Previous Folio / ‘Abodah Zarah Directory / Tractate List / Home / Navigate Site
Babylonian Talmud: Tractate ‘Abodah Zarah
A Tanna taught: If a man worshipped [an animal] which is his own it is prohibited;4 but if it belonged to another it is permitted. Against this I quote: Which [animal is considered to have been] worshipped? Any which was worshipped, whether inadvertently or deliberately, whether under compulsion or voluntarily.5 How is the term 'under compulsion' to be understood? Is it not, e.g., when a man took his neighbour's animal by force and worshipped it?6 — Rami b. Hama said: No, it is, e.g., when heathens brought pressure to bear upon a man and he worshipped his own animal.7 [To this interpretation] R. Zera objected: But the All-merciful absolves anyone who acts under pressure, as it is written, But unto the damsel thou shalt do nothing!8 — But, said Raba, all9 were included in the general law Nor serve them;10 so when Scripture specifies He shall live by them,11 i.e., and not die through them, it excludes the man who acts under pressure. After that, however, the All-merciful wrote. And ye shall not profane My holy name12 — i.e., not even under compulsion!13 How is it, then? — The former refers to an act in private, the latter to an act in public.14
The Rabbis said to Raba: There is a teaching which supports your view, viz.: Idolatrous pedestals [set up] in a time of religious persecution15 are not annulled even when the persecution is over.16 He said to them: If it is on that account, [the teaching you quote] gives no support to my view, for the reason that perhaps there was an apostate who worshipped at it voluntarily! R. Ashi said: Do not use the word 'perhaps', but there certainly was an Israelite, an apostate, who worshipped voluntarily.17 Hezekiah said: For instance, he poured wine unto an idol upon the horns of [his neighbour's animal].18 [To this explanation] R. Adda b. Ahaba objected: Can this be considered [an animal] which is worshipped?19 [In such circumstances the animal] is merely a pedestal and is permitted!20 — But, said R Adda b. Ahaba, it is, e.g., a case where he poured wine between the horns of [his neighbour's animal] in which case he performed on it an act [of worship].21 This is in accord with what 'Ulla reported in the name of R. Johanan when he came [from Palestine]: Although they declare that he who worships his neighbour's animal does not render it prohibited, still if he performed on it an act [of idolatrous worship]22 he rendered it prohibited. R. Nahman said [to the Rabbis]: Go, tell 'Ulla, that R. Huna has already expounded this thy teaching in Babylon!23 For R. Huna said: If the animal of his neighbour was lying in front of an idol, as soon as he cut one of its neck-veins24 he has rendered it prohibited.25 Whence have we that he rendered it prohibited? If I answer from the priests,26 it is different with priests because they are rational beings;27 and if [I answer that it may be derived] from the altar-stones,28 perhaps it is as R. Papa explained!29
‘Abodah Zarah 54b— Rather [must it be derived] from the Sanctuary vessels; for it is written, Moreover all the vessels, which king Ahaz in his reign did cast away when he trespassed, have we prepared and sanctified, and a Master declared: 'Have we prepared' means that we have stored them away, and 'sanctified' means that we have substituted others for them.1 But [there is the rule that] a man cannot render prohibited what is not his property! Since, however, an act [of idolatrous worship] was performed on them [king Hezekiah and his followers] declared them prohibited for themselves — Similarly here [with the animal] since he performed an act [of idolatrous worship] on it, he has rendered it prohibited.
When R. Dimi came [from Palestine] he reported in the name of R. Johanan: Although [the Rabbis] declared that he who worships a piece of ground does not render it prohibited, yet if he dug in it2 wells, pits or caves he has rendered it prohibited. When R. Samuel b. Judah came [from Palestine] he reported that R. Johanan said: Although [the Rabbis] declared that he who worships animate beings has not rendered them prohibited, if he obtained them in exchange for an idol he has rendered them prohibited. When Rabin came [from Palestine] he said: On this point R. Ishmael son of R. Jose and the Rabbis are at variance. One said that the animals obtained in exchange for an idol are prohibited but the animals obtained in exchange for these are permitted; while the other says that even these are prohibited. What is the reason of him who says that even these are prohibited? — Scripture states, And become a devoted thing like unto it,3 i.e., whatever you bring into being from [a devoted thing] is to be treated like it. [What is the reason of] the other? — Scripture states, [For] it [is a devoted thing]4 — it [is a devoted thing] but not what is obtained as the result of a double exchange. [How does] the second authority [explain this phrase]? — He requires it for the exclusion of 'orlah5 and the mixed plantings of a vineyard,6 so that if he sold them and with the proceeds married a wife7 she is legally married. [Why does] the first authority [not explain the word it similarly]? Because 'orlah and the mixed plantings of a vineyard do not require to be specially excluded, since in connection with idolatry and the Sabbatical year we have two texts which have an identical purpose,8 and the rule is: We draw no deduction when two texts have an identical purpose.9 As regards idolatry it is as we have stated.10 As regards the Sabbatical year, it is written, For it is a jubilee, it shall be holy unto you11 — as the holiness affects the redemption money12 and is prohibited, similarly the Sabbatical year [described as holy like the Sanctuary] affects its money13 and is prohibited. If [this conclusion is correct], then as the holiness affects its redemption money and [the object which is redeemed] becomes non-holy,14 similarly the Sabbatical year should affect its money and [the produce which had been sold] become non-holy! But there is a text to state, It shall be [holy],15 i.e., it shall remain in that state.16 How is it, then? If he bought meat with fruits grown in the seventh year, both must be 'removed' during the Sabbatical year.17 But if he bought fish with that meat, the meat ceases to be holy and the fish becomes holy; if he then bought wine with the fish, the fish ceases to be holy and the wine becomes holy; if he then bought oil with the wine, the wine ceases to be holy and the oil becomes holy. How is it, then? It is the last thing [in the series of exchanges] which is affected by the Sabbatical year18 and the fruit itself is prohibited.19 What, however, of the second authority?20 — He holds that we do draw a deduction when two texts have an identical purpose, and [the phrase 'for it is a devoted thing'] is required for the exclusion [of 'orlah and the mixed plantings of a vineyard, as explained above].
MISHNAH. THE ELDERS21 IN ROME WERE ASKED, 'IF [YOUR GOD] HAS NO DESIRE FOR IDOLATRY, WHY DOES HE NOT ABOLISH IT?' THEY REPLIED, 'IF IT WAS SOMETHING UNNECESSARY TO THE WORLD THAT WAS WORSHIPPED, HE WOULD ABOLISH IT; BUT PEOPLE WORSHIP THE SUN, MOON, STARS AND PLANETS; SHOULD HE DESTROY HIS UNIVERSE ON ACCOUNT OF FOOLS!' THEY SAID [TO THE ELDERS], 'IF SO, HE SHOULD DESTROY WHAT IS UNNECESSARY FOR THE WORLD AND LEAVE WHAT IS NECESSARY FOR THE WORLD!' THEY REPLIED, '[IF HE DID THAT], WE SHOULD MERELY BE STRENGTHENING THE HANDS OF THE WORSHIPPERS OF THESE,22 BECAUSE THEY WOULD SAY, "BE SURE THAT THESE ARE DEITIES, FOR BEHOLD THEY HAVE NOT BEEN ABOLISHED!"'
GEMARA. Our Rabbis taught: Philosophers asked the elders in Rome, 'If your God has no desire for idolatry, why does He not abolish it?' They replied, 'If it was something of which the world has no need that was worshipped, He would abolish it; but people worship the sun, moon, stars and planets; should He destroy the Universe on account of fools! The world pursues its natural course, and as for the fools who act wrongly, they will have to render an account. Another illustration: Suppose a man stole a measure of wheat and went and sowed it in the ground; it is right that it should not grow, but the world pursues its natural course and as for the fools who act wrongly, they will have to render an account. Another illustration: Suppose a man has intercourse with his neighbour's wife; it is right that she should not conceive, but the world pursues its natural course and as for the fools who act wrongly, they will have to render an account.' This is similar to what R. Simeon b. Lakish said: The Holy One, blessed be He, declared, Not enough that the wicked put My coinage to vulgar use, but they trouble Me and compel Me to set My seal thereon!23
A philosopher asked R. Gamaliel, 'It is written in your Torah, For the Lord thy God is a devouring fire, a jealous God.24 Why, however, is He so jealous of its worshippers rather than of the idol itself?' He replied, 'I will give you a parable: To what is the matter like? To a human king who had a son, and this son reared a dog to which he attached his father's name, so that whenever he took an oath he exclaimed, "By the life of this dog, my father!" When the king hears of it, with whom is he angry — his son or the dog? Surely he is angry with his son!' [The philosopher] said to him, 'You call the idol a dog; but there is some reality in it.' [The Rabbi asked], 'What is your proof?' He replied, 'Once a fire broke out in our city, and the whole town was burnt with the exception of a certain idolatrous shrine!' He said to him, 'I will give you a parable: To what is the matter like? To a human king against whom one of his provinces rebelled. If he goes to war against it, does he fight with the living or the dead? Surely he wages war with the living!'25 [The philosopher] said to him, 'You call the idol a dog and you call it a dead thing. In that case, let Him destroy it from the world!' He replied, 'If it was something unnecessary to the world that was worshipped, He would abolish it; but people worship the sun and moon, stars and planets, brooks and valleys. Should He destroy His universe on account of fools! And thus it states,
- To Next Folio -