The Gambler

Sanhedrin (3:3) | Yisrael Bankier | 12 years ago

In the third perek we discussed people that were invalid to act as witnesses or judges. One of these was the dice player – the gambler. More precisely, R’ Yehuda explains18 that this refers to a person whose sole profession is gambling. What exactly is wrong with the gambler? Why does it invalidate him as a witness? What difference does it make if it is his profession?

The first opinion in the Gemara (Sanhedrin 24b) is Rami bar Chama who explains that the gambling agreement is defined as an asmachta and an asmachta is not binding. This means that each party has laid down their money agreeing to part with it depending on a future event. However since each party does so hoping that the dice will fall in their favour, they are not completely resolved to parting with their money. Therefore when the winner takes the funds it is tantamount to stealing.19 Accordingly the Gemara explains, that anyone that engages in gambling is pasul.

Rav Sheshet disagrees. He believes that this is not a case of an asmachta. Rashi explains that a real asmachta is when a person obligates himself believing that he will never need to pay. For example see the Mishnah we learnt in Bava Batra (10:5). Instead Rav Sheshet explains that the problem is that he is not involved with yishuvo shel olam – benefiting general welfare. Therefore the Gemara explains that according to this understanding, as long as he had another profession he would not be invalid as a witness or a judge. What is the problem in not being involved in yishuvo shel olam?

The Bartenura elaborates that it is forbidden for one to involve them in activities other than Torah, acts of loving kindness or trade or professions that involves yishuva shel olam. Consequently, this flaw alone appears to invalidate him.

Alternatively Rashi (Eiruvin 82a) explains that since he is removed from worldly affairs, he does not recognise or understand the pain and efforts exerted by others to earn a living. Consequently this person would not be greatly bothered at his friend’s financial loss.

Finally the Rambam (Edut 10:4) writes that the gambler’s lack of involvement in yishuv olam implies that he must be benefiting from the winnings. What does this mean? The Sema (Choshen Mishpat 34:40) explains that the Rambam maintains that even though taking the winnings does not constitute stealing, since the money only really transferred hands by means of “playing about”, it constitutes “avak gezel” (rabbinically problematic theft).20 Consequently it only invalidates one from testifying if he actually benefits from the winnings because since he is adorning himself with this tainted money, it is suspect that he would be willing to testify falsely. Unlike Bartenura and Rashi the lack of being involved in worldly affairs does not present an inherent problem. It is only because it would ensure that he must be benefiting from the “dirty” money that invalidates him as a witness. The Sema adds that according to this understanding, if this gambler had a significant wealth from which he is supported, then even if he had no other job, he would not be invalid as a witness.


18 Whether he argues against or explains the opinion of the Chachamim is subject to debate in the Gemara.

19 Whether it is considered stealing on a biblical or rabbinic level is a debate between Rashi and Ritva on Gemara Rosh Hashanah (21a). This is an involved discussion that goes beyond the scope of this article. Nevertheless the invalidation to testify appears to rabbinic according to all opinions. See the discussion on the that Gemara.

20 An alternative understanding of the Rambam is presented by the Kesef Mishnah who maintains that the Rambam rules like Rami bar Chama that gambling constitutes theft. If so, why is only the professional gambler invalid? See the Kesef Mishnah inside for his full explanation.

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