Ir Ha-Niddaḥat

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IR HA-NIDDAḤAT (Heb. עִיר הַנִּדַּחַת, the "subverted" or "apostate" city). Deuteronomy 13:13ff. enjoins the utter destruction of a city, including its inhabitants, its animals, and its inanimate contents, the citizens of which have been "subverted" (va-yadiḥu) by "scoundrels" (sons of Belial). In essence it is an extreme example of the *Ḥerem but in the Talmud it is regarded as belonging to a special category. The punishment meted out to an Ir ha-Niddaḥat was never applied in practice in talmudic times, and in fact the Tosefta (Sanh. 14:1) enumerates it as one of those things that "never was and never will be," but which was enjoined only so that one should receive the reward for its study. The discussion on it (Sanh. 10:4–6 and the Gemara on these passages) is therefore purely theoretical. A city could be declared an Ir ha-Niddaḥat only if the majority of its male inhabitants were found guilty of collective apostasy and only the Great Sanhedrin could make the declaration (Sanh. 16a). Jerusalem, however, could never be declared an Ir ha-Niddaḥat. The destruction of Jericho and the ban against its rebuilding (Josh. 6:26) were taken as the model. There is a difference of opinion as to whether the verse "it shall not be built again" (Deut. 13:17) meant that it was to be left completely waste, or whether the prohibition of rebuilding referred only to a city, but the site could be turned into gardens and orchards. The wholesale destruction applied to all the property of the transgressors, whether it was in the city or beyond its borders, and to the property of the innocent residents within the city only. With regard to consecrated objects a distinction was made. Animals dedicated to the altar and *terumah and second tithe were left to rot. Dedications for the repair of the Temple, first fruits, and the first tithe could be redeemed. R. Simeon explains the destruction of the property of the innocent ("righteous") inhabitants of the city by pointing out that since it was the desire for wealth which brought them to reside there, that wealth is destroyed (Sanh. 112a).


J.N. Epstein, in: Abhandlungen… H.P. Chajes (1933), 72–5; C. Tchernowitz, Toledot ha-Halakhah, 1 pt. 1 (1934), 37.

[Louis Isaac Rabinowitz]