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Babylonian Talmud: Tractate ‘Abodah Zarah

Folio 11a

The bond is snapped!

[When] Onkelos1  the son of Kalonymus became a proselyte, the Emperor sent a contingent of Roman [soldiers] after him,2  but he enticed them by [citing] scriptural verses and they became converted to Judaism. Thereupon, the Emperor sent another Roman cohort after him, bidding them not to say anything to him. As they were about to take him away with them, he said to them: 'Let me tell you just an ordinary thing: [In a procession] the torchlighter carries the light in front of the torchbearer,3  the torchbearer in front of the leader, the leader in front of the governor, the governor in front of the chief officer; but does the chief officer carry the light in front of the people [that follow]?' 'No!' they replied. Said he: 'Yet the Holy One, blessed be He, does carry the light before Israel, for Scripture says. And the Lord went before them … in a pillar of fire to give them light.'4  Then they, too, became converted. Again he sent another cohort ordering them not to enter into any conversation whatever with him. So they took hold of him; and as they were walking on he saw the mezuzah5  which was fixed on the door-frame and he placed his hand on it saying to them: 'Now what is this?' and they replied: 'You tell us then.' Said he, 'According to universal custom, the mortal king dwells within, and his servants keep guard on him without; but [in the case of] the Holy One, blessed be He, it is His servants who dwell within whilst He keeps guard on them from without; as it is said: The Lord shall guard thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth and for evermore.'6  Then they, too, were converted to Judaism. He sent for him no more.

And the Lord said to her: Two nations [Goyim] are in thy womb.7  Said Rab Judah in the name of Rab: Read not Goyim8  [nations] but Ge'im [lords].9  This refers to Antoninus and Rabbi10  from whose table neither lettuce, nor radish nor cucumber was ever absent either in summer or winter; and, as a master has said: Radish helps the food to dissolve, lettuce helps the food to be digested, cucumber makes the intestines expand. But was it not taught in the school of R. Ishmael that cucumbers are called Kishshuin11  because they are as hard and as injurious to the body as swords? — There is no contradiction here: that was said of large ones, but our reference is to small ones.

THE BIRTHDAY AND ANNIVERSARIES OF KINGS DEATHS. [THIS IS R. MEIR'S OPINION. THE SAGES SAY IDOLATRY ONLY OCCURS AT A DEATH AT WHICH BURNING OF ARTICLES TAKES PLACE.] This implies that R. Meir is of opinion that at every death, whether there is burning of articles or there is no burning, idol-worship takes place — consequently, the burning of articles is not an [idolatrous] cult. From which is to be inferred that the Rabbis12  hold that burning [of articles at a funeral] is an [idolatrous] cult; what then of the following which has been taught: The burning of articles at a king's [funeral] is permitted and there is nothing of Amorite usage about it?13  Now if it is a cult of idolatry how could such burning be allowed? Is it not written, and in their statutes ye shall not walk?14  — Hence, all agree15  that burning is not an idolatrous cult and is merely a mark of high esteem [for the deceased]; where they differ is this: R. Meir holds that at every death, whether burning of articles takes place or does not take place. there is idol-worship; but the Rabbis hold that a death at which burning takes place is regarded as important and is marked by idol-worship, but one at which no burning takes place is unimportant and is not marked by idol-worship.

[To return to] the main text.16  'The burning of articles at a king's [funeral] is permitted and there is nothing of Amorite usage about it,' as it is said, Thou shalt die in peace and with burnings of thy fathers, the former kings that were before thee, so shall they make a burning for thee.17  And just as it is permitted to burn at the [funerals] of kings so it is permitted to burn in the case of princes. What is it that may be burnt in the case of kings? — Their beds and articles that were in use by them. In the instance of the death of R. Gamaliel the elder, Onkelos the proselyte18  burnt after him seventy Tyrian manehs.19  But did you not say that only articles in use by them could be burnt?20  — What is meant is [articles] 'to the value of seventy Tyrian manehs.' May other things then not be burned? Yet it has been taught: It is permitted to mutilate [an animal] at royal funerals and there is nothing of Amorite usage about it!21  — Said R. Papa [that refers to] the horse on which he rode.22  Are clean animals then not to be included? Yet it has been taught, Mutilation which renders the animal trefa23  is forbidden, but such as does not render it trefa is permitted; what kind of mutilation does not render it trefa?

To Part b

Original footnotes renumbered. See Structure of the Talmud Files
  1. Git. 56b, where a fuller story of his conversion is given, has 'Onkelos son of Kolonikos son of Titus's sister'. He is often confused with the other proselyte, Aquila, v. Kohut, op. cit., Vol. I, 158 and references given there. For discussion of the identity of Onk. see A. E. Silverstone 'Aquila and Onkelos'.
  2. To arrest him.
  3. [H] Lexicographers differ about the origin and exact meaning. They are obviously those of dignitaries arranged in ascendant order of rank. The above rendering is based chiefly on Kohut, op. cit. s. vv.
  4. Ex. XIII, 21.
  5. The mezuzah whereby the words of God are written on the door-post of every Jewish home (Deut. VI, 9) is meant to remind the occupants, on entering their home and on leaving it to go into the world without, of God's constant watchfulness and guardianship.
  6. Ps. CXXI, 8.
  7. Gen. XXV, 23, the words were spoken to Rebecca before the birth of her two sons, Jacob and Esau.
  8. [H].
  9. Plural of [H] lofty, lord, ruler.
  10. The respective descendants of Jacob — Israel, and Esau — Rome.
  11. [H] from root [H].
  12. I.e., the Sages who oppose R. Meir in our Mishnah.
  13. Sanh. 52b, Tos. Shab. VIII.
  14. Lev. XVIII, 3.
  15. Both R. Meir and the Rabbis.
  16. Tosef. Shab. VIII, 9. Tos. Sanh. IV.
  17. Jer. XXXIV, 5. Spoken to King Zedekiah.
  18. V. supra.
  19. 1 maneh of Tyrian weight equals 25 sela's, v. Glos.
  20. Yet from the wording here used it would appear that the coins were burned.
  21. Tosef. Shab. ibid. Hence the articles mentioned above are not exclusive.
  22. Which comes under the category of articles in use by him.
  23. Unfit for use as food, v. supra. p. 23, n. 8.
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‘Abodah Zarah 11b

Trimming the tendons of its hoofs from the ankle downward!1  — This was explained by R. Papa to refer to a calf [employed for] drawing the royal coach.


The question was asked: What does it mean — the day of [the usual] shaving of one's beard when the lock of hair is left, or the [annual] shaving of the beard when the lock of hair is removed? — Come and hear: Both are taught distinctly: [In one Baraitha it is said]: The day of shaving one's beard when one's lock of hair is left; [in another it is said:] The day of shaving one's hair and of removing one's lock of hair.

Said Rab Judah in the name of Samuel: They have yet another festival in Rome [which occurs] once every seventy years. Then a healthy man is brought and made to ride on a lame man; he is dressed in the attire of Adam,2  on his head is placed the scalp of R. Ishmael,3  and on his neck are hung pieces of fine gold to the weight of four zuzim,4  the market places [through which these pass] are paved with onyx stones, and the proclamation is made before him: 'The reckoning of the ruler is wrong. The brother of our lord, the impostor! Let him who will see it see it; he who will not see it now will never see it. Of what avail is the treason to the traitor or deceit to the deceiver!'; and they concluded thus: Woe unto the one when the other will arise.'5  Said R. Ashi: the wording [of the proclamation] defeats their object:6  Had they said 'Our lord's brother the impostor', it would have accorded with their intention, but when they say6  The brother of our lord, the impostor, it may be taken to mean that it is their lord himself who is the impostor.

And why does not our Tanna include this [festivity in the preceding Mishnah?] — He only enumerates those which occur year by year, but does not mention such as are not annual ones. Those are the Roman [annual festivals]. Which are the Persian ones? — Mutardi, Turyaskai, Muharnekai, Muharin.7  These then are those of the Romans and Persians, which are the Babylonian ones? — Muharnekai, Aknayata, Bahnani and the Tenth of Adar.8

Said R. Hanan b. Hisda in the name of Rab (some have it, 'Said R. Hanan b. Raba in the name of Rab'): There are five appointed Temples of idol-worship: they are: The Temple of Bel in Babel,9  The Temple of Nebo in Kursi,10  Tar'ata which is in Mapug.11  Zerifa which is in Askelon,12  and Nishtra which is in


Dilling Exhibit 174
    Arabia.13  When R. Dimi came14  he said that to these had been added the market-place15  [with the idol] in 'En-Beki and the Nidbakah of Acre [some call it Nitbara of Acre].16  R. Dimi of Nahardea gave these in the reversed order: The market place of Acre, the Nidbakah of 'En-Beki.

Said R. Hanan son of R. Hisda to R. Hisda: What is meant by saying that these [Temples] are 'appointed'? — He answered him: This is how your mother's father17  explained it,' They are appointed permanently; regularly all the year round worship is taking place in them.'

Said Samuel: In the Diaspora18  it is only forbidden [to transact business with idolaters] on the actual festival days alone.19  And is it forbidden even on the actual days of the Festivals, did not Rab Judah declare it permissible to R. Bruna to buy wine and to R. Giddal to buy wheat on the Festival of the Travellers?20  — The Festival of the Travellers is different, as it is not a fixed one.21



Dilling Exhibit 175

GEMARA. What may be regarded as OUTSIDE IT? — Said R. Simeon b. Lakish, such as, for example, the bazaar of Gaza.23  Some report this as follows: R. Simeon b. Lakish asked of R. Hanina, How about the market-place of Gaza?24  — He replied: Have you never gone to Tyre25  and seen an Israelite and an idolater

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Original footnotes renumbered. See Structure of the Talmud Files
  1. Tosef. ibid. This must refer to clean animals which are not generally employed for personal use of the King, which proves that burning is not confined to articles in use.
  2. In garments of skin (Gen. III, 21).
  3. Ishmael b. Simeon, one of the Ten Martyrs executed by order of Hadrian, who was flayed before his execution (v. Jellinek Beth Hamidrash, I, 64 and VI, 19).
  4. So [H] also MSS. Editions have 'two hundred zuzim' — an error which evidently arose from mistaking the numeral letter [H] — 4 for [H] — 200.
  5. The whole spectacle including the obscure proclamation is explained by Rashi to apply to Jacob, representing the Jews, here impersonated by the lame man (Gen. XXXII, 32 and he halted upon his thigh); and to Esau, representing Rome, impersonated by the healthy man; The reckoning which is pronounced as wrong alludes Jacob's prediction as to what would happen to his descendants at the end of days (Gen. XLIX, 1) the treason being an allusion to Jacob's deceitful gaining of the paternal blessing which was intended for Esau, and the concluding threat is a warning to Israel for whom the rising of Rome would be fraught with trouble. Quite a different interpretation is offered by Rapaport ('Erek Millin s.v. [H]). According to him, Samuel here presents an account which reached him of one of the Ludi Saeculares, the spectacular carnivals and pompous pageants, of which altogether ten are known to Roman history. This one must have been arranged by the Roman Emperor Philippus, about 247 C.E., who introduced into the pageant the spectacle of a halting dancer ridden upon by a strong man. This was intended to satyrise and discredit P's rival, Decius, who pretended to be a friend and 'brother' of the Emperor, yet had accepted the crown which P. fondly hoped would be handed to his own son. The lame dancer with a larva, or kind of mask, tied at his neck (described by the Rabbi as R. Ishmael's scalp), thus impersonated Decius the treacherous 'ruler' whose plans and plottings are declared as wrong. The rider was impersonating Philippus. When he (or his son) rises woe betide his rival. The exclamation 'Let him who will see it etc.' alludes to the festivity which occurs but once in a lifetime. The fact that Samuel lived till 3 or 13 years after the date of this Game lends added feasibility to this interpretation.
  6. Lit., Their own mouth (i.e., words) causes them to stumble.
  7. [H] Names of idolatrous annual festivals. Kohut s.v. [H] cites a Responsum by R. Moses b. Isaac (Responsa of the Geonim ed. Harkavi, Vol. 1, 22, ch. 46) where the names are given as follows: 1. [H] 2. [H] 3. [H] 4. [H] stating that the first and third are no longer kept, but that the second takes place at the beginning of the summer and of the winter, while the last one is celebrated as New Moon, v. Brull's Jahrbuch, Vol. I, 168 and Jeshurun, ed. Kobak, Vol. VIII, 49 seq.
  8. Names of Chaldean Festivals.
  9. Capital of Chaldea, (Gen. XI, 9) called Babylon [The reference is to the Temple of Marduk]
  10. Nebo [H] an Assyro-Babylonian Deity regarded by some as the Chaldean Mercury, v. Sanh. 63a. Kursi is probably Gerasa where ruins of Temples have been discovered. [V. l. Borsip (Borsippa) the sister city of Babylon.]
  11. [Tar'ata, a Syrian deity in Mabug (Hieropolis) v. Perles, Etym. Stud. p. 100].
  12. Ashkelon, on the Mediterranean coast, v. Josh. XIII, 3 and I Samuel VI, 17, [H] probably an adaptation of [H] the burning deity, Venus. [Or, Serapis, Kohut, Aruch.]
  13. An Arabian deity resembling an eagle Heb. [H] Arab. Nasr.
  14. To Babylon from Palestine.
  15. [H], yerid — a yearly fair accompanied by idol-worship. evidently identical with [H] Nidbakah. The two terms are indeed interchanged here in manuscripts. 'En-Bechi [H] assumed to be identical with [H] Baalbek, a place between the Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon mountains, the Greek Heliopolis. Acre [H]; town on Phoenician shore at foot of Mt. Carmel; the 'Ummah [H] of Josh. XIX, 30.
  16. The words in parenthesis are not found in the MS.M.
  17. [R. Hanan b. Raba, the son-in-law of Rab; v. Hyman, Toledoth. p. 517.]
  18. Since the Jews depend for their livelihood on heathens.
  19. V. supra 7b.
  20. [H], Tai, traveller, especially Bedouin merchants, the Tai being a name of an Arab tribe applied to all Bedouins, as a part to a whole. Obermeyer, Die Landschaft Babylonien, 234 renders it simply 'Festivals of the Tai', whose festivals were not determined by the calender and consequently bore no religious character.]
  21. It cannot therefore be cited as a case for establishing a general rule.
  22. As he might be regarded as going to the celebration.
  23. A Philistine city on Mediterranean coast, S.E, of Jerusalem, inhabited by pagans. Its bazaar, though quite close to it, is considered 'outside it'.
  24. Being quite close to the city, should it be termed 'outside it' according to the Mishnah or not?
  25. A Phoenician city.
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