamma) can provide analysis and reinterpretation. So, we don't have to say like Maharsha. We can say that the Stamma is objecting to both.

Even with the Maharsha, we don't need to read into his words what you are attributing to him, that we are discussing a different set of women. I think such a read is rather farfetched.

Rather, what the Maharsha is saying is that the Mishnah and Tosefta are discussing the same woman, the same case, the same action, and the same result. However, as you note, the Mishnah used relatively pareve words, שִׁמְשׁוֹן הָלַךְ אַחַר עֵינָיו, that he walked after his eyes. (And we can add that the Mishnah doesn't give the prooftext of the pasuk.) This language doesn't directly contradict the verse which says that Shimshon was following God's plan. However, the Tosefta both uses the word "rebel" and cites a verse where the immediately following verse says that is was God's plan, so it is easier / is justifiable to ask the question.

  • I appreciate your answer. What does the Maharsha mean when he says שלא נשאה? Is he saying that he never consummated the marriage with Eshes Timnah?
    – GratefulD
    Dec 31, 2023 at 20:37
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    Interesting. I don't know. Given that it's singular nesa'ah, didn't marry her, it seems so. Also, the preceding words of Maharsha, כדי להתנקם בפלשתים matches both the pasuk by Eshet Timna, כִּֽי־תֹאֲנָ֥ה הֽוּא־מְבַקֵּ֖שׁ מִפְּלִשְׁתִּ֑ים, as well as what happens later in the next perek 15, כִּ֛י אִם־נִקַּ֥מְתִּי בָכֶ֖ם וְאַחַ֥ר אֶחְדָּֽל׃. Are you saying no nisuin implies its talking about the other wives? I don't know, though I think only by Eshet Timna is eye language used. Maybe: he hadn't YET married her in 14:4 when she pleased his eyes; or he never did despite contrary Biblical language. Dec 31, 2023 at 20:56
  • In terms of answering the posed question, @joshwaxman definitely got it and read the maharsha correctly. Perhaps the lo nesa'ah part means he left after the first week and didn't get to stay married to her? Consider looking at other mefarshei aggadah to see what they say, like Ein Yaakov, Ben Yehoyada, etc.
    – MDjava
    Jan 1 at 18:33

Because he didn't respect his parents wishes. ?

  • 1
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    Jan 1 at 3:52

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