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Babylonian Talmud: Tractate ‘Abodah Zarah

Folio 43a

[implying,] these are [prohibited] but not the image of a dragon!1  Obviously, then, it refers to finding them, and it is in accord with our Mishnah: IF ONE FINDS UTENSILS UPON WHICH IS THE FIGURE OF THE SUN [or a dragon, they are prohibited]. Therefore the first and last clauses deal with the act of finding and the middle clause with the act of making! Abaye said: That is so, the first and last clauses deal with the act of finding and the middle clause with the act of making. Raba said: They all deal with the act of finding, and as for the middle clause it is the teaching of R. Judah.2  For it has been taught: 'R. Judah also includes the picture of a woman giving to suck and Serapis.'3  A woman giving to suck alludes to Eve who suckled the whole world; Serapis alludes to Joseph who became a prince [sar] and appeased [hefis] the whole world.4  [The picture of Serapis is only prohibited when he is represented as] holding a measure and is measuring,5  and that [of Isis] when she is holding a child and giving it to suck.6

Our Rabbis taught: Which is the figure of a dragon [that is prohibited]? — R. Simeon b. Eleazar explained: Such as has scales7  between its joints. Upon this R. Assi commented: Between the joints of the neck. R. Hama son of Hanina said: The halachah is in accord with the view of R. Simeon b. Eleazar.

Rabbah b. Bar Hanah said in the name of R. Joshua b. Levi: I was once walking with the eminent R. Eleazar Hakkappar along the road, and he found a ring upon which was the figure of a dragon.8  There passed by9  a heathen child but he said nothing to him. Then there passed by an adult heathen and [R. Eleazar] said to him, 'Annul it,'10  but he refused to do so; and he struck him until he annulled it. Draw three deductions from this: first, a heathen can annul an idolatrous object which belongs to himself or to a fellow-heathen;11  secondly, if [the heathen] understands the nature of the idolatrous object and its mode of worship he can annul it, but if he is ignorant of its nature and mode of worship he cannot annul it;12  and thirdly, force may be used to make a heathen annul the object. R. Hanina ridiculed [the foregoing statement, saying]: Does not the eminent R. Eleazar Hakkappar agree with the following teaching: If a person rescued something from a lion, bear, leopard, or from a robber,13  a river, or from what the tide throws up, or the overflow of a river; or if a person finds something in a camp or main highway or in a place where many people congregated behold the object belongs to him because the owner despairs of recovering it!14  — Abaye explained: Granted that [the owner] despaired of recovering it, but did he despair of its sacred character?15  He must have said [to himself]: If an idolater finds it he will worship it, if an Israelite finds it, since it is a valuable object, he will sell it to an idolater who will worship it.16

We have learnt elsewhere: R. Gamaliel had a picture of lunar diagrams in his upper chamber in the form of a chart hanging on the wall, which he used to show to the unlearned17  and ask then', 'Did you see (the moon] thus or thus?'18  But is [such a picture] allowed, for behold it is written, Ye shall not make with Me — i.e., ye shall not make according to the likeness of My attendants who serve before Me! — Abaye explained: The Torah only forbids the making of his attendants which can be reproduced in facsimile, according to the teaching: A man may not make a house after the design of the Temple, or a porch after the design of the Temple-porch, a courtyard after the design of the Temple-court, a table after the design of the table [in the Temple], or a candelabrum after the design of its candelabrum — He may, however, make one with five, six or eight [branches], but with seven he may not make it even though it be of other metals.19  R. Jose b. Judah says: Also of wood he may not make it, because thus did the Hasmoneans make it,20  [The Rabbis] said to him: Is any proof to be deduced from that? It consisted of metal staves overlaid with tin.21  When [the Hasmoneans] grew rich they made one of silver, and when they grew still richer they made one of gold!22  And are His attendants which cannot be reproduced in facsimile allowed? For behold it has been taught: Ye shall not make with Me — i.e., ye shall not make according to the likeness of My attendants who serve before Me in the heights!23  — Abaye explained:

To Part b

Original footnotes renumbered. See Structure of the Talmud Files
  1. Since the dragon is not among the heavenly bodies.
  2. Who prohibits the use of utensils found with a human figure on them.
  3. Tosef. A.Z. VI. The former indicates Isis; the latter is the Greek name for Osiris — both of them important Egyptian deities.
  4. During the seven years of famine. [The identification of Serapis with Joseph occurs frequently in writings of antiquity. V. Blaufuss, Gotter etc. p. 19.]
  5. In Seyffert, op. cit., p. 578, the modius or 'measure' is depicted as resting on the head of Serapis.
  6. See the illustration in Seyffert, op. cit., p. 325.
  7. [Or 'hairs' (v. Rashi). Dragons were believed to be bearded. V. Blaufuss, op. cit., p. 41.]
  8. He left it lying on the ground, since if he picked it up he could never have it annulled.
  9. Lit., 'he found'.
  10. By doing some damage to the ring or treating it disrespectfully.
  11. Because the man annulled the ring which did not belong to him.
  12. For that reason he ignored the child (v. infra 57b), and that the man whom the Rabbi met knew the nature of the symbol on the ring was evidenced by his refusal at first to annul it.
  13. In B.M. 24a the reading is 'a panther'.
  14. It may therefore be assumed that the owner of the ring, having given up hope of finding it, must have annulled it, why then, did the Rabbi go to the trouble of having it annulled?
  15. Being preserved by the finder.
  16. On that account the Rabbi rightly had the ring annulled before he picked it up.
  17. Who came to report that they had seen the new moon.
  18. R.H. 24a.
  19. That in the Temple had seven branches and was of gold.
  20. When they recaptured and purified the Temple.
  21. Some MSS. read: 'with wood'.
  22. Consequently the wooden candelabrum was only temporary; so why should it be forbidden to make a wooden reproduction?
  23. From which it may be inferred that even such as cannot be reproduced in facsimile are forbidden.
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‘Abodah Zarah 43b

The Torah only prohibited the making of the likeness of the four faces together.1  According to this, a human face by itself should be permitted; so how can it have been taught: 'Of all faces are permissible except that of a human face'! — R. Judah the son of Rab Joshua said: From the discourse of R. Joshua2  I learnt: Ye shall not make itti ['with me'] — [this should be rendered as though it was] 'ye shall not make Me' [othi],3  but the other attendants are permitted.

But are the other attendants permitted? Behold it has been taught: Ye shall not make with Me, i.e., ye shall not make according to the likeness of My attendants who serve before Me in the heights, as, e.g., the Ophannim, Seraphim, holy Hayyoth and Ministering Angels!4  — Abaye explained: The Torah only prohibited the reproduction of the attendants who are in the highest stratum.5  Are, then, those in the lower stratum permitted? Behold it has been taught: That is in heaven6  — this is to include the sun, moon, stars and planets; above this is to include the Ministering Angels! — That teaching alludes to serving then.7  But if it is a matter of serving them, even a tiny worm is also [prohibited]! — That is so, and [the thought] is derived from the continuation of the verse; for it has been taught: Or that is in the earth — this is to include seas, rivers, mountains and hills; beneath — this is to include a tiny worm. But is the mere making of them permitted?8  Behold it has been taught: Ye shall not make with Me, i.e., ye shall not make according to the likeness of My attendants who serve before Me in the heights, as, e.g., the sun, moon, stars and planets! — It was different with R. Gamaliel because others9  made [the chart] for him.

But there is the case of Rab Judah for whom others made [a design on a ring], and Samuel said to him, 'You clever person!10  Blind its eyes!'11  In this instance it was a ring whose signet was cut in relief and on account of suspicion [that it might be worshipped Samuel objected to it]; for it has been taught: It is forbidden to put on a signet-ring which is cut in relief but it is allowed to seal with it; and if the signet is cut in, one may put the ring on but not seal with it. Do we, however, take into account the suspicion [that an object might be worshipped]? Behold in the Synagogue of Shaph-weyathib12  in Nehardea a statue was set up; yet Samuel's father and Levi entered it and prayed there without worrying about the possibility of suspicion! It is different when there are many people together.13  But R. Gamaliel was a single individual!14  — Since he was President of the Community many persons were always found with him. Or if you wish I can answer that [his chart] was in sections.15  As a further alternative I can answer that when it is for the purpose of study the matter is different; as it has been taught: Thou shalt not learn to do16  — but thou mayest learn in order to understand and teach.

RABBAN SIMEON B. GAMALIEL SAYS etc. Which utensils are precious and which common? — Rab said: The precious are those which [have the figures] above the water,17  the common those which have them under the water. Samuel said: Both these kinds are to be regarded as common,18  but those are precious which are upon bracelets, nose-rings and signet-rings.19  There is a teaching in agreement with Samuel: The precious utensils are those which [have figures] upon bracelets, nose-rings and signet-rings; the common those which have them upon kettles, pots, vessels for boiling water, sheets and towels.


GEMARA. It has been taught: R. Jose said to [the Rabbis]: Has it not been stated, And I took your sin,

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Original footnotes renumbered. See Structure of the Talmud Files
  1. Of the heavenly creatures described in Ezek. I, 10, each of which hath four faces viz., of a man, lion, ox and eagle.
  2. [Read with MS.M. 'R. Huna b. R. Joshua … discourse of Abaye.']
  3. And since man was made in God's image (Gen. I, 27) the reproduction of the human face is not allowed.
  4. V. Ezek. I.
  5. The Rabbis thought of heaven as divided into seven strata one above the other. V. Hag. 12b.
  6. Ex. XX, 4.
  7. Not making pictures of them.
  8. Without the intention of worshipping them.
  9. Non-Jews.
  10. [Lit.. 'sharp. toothed', v. B.B. (Sonc. ed.) p. 561, n. 14.]
  11. Deface the image; hence the fact that it had been made by others did not render it permissible.
  12. Either the name of a place or man. On the image in this Synagogue, v. Krauss, Synagogale Altertumer, pp. 214 ff.
  13. There is less likelihood of idolatrous worship.
  14. Yet nobody suspected him in connection with his lunar diagrams.
  15. And he only joined them together, when they formed a picture of the moon, in the presence of the witnesses who came to report to him. So he was not alone.
  16. Deut. XVIII, 9.
  17. The figures are on the upper part of the utensils.
  18. When they are used in connection with food or drink.
  19. They are only ornamental.
  20. And advantage would be derived from it contrary to the law.
  21. Deut. XIII, 18.
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