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Source Sheet for @The Taylors’

The Case of the Poisoned Sandwich


Some time ago an incident occurred involving a socially inept American student who became the butt of his classmates’ derisive behavior.   Matters reached a point at which one of the tormentors regularly invaded the oppressed student’s knapsack, stole the sandwich the latter had prepared for lunch and proceeded to eat it himself.

Endeavours to enlist the aid of fellow classmates in order to identify the thief or to prevail upon him to put an end to the practice were of no avail.  Finally, the victim, who excelled academically as a chemistry student, took matters into his own hands and proceeded one day to lace his sandwich with a poison.  In the midst of an afternoon lecture one of the members of the class became violently ill.

In the course of the ensuing tumult the victimized student revealed what he had done explaining that he had resorted to poisoning the sandwich in order to establish the identity of the thief.

Thereupon the rightful owner of the sandwich administrated an already prepared antidote to counter the effect of what otherwise would have been a lethal poison.

What is the Torah’s position on such activity?

We will look at some sources which might cover this and some actual rulings in this case which was presented to a number of eminent rabbonim as a Halachic excercise.

SOURCE 1:  Talmud Bavli Bava Kama 47a-b


GEMORAH:   IF [A MAN] BRINGS HIS PRODUCE INTO THE COURTYARD OF ANOTHER OWNER etc.  Rab said: This rule applies only where the animal [was injured] by slipping on them, but if the animal ate them [and was thereby harmed], there would be exemption on the ground that it should not have eaten them.  Said R. Shesheth: I feel inclined to say that it was only when he was drowsy or asleep that Rab could have made such a statement.  For it was taught: If one places deadly poison before the animal of another he is exempt from the judgement of Man, but liable to the judgement of Heaven.  Now, that is so only in the case of deadly poison which is not usually consumed by an animal, but in the case of products that are usually consumed by an animal, there appears to be liability even to the judgement of Man. But why should this be so? [Why not argue:] It should not have eaten them? — I may reply that strictly speaking even in the case of produce there should be exemption from the judgement of Man, and there was a special purpose in enunciating this ruling with reference to deadly poison, namely that even where the article was one not usually consumed by an animal, there will still be liability to the judgment of Heaven.

הכניס פירותיו לחצר בעה”ב שלא ברשות ואכלתן בהמתו של בעל הבית פטור ואם הוזקה בהן בעל הפירות חייב ואם הכניס ברשות בעל החצר חייב

אמר רב לא שנו אלא שהוחלקה בהן אבל אכלה פטור מאי טעמא הוה לה שלא תאכל אמר רב ששת אמינא כי ניים ושכיב רב אמר להא שמעתא דתניא הנותן סם המות לפני בהמת חבירו פטור מדיני אדם וחייב בדיני שמים סם המות הוא דלא עבידא דאכלה אבל פירות דעבידא דאכלה בדיני אדם נמי מיחייב ואמאי הויא לה שלא תאכל אמרי הוא הדין אפילו פירות נמי פטור מדיני אדם והא קמ”ל דאפי’ סם המות נמי דלא עבידא דאכלה חייב בדיני שמים ואיבעית אימא סם המות נמי באפרזתא דהיינו פירי:

SOURCE 2: Talmud Yoma 83a

Meir and R. Judah and R. Jose were on a journey together. (R. Meir always paid close attention to people’s names, whereas R. Judah and R. Jose paid no such attention to them). Once as they came to a certain place. they looked for a lodging, and as they were given it, they said to him [the innkeeper]: What is your name? — He replied: Kidor. Then he [R. Meir] said: Therefrom it is evident that he is a wicked man, for it is said: For a generation [ki-dor] very forward are they. R. Judah and R. Jose entrusted their purses to him; R. Meir did not entrust his purse to him… R. Meir went, waited there all day, and then took the purse with him. In the morning they [the Rabbis] said to him,: ‘Give us our purses’. He said: There never was such a thing! R. Meir then said to them: Why don’t you pay attention to people’s names? They said: Why have you not told this [before]. Sir? He answered: consider this but a suspicion. I would not consider that a definite presumption! Thereupon they took him [the host] into a shop [and gave him wine to drink]. Then they saw lentils on his moustache. They went to his wife and gave her that as a sign, and thus obtained their purses and took them back. Whereupon he went and killed his wife.

 ר”מ ור’ יהודה ור’ יוסי הוו קא אזלי באורחא ר’ מאיר הוה דייק בשמא ר’ יהודה ור’ יוסי לא הוו דייקו בשמא כי מטו לההוא דוכתא בעו אושפיזא יהבו להו אמרו לו מה שמך אמר להו כידור אמר ש”מ אדם רשע הוא שנאמר (דברים לב) כי דור תהפוכות המה ר’ יהודה ור’ יוסי אשלימו ליה כיסייהו ר”מ לא אשלים ליה כיסיה … אזל ר”מ ונטריה כולי יומא ואייתיה למחר אמרו לו הב לן כיסן אמר להו לא היו דברים מעולם אמר להו ר”מ אמאי לא דייקיתו בשמא אמרו ליה אמאי לא אמרת לן מר אמר להו אימר דאמרי אנא חששא אחזוקי מי אמרי משכוהו ועיילוהו לחנותא חזו טלפחי אשפמיה אזלו ויהבו סימנא לדביתהו ושקלוהו לכיסייהו ואייתו אזל איהו וקטליה לאיתתיה

Source 3: Derech Eretz Rabbah Ch.5

Always consider strangers as burglars, and at the same time honour them as if each of them were R. Gamaliel himself. It happened to R. Jehoshua that a man called at his house, and he gave him to eat and drink, and took him up to the roof to sleep there, and then removed the step-ladder leading to the roof. The man was a thief, and arose by night, and took things of value that Rabbi Jehoshua had on the roof and packed them up in his garment, and in the attempt to descend and carry off the booty he fell down and almost broke his neck. When R. Jehoshua came in the morning and found him in that condition, he said to him: “You ignoramus, is this the way people like you do?” He answered: “Rabbi, I did not suspect that persons of your station would remove the ladder.” And he rejoined: “Did you not notice yesterday that I was cautious about you?” From that time on R. Jehoshua proclaimed that always should strangers be considered as burglars, and still one should honour them as he would R. Gamaliel.

Source 4: Leviticus 19:16

לֹא־תֵלֵ֤ךְ רָכִיל֙ בְּעַמֶּ֔יךָ לֹ֥א תַעֲמֹ֖ד עַל־דַּ֣ם רֵעֶ֑ךָ אֲנִ֖י יְהוָֽה׃

Thou shalt not go up and down as a talebearer among thy people; neither shalt thou stand idly by the blood of thy neighbour: I am the L-RD.

Source 5: Talmud Bavli Bava Kama 69

ותנן בכרם רבעי היו מציינין אותו בקזוזות אדמה םימנא כי אדמה מה אדמה איכא הנאה מינה אף האי נמי כי מפרקא שרי לאיתהנויי מינה ושל ערלה בחרסית סימנא כחרםית מה חרםית שאין הנאה מינה אף האי דלית ביה הנאה מיניה ושל קברות בסיד סימנא דחיור הוממחה ושופך כי היכי דניחוור בעצמות טפי אמר רבן שמעון בן גמליאל בד״א בשביעית דהפקר נינהו אבל בשאר שני שבוע הלעיטהו לרשע וימות

‘In the case of a vineyard in its fourth year, the owners used to mark it with clods of earth’, the sign implying an analogy to earth: just as in the case of earth a benefit may ensue from it, so also the fruit of this vineyard will after being redeemed be permitted to be enjoyed. ‘That of ‘orlah used to be marked with potsherds’, the sign indicating a similarity with potsherds: just as in the case of potsherds no benefit ensues from them, so also the fruit of ‘orlah could not be enjoyed for any use whatever. ‘A field of graves used to be marked with lime’, the sign having the colour of white, like corpses. ‘The lime was dissolved in water and then poured out’ so as to make its colour more white. ‘R. Simeon b. Gamaliel said: These practices were recommended only for the Sabbatical year,’ when the fruits on the trees were ownerless ‘for in the case of the other years of the Septennate, you may let the wicked stuff themselves with it till they die.

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