Talmud, Sanhedrin: Quran 5:32 Plagiarised?

Kaleef K. Karim

Islam is often perceived as a religion antithetical to Western, secular values. There are some who are out there, whose job it is to spread propaganda against Islam’s core teachings

One verse has been under attack by opponents is chapter 5, verse 32 of the Quran. They assert that the verse does not say murder is wrong and prohibited in Islam, this we have responded to here: “Sanctity Of Life: ‘If Anyone Kills A Person It Would Be As If He Killed All Mankind’ – Surah 5:32“. They make these claims in order to spread misinformation to innocent readers – to paint Islam negatively for their own mischievous ends.

Another claim, which we shall respond to in this article is that the verse (Q. 5:32) was plagiarized word for word from the Talmud. Let us read a translation of Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Sanhedrin, translated by Michael L. Rodkinson:

“Therefore the man was created singly, to teach that he who destroys one soul of a human being, the Scripture considers him as if he should destroy a whole world, and him who saves one soul of Israel, the Scripture considers him as if he should save a whole World.” (Babylonian Talmud) [1]

We may add also the Mishnah, translated from the Hebrew with introduction and brief explanatory notes – by Herbert Danby:

“Therefore but a single man was created in the World, to teach that if any man has caused a single soul to perish from IsraelScripture imputes it to him as though he had caused a whole world to perish; and if any man saves alive a single soul from Israelscripture imputes it to him as though he had saved alive a whole world. …” [2]

Now, let’s read Surah 5:32,

“And indeed, there came to them Our Messengers with clear proofs, evidences, and signs, even then after that many of them continued to exceed the limits (e.g. by doing oppression unjustly and exceeding beyond the limits set by Allah by committing the major sins) in the land!.” – Quran 5:32

To make things easier for our readers, we have made parallel side by side for Sanhedrin 4:5 and Surah 5:32.

mishnah 4 5 surah 532

One thing stands out clear when one reads carefully is that the Sanhedrin 4:5 is aimed only at the children of Israel, whereas the Quran speaks of whole of mankind. Sanhedrin 4:5 reveals that shedding an Israelite blood is as if killing whole of humanity, in contrast the Quran says slaying any soul, Muslim or non-Muslim, is as if killing whole of humanity. The message in both are completely different.

Commenting on Sanhedrin 4:5, respected Jewish scholar Jacob Neusner states when ‘Israel[ite]’ is mentioned, it means a Jewish soul only:

“‘We Israel’ encompasses many “I’s” – that is, invidual Israelites (or Jews, a much less common usage). When the authorship of the Mishnah wishes to refer to an invidual Jew, not surprisingly it speaks of ‘Israel,’ meaning an Israelite; occasionally, in context, this means ‘not a Gentile,’ one of ‘us’ in general. As soon as we encounter ‘Israel’ as the name of the group, we become aware of this further important sense of the name.
The occurrences are typified by these statements: ‘An Israelite who married a mamzer-woman…’ (M. Qid. 9:2); ‘He who undertakes to sharecrop a field belonging to an Israelite, a Gentile, a Samaritan…’ (M. Dem. 6:1), meaning an individual person in the category of Israel, a Jew; ‘And let not a single soul of Israel be handed over to them’ (M. Ter. 8:12), which has a similar sense; ‘People do not accept for share-cropping a field handed over on terms of ‘iron flock’ from an Israel[ite] [since it smacks of usury]’ (M. B.M. 5:6); ‘Whoever saves…, whoever destroys a single life of Israel…’ (M. San. 4:5), meaning, a Jew.” [3]

So when those who claim that the quote in San 4:5 is similar in content and in meaning with Surah 5:32, this is not true. Surah 5:32 speaks of prohibiting any human being killed. The Talmud quote emphasizes only on an Israelite (Jewish) soul.

Another quote which is commonly cited by critics is Sanhedrin 37a. They claim that Surah 5:32 was taken from San 37a. Let’s read:

Talmudic Mishnah:
“For thus we find in the case of Cain, who killed his brother, that it is written: the bloods of thy brother cry unto me: not the blood of thy brother, but the bloods of thy brother, is said — i.e., his blood and the blood of his [potential] descendants. (alternatively, the bloods of thy brother, teaches that his blood was splashed over trees and stones.) For this reason was man created alone, to teach thee that whosoever destroys a single soul of Israel, scripture imputes [guilt] to him as though he had destroyed a complete world; and whosoever preserves a single soul of Israel, scripture ascribes [merit] to him as though he had preserved a complete world. Furthermore, [he was created alone] for the sake of peace among men, that one might not say to his fellow, ‘my father was greater than thine, and that the minim might not say, there are many ruling powers in heaven…” (Talmud: Sanhedrin 37a) [4]

 

When we zone in to the above quote, we read that the killing of an ‘Israelite’ soul is if killing whole mankind. We read yet again that only an ‘Israelite’ soul is sacred. There is no mention of gentile souls. Renowned Rabbi Samuel Edels (1555 – 1631 AD), famously known for his commentary on the Talmud, had this to say on Sanhedrin 37a:

“‘One soul of Israel’ means EXCLUSIVELY AN ISRAELITE, who alone had, through Jacob, retained the Divine image, in which Adam was created. But other nations have not that image, but are like other creatures. Whoever, therefore, destroys a soul of them, does not destroy the whole replenished world, etc.” [5]

Likewise, Rabbi Noson Gurary, comments on San 37a:

“In a similar sense, we find that the soul of a Jewish person is regarded as a whole world, to the extent that we sometimes find that the soul of one person is just as important as an entire group of people.” [6]

Coming back to Rabbi Samuel Edels. Other Rabbis such as, Shne’ur Zalman, and Rabbi Israel Meir Cohen also followed suit, accepted that Sanhedrin 37a speaks of Jewish soul alone. Not the whole of humanity as it is the case for Surah 5:32. Rabbi Efraim Shmueli states:

“…most editions of the Mishnah contained the version, ‘if any man saves alive a single soul in Israel.’ Needless to say, the adoption of one or another version has important legal ramifications: does the saving of a Gentile’s life warrant desecration of the Sabbath? This question was debated in the Rabbinic culture, resulting in opinions that were generally unfavourable, sometimes downright harsh, to Gentiles, as for example, the words of Rabbi Samuel Eliezer Edels (1555 – 1631), whose famous commentary, Hidushei Halachot, accompanies most editions of the Talmud, in the commentary to San 37a: ‘This is intended to teach you that any man who saves one soul in Israel, and it is intentionally specified ‘one soul in Israel,’ in singular form, as this is the image of God, the Singular One of the world, and Jacob’s form [i.e. Israel] is His Likeness… but Kuttim [i.e. Gentiles] do not have the form of man, only the form of other creatures, and whoever brings about the loss of a soul among them does not lose the world, and whoever saves a soul among them neither adds nor diminishes anything in this world.
Rabbi Shne’ur Zalman of Ladi, author of the Tania, and Rabbi Israel Meir Cohen of Radun, the Hafetz Haim (Mishnah berurah, Orah Haim, 30. 8. Tel Aviv. Pardes. 1955) also accepted this Mishnah in its later, anti-Gentile, version.” [7]

However, Efraim Shmueli disagrees with earliest and contemporary Rabbis on Sanhedrin 37a. Here, we need to introduce a point not discussed before, ‘some’ editions for 4:5 and Sanhedrin 37a omit ‘Israel. However, the words ‘Israel’ appear in the earliest and most authoritative Manuscripts. It is only in latter editions which omit ‘Israel’.

Conclusion

The ‘Judaic principle’ from Sanhedrin 4:5 and Sanhedrin 37a, when held up in critical scrutiny we see that the quotes referenced only refer to the saving of Jewish lives, not all human beings (no gentiles). Hence, we see that Surah 5:32 and the quotes discussed – they have vast differences in their content and meaning. Furthermore, how could the Quran plagiarize from the Talmud, given the fact that there is not a shred of evidence that an extant copy of it existed during the life-time of Prophet Muhammed (p)?

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Related article:

– ‘On The Sources Of The Story Of Cain & Abel In The Qur’an

References:

[1] The Babylonian Talmud, Translated By Michael L. Rodkinson – Book 8: Section Jurisprudence (Damages), [Bostin, The Talmud Society, 1918] – Tract Sanhedrin, page 1747 https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Judaism/FullTalmud.pdf
[2] The Mishnah, Translated From The Hebrew With Introduction and brief Explanatory Notes, [Oxford University Press, 1933], By Herbert Danby, D.D., page 388
[3] The Body of Faith: Israel and the Church, [Trinity Press International; Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, 1996] By Jacob Neusner, page 37
[4] Talmud: Sanhedrin 37a http://www.come-and-hear.com/sanhedrin/sanhedrin_37.html
[5] The Pentateuch According to the Talmud: Genesis: with a Talmudical Commentary, [London: Samuel Bagster And Sons, 15, Paternoster Row. 1883] Part 1, Paul Isaac Hershon, page 173
[6] Chasidism: Its Development, Theology, and Practice, by Rabbi Noson Gurary, page 146
[7] Seven Jewish Cultures: A Reinterpretation of Jewish History and Thought By Efraim Shmueli, page 261

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