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Babylonian Talmud: Tractate ‘Abodah Zarah

Folio 17a


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    and thou didst approve of it and because of that thou wast arrested?' He exclaimed: 'Akiba thou hast reminded me.' I was once walking in the upper-market of Sepphoris when I came across one [of the disciples of Jesus the Nazarene]1  Jacob of Kefar-Sekaniah2  by name, who said to me: It is written in your Torah, Thou shalt not bring the hire of a harlot … into the house of the Lord thy God.3  May such money be applied to the erection of a retiring place for the High Priest?4  To which I made no reply. Said he to me: Thus was I taught [by Jesus the Nazarene],5  For of the hire of a harlot hath she gathered them and unto the hire of a harlot shall they return.'6  they came from a place of filth, let them go to a place of filth. Those words pleased me very much, and that is why I was arrested for apostacy; for thereby I transgressed the scriptural words, Remove thy way far from her — which refers to minuthand come not nigh to the door of her house,7  — which refers to the ruling power.'8

There are some who apply, 'Remove thy way from her' to minuth as well as to the ruling power, and, 'and come not nigh to the door of her house' to a harlot. And how far is one to keep away? Said R. Hisda: Four cubits. And to what do the Rabbis9  apply, of the hire of a harlot? — To the saying of R. Hisda. For R. Hisda said: Every harlot who allows herself to be hired will at the end have to hire,10  even as it is said, And in that thou givest hire, and no hire is given to thee, thus


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    thou art reversed.11  This12  is contrary to what R. Pedath said; for R. Pedath said:13  Only in the case of incest did the Torah forbid close approach, as it is said, None of you shall approach to any that is near of kin to him to uncover their nakedness.14

'Ulla15  on returning from college used to kiss his sisters on the hand; some say, on the breast. He, then, contradicts himself. For 'Ulla said: Even mere approach is forbidden because we say to a Nazarite,16  'Go, go — round about; but do not approach 'the vineyard.'17

The horse-leech hath two daughters: Give, give.18  What is meant by 'Give, give'? Said Mar 'Ukba: It is the voice of the two daughters who cry from Gehenna calling to this world: Bring, bring! And who are they? Minuth19  and the Government.20  Some report: Said R. Hisda in the name of Mar 'Ukba: It is the voice of Hell crying and calling: Bring me the two daughters who cry and call in this world, 'Bring, bring.'

Scripture says, None that go unto her return neither do they attain the paths of life.21  But if they do not return, how can they attain [the paths of life]? — What it means is that even if they do turn away from it they will not attain the paths of life.'22  Does it mean then that those who repent from minuth die? Was there not that woman who came before R. Hisda confessing to him that the lightest sin that she committed was that her younger son is the issue of her older son? Whereupon R. Hisda said: Get busy in preparing her shrouds — but she did not die. Now, since she refers to her [immoral] act as the lightest sin, it may be assumed that she had also adopted minuth [and yet she did not die]! — That one did not altogether renounce her evil-doing, that is why she did not die.

Some have this version: [Is it only] from minuth that one dies if


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    one repents, but not from other sins? Was there not that woman who came before R. Hisda who said, Prepare her shrouds and she died?23  — Since she said [of her guilt] that it is one of the lightest, it may be assumed that she was guilty of idolatry also.

And does not one die on renouncing sins other [than idolatry]? Surely it has been taught: It was said of R. Eleazar b. Dordia that he did not leave out any harlot in the world without coming to her. Once, on hearing that there was a certain harlot in one of the towns by the sea who accepted a purse of denarii for her hire, he took a purse of denarii and crossed seven rivers for her sake. As he was with her, she blew forth breath and said: As this blown breath will not return to its place, so will Eleazar b. Dordia never be received in repentance. He thereupon went, sat between two hills and mountains and exclaimed: O, ye hills and mountains, plead for mercy for me! They replied: How shall we pray for thee? We stand in need of it ourselves, for it is said, For the mountains shall depart and the hills be removed!24  So he exclaimed: Heaven and earth, plead ye for mercy for me! They, too, replied: How shall we pray for thee? We stand in need of it ourselves, for it is said, For the heavens shall vanish away like smoke, and the earth shall wax old like a garment.25  He then exclaimed: Sun and moon, plead ye for mercy for me! But they also replied: How shall we pray for thee? We stand in need of it ourselves, for it is said, Then the moon shall be confounded and the sun ashamed.26  He exclaimed: Ye stars and constellations, plead ye for mercy for me! Said they: How shall we pray for thee? We stand in need of it ourselves, for it is said, And all the hosts of heaven shall moulder away.27  Said he: The matter then depends upon me alone! Having placed his head between his knees, he wept aloud until his soul departed. Then a bath-kol28  was heard proclaiming: 'Rabbi Eleazar b. Dordai is destined for the life of the world to come!' Now, here was a case of a sin [other than minuth] and yet he did die! — In that case, too, since he was so much addicted to immorality it is as [if he had been guilty of] minuth. Rabbi [on hearing of it] wept and said:29  One may acquire eternal life after many years, another in one hour! Rabbi also said: Repentants are not alone accepted, they are even called 'Rabbi'!

R. Hanina and R. Jonathan were walking on the road and came to a parting of ways, one of which led by the door of a place of idol-worship and the other led by a harlots' place. Said the one to the other: Let us go [through the one leading] by the place of idolatry

Original footnotes renumbered. See Structure of the Talmud Files
  1. The bracketed words occur in MS.M.
  2. [Identified with Suchnin, north of the plain of El Battauf in Galilee (v. Klein, Neue Beitr, z. Geschichte und Geogr., 20ff); and this Jacob may have been either James the son of Alphaeus (Mark III, 18) or James the Little (ibid. XV, 40).]
  3. Deut. XXIII, 19.
  4. Who spent the whole night preceding the Day of Atonement in the precincts of the Temple, where due provision had to be made for all his conveniences.
  5. V. n. 3.
  6. Micah I, 7.
  7. Prov. V, 8.
  8. Cf. Ab. I, 10, 'Seek not intimacy with the ruling power'; also ib. II, 3.
  9. Who do not share the view of Jacob cited above.
  10. She will be despised by all.
  11. Ezek. XVI, 34.
  12. The distance of four cubits prescribed by R. Hisda.
  13. Shab. 13a.
  14. Lev. XVIII, 6.
  15. V. Shab. 13a.
  16. Who has vowed to abstain from wine or anything issuing from the vine (v. Num. VI, 1 seq.).
  17. Infra 58b.
  18. Prov. XXX, 15.
  19. Which continually lures the unwary to its erroneous teaching.
  20. Which constantly imposes fresh taxes and duties.
  21. Prov. II, 19, applied to those converted to idolatry.
  22. Torment of remorse will shorten their lives.
  23. Though her sin was incest and not minuth!
  24. Isa. LIV, 10.
  25. Ibid. LI, 6.
  26. Ibid. XXIV, 23.
  27. Ibid. XXXIV, 4.
  28. 'A heavenly voice', v. Glos.
  29. V. supra 10a.

‘Abodah Zarah 17b

the inclination for which has been abolished.1  The other however said: Let us go [through that leading] by the harlots' place and defy our inclination and have our reward. As they approached the place they saw the harlots withdraw2  at their presence. Said the one to the other: Whence didst thou know this?3  The other, in reply, quoted, She shall watch over thee, mezimmah [against lewdness], discernment shall guard thee.4  Said the Rabbis to Raba: How is this word mezimmah to be understood?5  Shall it be rendered 'The Torah' since the word zimmah in Scripture is rendered in the Targum,6  'It is a counsel of the wicked';7  and Scripture has the phrase, wonderful is His counsel and great His wisdom?8  But in that case the word should have been zimmah. This, then, is how it is to be understood, Against things of lewdness — zimmah — she [Discernment, i.e., the Torah] shall watch over thee.

Our Rabbis taught: When R. Eleazar b. Perata and R. Hanina b. Teradion were arrested, R. Eleazar b. Perata said to R. Hanina b. Teradion: Happy art thou that thou hast been arrested on one charge; woe is me, for I am arrested on five charges. R. Hanina replied: Happy art thou, who hast been arrested on five charges, but wilt be rescued; woe is me who, though having been arrested on one charge, will not be rescued; for thou hast occupied thyself with [the study of] the Torah as well as with acts of benevolence, whereas I occupied myself with Torah alone.

This accords with the opinion of R. Huna. For R. Huna said: He who only occupies himself with the study of the Torah is as if he had no God, for it is said: Now for long seasons Israel was without the true God.9  What is meant by 'without the true God'? — It means that he who only occupies himself with the study of the Torah is as if he had no God.

But did he not occupy himself with acts of benevolence? Surely it has been taught: R. Eliezer b. Jacob says: One should not put his money into a charity-bag, unless it is supervised by a learned man such as R. Hanina b. Teradion!10  — He was indeed very trustworthy, but he did not practise benevolence.

But has it not been taught: He11  said to him [R. Jose b. Kisma]: I mistook Purim-money12  for ordinary charity money, so I distributed [of my own] to the poor!13  — He did indeed practise charity, but not as much as he might have done.

When they brought up R. Eleazar b. Perata [for his trial] they asked him, 'Why have you been studying [the Torah] and why have you been stealing?' He answered, 'If one is a scholar he is not a robber, if a robber he is not a scholar, and as I am not the one I am neither the other.' 'Why then,' they rejoined, 'are you titled Master'?14  'I,' replied he, 'am a Master of Weavers.' Then they brought him two coils and asked, 'Which is for the warp and which for the woof?' A miracle occurred and a female-bee came and sat on the warp and a male-bee came and sat on the woof. 'This,' said he, 'is of the warp and that of the woof.' Then they asked him,15  'Why did you not go to the Meeting-House?'16  He replied, 'I have


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    been old and feared lest I be trampled under your feet.' 'And how many old people have been trampled till now?' he was asked. A miracle [again] happened; for on that very day an old man had been trampled. 'And why did you let your slave go free?'17  He replied, 'No such thing ever happened.' One of them then was rising to give evidence against him, when Elijah came disguised as one of the dignitaries of Rome and said to that man: As miracles were worked for him in all the other matters, a miracle will also happen in this one, and you will only be shown up as bad natured. He, however, disregarded him and stood up to address them, when a written communication from important members of the government had to be sent to the Emperor and it was dispatched by that man. [On the road] Elijah came and hurled him a distance of four hundred parasangs. So that he went18  and did not return.

They then brought up R. Hanina b. Teradion and asked him, 'Why hast thou occupied thyself with the Torah?'19  He replied, 'Thus the Lord my God commanded me.' At once they sentenced him to be burnt, his wife to be slain, and his daughter to be consigned to a brothel.

(The punishment of being burnt came upon him because he

Original footnotes renumbered. See Structure of the Talmud Files
  1. V. Sanh. 64a.
  2. Abstaining from solicitation.
  3. How could he be so sure of being able to subdue his inclination.
  4. Prov. II, 11.
  5. [H] (E.V. 'discretion'). [H] has the twofold meaning of 'counsel' and 'lewdness'.
  6. V. Targum Onkelos.
  7. Lev. XVIII, 17. [H] — generally rendered, it is lewdness.
  8. Isa. XXVIII, 29. 'Counsel' is thus used as a synonym for the Torah; the words quoted from Prov. would therefore be rendered, The Torah shall watch over thee.
  9. II Chron. XV, 3.
  10. B.B. 10a.
  11. R. Han, b. Ter., who was a Charity-Treasurer.
  12. Money set aside for distribution among the poor for celebrating the Festival of Purim (v. Esther) which must not be applied by the recipient to any other purpose whatsoever.
  13. Having distributed the Purim Funds without specifying their purpose, he distributed his own money as Purim allowances. Infra 18a.
  14. The third charge.
  15. The fourth charge brought against him.
  16. [H] Place of Assembly for matters and performances connected with idolatry. Under Hadrian Jews were forced to attend these. V. Shab. 115a, where this is referred to as a place where disputations were held between Jews and the early Christians. [Meaning of the word still obscure despite the many and varied explanations suggested; e.g., (a) House of the Ebonites, (b) Abadan (Pers.) 'forum', (c) Beh Mobedhan (Pers.), i.e., House of the chief magi; v. Krauss, Synagogale Altertumer, p. 31].
  17. In accordance with the Biblical injunction to free all Jewish slaves after six years, or at the advent of the Jubilee Year — the fifth offence with which he was charged.
  18. Without giving the intended evidence.
  19. This was forbidden by Hadrian under penalty of death.