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Inspired by this question, I got interested in the question of halakhic punishment for thoughts of sin?

In general, the Torah is not so concerned and doesn't judge how people feel or what their desires are. It is mainly concerned in how we act.

On one side

  • the gmara in Kiddushin 40a explicitly says that Hashem doesn’t regard a bad thought that doesn’t lead to action as an action (artscroll comments “hence there is no punishment for the thought”)
  • another gmara (end of Bava Batra 164b) says all men think of sin every single day (presumably meaning it is not punishable)

On the other side

  • later in Kiddushin 40a the gmara says that thoughts of sins one has performed and now considers permitted are punished
  • in Shabbat 64a we see the army returning from the war in Midian offered a korban to atone against their lustful thoughts
  • R Chaim mi Volozhin writes (Nefesh HaChaim, gate 1, ch. 4) that the body is like a mishkan, the mind is the kodesh hakodashim and thinking unclean thoughts is a desecration even greater than defiling the Kodesh Hakodoshim since the Mishkan is physical and the mind is even more holy and spiritual

So how is the halakha judging thoughts of sin? Are specific halakhic works codifying this (as opposed to more philosophical discussions)?

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The Gemara in Masechet Yoma (29A) says:

הרהורי עבירה קשין מעבירה וסימניך ריחא דבישרא (Thoughts of sin are harder than sin itself, as smell of meat is more attractive than taste of meat)

According to Rashi, the text addresses the physical harm caused by sexual desire, i.e. thinking of prohibited women (sexual thinking), compared with the physical harm caused by prohibited sexual intercourse:

תאות נשים קשים להכחיש את בשרו יותר מגופו של מעשה

According to the Rabenu Bechaye (Cad Hakemach, Taharat Halev), there are many explanations for the Gemara's statement:

  1. The first opinion: Thought is the most spiritual thing in man, and to impair or soil it is worse than to impair or soil the material body.
  2. The second opinion: It is more difficult to overcome the impulse to sin caused by repetitive thought patterns than the impulse to sin caused by past physical sins that were not accompanied by continual sinful thinking.
  3. The third opinion: The Gemara is talking about premeditation. When a man premeditates a sin, he will make every effort to achieve his target, even if he needs to kill someone for this. While planning, he is willing to commit additional sins in order to facilitate his target sin.
  4. The fourth opinion (attributed to Ramban): The Gemara is talking about sinful thoughts that persist even after the sin has been committed. It is more than a simple desire. He cited a passage from Gemara Kidushin 40B, based on which he says that idle thoughts might not be acted upon and are less significant than a decision to act. Action results from a decision, not just idle thoughts. In his opinion (against the third opinion), a man will not be punished merely because of thinking or desiring; thinking and desiring is not manageable, and thoughts are often egodystonic. Against this argument, Rabenu Bechaye argued the existence of 'proactive' thinking: A man can anticipate and get into the right conditions in which no bad thoughts will come. The choice to adequately prepare for well-oriented thinking is entirely free, and whoever doesn't create the right conditions for himself is liable to punishment.

It seems that Rabenu Behaye chooses the first opinion. (I've seen this in the past: Rambam (More Nevuchim III, 8). It is a wonderful passage in the book). See also Rabenu Yona, who cites a Hazal linked to this topic. There are cases in which the intention to sin, even if the person's plan to sin is foiled, is considered as if the sin was actually committed (in this regard, Rabenu Bechaye also cited thinking about idol worship).

  • How do you know that להכחיש את בשרו? What sort of injury? | And the thinking remain sain.? – mevaqesh Aug 3 '16 at 23:18
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    I'm having trouble understanding your English. Perhaps you should edit this answer (and your other answers, as well) to include a version of it in your native language, then quickly rollback your edit. This way, other users here can check your revision history to figure out what you mean and perhaps (if they have the time) help you edit your answer into a fully understandable form of English. – Fred Aug 3 '16 at 23:29
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    @kouty Ok. I edited it a little for readability. I hope it is an improvement. (I tried to leave the content - and your interpretations of sources - intact as much as possible. I don't take responsibility for your interpretation of sources one way or the other :) ). Feel free to edit it further or rollback edits as you see fit. – Fred Aug 4 '16 at 7:12
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The gemara says if a person is used to doing a sin they are punished for the thought, apparently because there is nothing internal stopping them from realising their thought into action other than external circumstances.

According to Reb YL Bloch you are not obliged to purify your thoughts to the extent that no thought of sin enters your mind because this is un-natural and would prevent you from living a healthy existence.

The other schools of Mussar, notably Novahrdok, disagree.

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    Citing sources would improve your answers immensely. – msh210 Feb 8 '16 at 23:00
  • Thanks for this - the first gemara is indeed the one I cited, it is in Kiddushin 40a – mbloch Feb 9 '16 at 4:34
  • Rabeynu Bechaye in his book develop the topic. I find this in Cad Hakemach. The name of the Key is Taharath Halev. (Rambam counters Ramban) if I find time perhaps it will be a response. – kouty Mar 2 '16 at 16:52

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