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Babylonian Talmud: Tractate ‘Abodah Zarah

Folio 20a

From the scriptural words, nor be gracious unto them — lo-tehannem1  — [which may be rendered] nor allow them to settle on the soil. But are not these words needed to convey the Divine command not to admire their gracefulness? — If that alone were intended, the wording should have been lo tehunnem;2  why is lo tehannem used? To imply both these meanings. But there is quite another purpose for which this is needed, to express the Divine command not to give them any free gift!3  — For that purpose the wording should have been lo tehinnem,4  why then is it lo tehannem? — So as to imply all these interpretations. It has indeed been taught so elsewhere: lo tehannem means, thou shalt not allow them to settle on the soil. Another interpretation of lo tehannem is, thou shalt not pronounce them as graceful; yet another interpretation of lo tehannem is, thou shalt not give them any free gift.

The giving of free gifts [to idolaters] is itself a matter of dispute between Tannaim, for it has been taught:5  [The verse], Ye shall not eat of anything that dieth of itself' unto the stranger that is within thy gates thou mayest give it that he may eat it,' or thou mayest sell it unto a heathen,6  only tells us that it may be given away to a stranger or sold to a heathen. How do we know that it may be sold to a heathen? Because Scripture says, thou mayest give it — or sell it. How do we know that it may be given away to a heathen? Because Scripture says, thou mayest give it that he may eat it or thou mayest sell it to a heathen: hence it may be derived that both giving and selling may be applied to a stranger or a heathen.7  This is the opinion of R. Meir. R. Judah, however, says: The words should be taken as they are written, giving being applied to a stranger, and selling to a heathen.8  But R. Meir's interpretation is quite right! — R. Judah may contend thus: Were the divine words to be interpreted according to R. Meir, they would have read: 'Thou shalt give it as well as sell it'; why then does it say 'or' [sell it] if not to convey the particular meaning of the words?9  And R. Meir? — [He might reply that 'or'] indicates that it is preferable to give it away to a stranger-settler than to sell it to a heathen. And as to R. Judah? — He might say that, since the maintenance of such a stranger is commanded by Scripture10  and that of a heathen is not so commanded, no scriptural word is needed to give [the stranger] preference.

[It has been stated above.] 'Another interpretation of lo tehannem is, Thou shalt not pronounce them as graceful.' This supports the view of Rab. For Rab said: One is forbidden to say, 'How beautiful is that idolatress!' The following objection was raised: It happened that R. Simeon b. Gamaliel, while standing on a step on the Temple-mount, saw a heathen woman who was particularly beautiful, and he exclaimed: How great are Thy works, O Lord.11  Likewise, when R. Akiba saw the wife of the wicked Tyranus Rufus,12  he spat, then laughed, and then wept. 'Spat,' — because of her originating only from a putrefying drop;13  'laughed,' — because he foresaw that she would become a proselyte and that he would take her to wife; 'wept', that such beauty should [ultimately] decay in the dust. What then about Rab's ruling?14  [He might say that] each of these Rabbis merely offered thanksgiving. For a Master has said: He who beholds goodly creatures should say. 'Blessed be He who hath created such in His universe.'15  But is even mere looking permitted? The following can surely be raised as an objection: 'Thou shalt keep thee from every evil thing16  [implies] that one should not look intently at a beautiful woman, even if she be unmarried, or at a married woman even if she be ugly,

Original footnotes renumbered. See Structure of the Talmud Files
  1. Deut. VII, 2. [H] connected with root [H], to encamp.
  2. [H].
  3. Infra 64a.
  4. [H].
  5. Hul. 114b.
  6. Deut. XIV, 21 — The Hebrew word here rendered 'stranger' is Ger [H], a heathen who, for the purpose of acquiring rights of citizenship in Palestine, renounced idolatry but does not observe Jewish dietary laws. Such a 'stranger' had to be maintained by the state according to the Biblical injunction: a stranger and a settler he shall live with thee (Lev. XXV, 35).
  7. The phrasing may be so altered as to make giving and selling applicable to both cases.
  8. But to give it as a gift to a heathen is forbidden. Thus the giving of a free gift to a heathen, which is permitted according to R. Meir, is forbidden according to R. Judah.
  9. That selling refers to the one case, and giving to the other.
  10. V. n. 2, end.
  11. Ps. CIV, 24.
  12. Tineius Rufus, Governor of Judea, 1st century (C.E.).
  13. Ab. III, 1.
  14. Who holds that one must not admire the beauty of heathen.
  15. V. Ber. 58b, where the prescribed benediction is 'Blessed be He who hath such in His universe.'
  16. Deut. XXIII, 10.

‘Abodah Zarah 20b

nor at a woman's gaudy garments, nor at male and female asses, or a pig and a sow, or at fowls when they are mating; even if one be all eyes like the Angel of Death! (It is said of the Angel of Death that he is all full of eyes. When a sick person is about to depart, he stands above his head-pillow with his sword drawn out in his hand and a drop of gall hanging on it. As the sick person beholds it, he trembles and opens his mouth [in fright]; he then drops it into his mouth. It is from this that he dies, from this that [the corpse] deteriorates, from this that his face becomes greenish)'? — [What may have happened in those cases was that] the woman turned round a corner.1

[It was said above.] 'Nor at a woman's gaudy garments!' Said R. Judah b. Samuel: Even when these are spread on a wall. Whereon R. Papa remarked: That is if he knows their owner. Said Raba: This is also proved by the wording which reads, 'Nor at a woman's gaudy garments,' but does not read 'at gaudy garments.'2  This proves it. R. Hisda said: That can only refer to such as had been worn,3  but in the case of new ones it does not matter; for were you not to say so, how could women's dresses be handed to a trimmer; he must needs look at them! — And according to your opinion, [how will you explain] the statement of Rab Judah4  that in the case of animals of the same kind one may bring them together [for mating] in the very closest manner; surely he, too, must needs look!5  — But, we assume that what he cares about is only his work; so here, too, it is only his work that he cares about.

The Master said: 'From it he dies.' Shall we say, then, that this differs from the statement of Samuel's father?6  For Samuel's father said: The Angel of Death told me, Were it not for the regard I have for people's honour, I could cut the throat of men as widely as that of an animal [is cut]'!7  — Possibly, it is that very drop that cuts into the organs of the throat. [The above-mentioned statement.] 'From it the corpse deteriorates' supports the view of R. Hanina b. Kahana. For R. Hanina b. Kahana stated: It had been said in the school of Rab that if one wants to keep a corpse from deteriorating, he should turn it on its face.

Our Rabbis taught: The words, Thou shalt keep thee from every evil thing,8  mean that9  one should not indulge in such thoughts by day as might lead to uncleanliness by night. Hence R. Phineas b. Jair said:10  Study leads to precision, precision leads to zeal, zeal leads to cleanliness, cleanliness leads to restraint, restraint leads to purity, purity leads to holiness, holiness leads to meekness, meekness leads to fear of sin, fear of sin leads to saintliness, saintliness leads to the [possession of] the holy spirit, the holy spirit leads to life eternal,11  and saintliness is greater than any of these, for Scripture says. Then Thou didst speak in vision to Thy saintly ones.12  This, then, differs from the view of R. Joshua b. Levy. For R. Joshua b. Levy said: Meekness is the greatest of them all, for Scripture says, The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord hath anointed me to bring good tidings unto the meek.13  It does not say, 'unto the saints', but 'unto the meek', from which you learn that meekness is the greatest of all these.

ONE SHOULD NOT SELL TO IDOLATERS A THING WHICH IS ATTACHED TO THE SOIL. Our Rabbis taught: One may sell a tree to a heathen with the stipulation that it be felled and he then fells it; this is the opinion of R. Judah. R. Meir, however says: We may only sell to heathen a tree when felled. Likewise, low-growth, with the stipulation that it be cut and he may then cut it; this is the opinion of R. Judah. R. Meir, however, says: We may only sell it to them when it is cut. So also, standing corn, with the stipulation that it be reaped and he may then reap it; this is the opinion of R. Judah. R. Meir, however, says: We may only sell it them when reaped.14  And all these three instances are necessary; for were we told of the case of a tree only [we might think that] in that case only does R. Meir oppose, for, since the heathen will not lose by letting it remain in the ground, he might leave it so, but the other case [the standing corn] where he would lose by letting it remain in the soil, we might think that R. Meir would agree with R. Judah. On the other hand, were we told about the tree and the corn only [we might have thought that] it is because it is not obvious that he benefits by leaving them in the soil [that R. Judah permits], but in the case of low-growth where he obviously benefits by leaving it to grow on, we might think that he agrees with R. Meir. Were we again to be told of the case of [low-growth] only, we might have thought that it is only in that case that R. Meir objects [since it pays him not to cut it], but in the other two cases, he shares the view of R. Judah; hence all these are necessary.

The question was asked: How about selling cattle with the stipulation that it be slaughtered? Shall we say that in those other instances the reason why R. Judah permits is because [the articles], not being in the heathen's domain, could not be left there altogether, whereas cattle, which is in his own domain, might be kept by him [unslaughtered], or should no distinction be made? — Come and hear: It has been taught: [We may sell a heathen] cattle with the stipulation that he should slaughter it, and he then slaughters it; this is the opinion of R. Judah. R. Meir, however, says: We may only sell it to them when slaughtered.


Original footnotes renumbered. See Structure of the Talmud Files
  1. Her face thus met the Rabbi's eyes unexpectedly.
  2. [H] is used only of feminine wear, as men do not wear highly coloured garments (Rashi).]
  3. Which may bring to mind the one who had been seen wearing them.
  4. B. M. 91a.
  5. Which, as stated above, is forbidden.
  6. Abba b. Abba, the father of the Babylonian Amora, Samuel (b. about 165), is usually known by the designation of 'The Father of Samuel'.
  7. Which implies that an incision, though an imperceptibly small one, is actually made.
  8. Deut, ibid.
  9. V. Ket. 46b.
  10. V. Shek. IV, 6, also Sotah IX, 9, where the version varies from the present one. [For a full discussion of this passage which has been named the Saint's Progress, v. Buchler, A. Types of Jewish Palestinian Piety, pp. 42-67.]
  11. [H], Lit., 'resurrection of the dead'. [The phrase may also mean that the possessor of the holy spirit is endowed with the power of restoring life to the dead.]
  12. Ps. LXXXIX, 20.
  13. Isa. LXI, 1.
  14. V. Tosef. A.Z. II.
  15. The northern part of Trans-Jordania which King David annexed to Palestine of his own accord; v. II Sam. X, 6 ff.