JewishEncyclopedia.com

The unedited full-text of the 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia
- Phrase search: "names of god"
- Exclude terms: "names of god" -zerah
- Volume/Page: v9 p419
- Diacritics optional: Ḥanukkah or hanukkah
- Search by Author: altruism author:Hirsch
search tips & recommendations

EUNUCH (Hebrew, ; Greek ευνουχος).

—Biblical Data:

As throughout the Orient in very ancient times, and more especially in Egypt and Assyria, where they seem to have held the most important offices, there were eunuchs in the kingdom of Israel. The reference to them in I Sam. viii. 15 (Hebr.) is general; but in other passages they are mentioned as attendants of the kings; for instance, Ahab (I Kings xxii. 9, Hebr.) and Jehoram (II Kings viii. 6; comp. ix. 32). No allusion to eunuchs in the kingdom of Judah occurs before the time of Josiah (comp. II Kings xxiv. 12, 15, Hebr.; Jer. xxix. 2, xxxiv. 19, xxxviii. 7, xli. 16). In II Kings xxv. 19, Hebr; Jer. lii. 25, a military officer taken captive at the conquest of Jerusalem is called a eunuch. Among the Jews, as among others, the existence of eunuchs was connected with polygamy, for in passages like II Kings xxiv. 15; Jer. xli. 16 (comp. II Kings ix. 32), they are expressly mentioned when reference is made to the women of the king's harem. Consequently there is no reason to interpret "saris" as applying to all royal offices in general.

It is questionable whether the eunuchs were Jews. A passage in Jeremiah (xxxviii. 7), in which the eunuch is an Ethiopian, indicates that they were not always natives of Judea, and it is probable that they were usually non-Jews, since in Deut. xxiii. 1 castration was forbidden the Israelites; that is, castrates might "not enter into the congregation of the Lord." Later regulations were milder, and the author of Isaiah (lvi. 3 et seq.) did not consider the fact of being a eunuch a reason for exclusion from the congregation. Eunuchs were more expensive than ordinary slaves, but there was no difficulty in obtaining them.

Josephus shows that eunuchs were important members of a regal household, especially under Herod the Great, the care of whose drink was entrusted to one, the bringing of his supper to another, and the putting of him to bed to a third, "who also managed the principal affairs of the government" ("Ant." xvi. 8, §, 1). Herod's favorite wife, Mariamne, was attended by a eunuch ("Ant." x v. 7, §, 4).

E. G. H. W. N.—In Rabbinical Literature:

The Rabbis distinguished two kinds of eunuchs: (1) "seris adam," a eunuch made by man; (2) "seris ḥamma," a eunuch made by the sun; that is to say, one born incapable of reproduction, so that the sun never shone on him as on a man. According to the Shulḥan 'Aruk, "seris ḥamma" means "castrated in consequence of fever." The Talmud gives various criteria by which the eunuch of the second kind may be recognized, and refers to various disabilities due to the state, especially as regards ḤaliẒah.

A seris adam is not allowed to enter into the assembly of the Lord (Yeb. 70a), as it is written (Deut. xxiii. 2 [A.V. 1]): "He who is wounded in the stones . . . shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord"; that is to say, shall not marry an Israelitish wife. Removal of or defect in either or both of the testicles disqualifies for admission to the assembly of the Lord.

A eunuch of either kind is not to be judged as a rebellious son (see Deut. xxi. 18) because he is not considered as a man (Yeb. 80b). As every Israelite is commanded to perpetuate his race, it is a sin liable to severe punishment to cause one to become a eunuch (Shab. 111a). Still there is a difference whether one castrates another with his own hands or causes him to be castrated. In the first case the punishment is "malkot," that is, thirty-nine stripes; in the second an indefinite number of stripes may be inflicted.

Finally, one whose only son is a eunuch has not accomplished the commandment to perpetuate the race.

Bibliography:
  • Yeb. 75a, 79a, 80b, 94b;
  • Niddah, 47b;
  • B. B. 155b;
  • Maimonides, Yad Ishut, ii., xiii., xvi., xvii.;
  • Shulḥan 'Aruk, Eben ha-'Ezer, 5, 1-13; 172, 1, 3, 5, 7.
S. S. M. Sel.
Images of pages