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Babylonian Talmud: Tractate ‘Abodah Zarah

Folio 54a

Hezekiah said: Which is the text?1  — When he maketh all the stones of the altar as chalkstones that are beaten in sunder, so that the Asherim and the sun-images shall rise no more2  — i.e., if [the altar] becomes like 'chalkstones that are beaten in sunder', then 'the Asherim and the sun-images shall rise no more,'3  otherwise they will rise again.

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

To Part b

Original footnotes renumbered. See Structure of the Talmud Files
  1. That proves an altar to consist of several stones and that it is prohibited until the greater part is demolished
  2. Isa. XXVII, 9.
  3. I.e., no more offerings will be brought upon such an altar and it is then no longer prohibited.
  4. As an offering in the Temple.
  5. Tosef. A.Z. VI.
  6. [Whereas the first Baraitha teaches that one does not render prohibited his neighbour's animal by worshipping it.]
  7. According to this interpretation the two teachings are in agreement.
  8. Deut. XXII, 26, when a betrothed girl was violated in a field.
  9. Viz., both the cases of under compulsion and voluntarily. This is how Raba proposed to harmonise the two contradictory teachings.
  10. Ex. XX, 5.
  11. Lev. XVIII, 5, viz., by the divine commandments.
  12. Ibid. XXII, 32.
  13. So here is a contradiction.
  14. In similar manner are the two teachings to be harmonised. If a man worshipped his own animal not in public under compulsion it may be brought as an offering; but if the worship was in public the animal is prohibited.
  15. When a Jew is compelled publicly to worship at them.
  16. [This proves that whatever is worshipped in public under compulsion is rendered prohibited.]
  17. Among a large number it is improbable that there should not be at least one apostate. Therefore the pedestal is an idolatrous object worshipped by an Israelite voluntarily and remains prohibited for ever.
  18. He offers this explanation of the phrase 'animal worshipped under compulsion.' It does not refer to just bowing before it.
  19. It was not the animal that was worshipped but the idol.
  20. Under the rule that animate beings used as an appurtenance to idolatry are not prohibited.
  21. Then it is prohibited although he took his neighbour's animal by force and worshipped it.
  22. As, e.g., pouring wine between its horns.
  23. There was no need to bring it as a teaching of the Palestinian Schools.
  24. For a complete act of slaughter both the gullet and windpipe must be cut; but if he cut only one in honour of the idol the animal is prohibited.
  25. [Because he performed on it an act of worship.]
  26. Israelite priests whom their kings forced to sacrifice to idols. V. Ezek. XLIV, 13.
  27. And could have fled rather than act as they did; therefore they were for ever disqualified from the divine Service. But an animal is not a rational being and did not willingly submit to being used for the worship of an idol; so why should it be prohibited?
  28. Which the Hasmoneans stored away after they had been desecrated.
  29. In his exposition of Ezek. VII, 22. V. supra p. 266.
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‘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].


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,

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Original footnotes renumbered. See Structure of the Talmud Files
  1. V. supra p. 266.
  2. As an act of idolatry.
  3. Deut. VII, 26.
  4. Ibid.
  5. V. Glos.
  6. Lev. XIX, 19.
  7. At marriage the bridegroom has to hand the bride a sum of money. Although the money was obtained in exchange for what was unlawful it could be used for the purpose.
  8. Lit., 'two texts which come as one,' i.e., a law is given twice in Scripture in such similar terms that one appears to be superfluous since either could have been deduced from the other by analogy.
  9. We do not apply the regulation contained in the two texts to anything else than what is specified therein.
  10. Viz., And become a devoted thing like unto it, from which is deduced that what is exchanged for a prohibited thing is likewise prohibited.
  11. Lev. XXV, 12.
  12. When the object dedicated to the Sanctuary is redeemed for a sum of money.
  13. Obtained by illegally selling produce grown in that year.
  14. And may be put to secular use.
  15. Not 'it is holy'.
  16. I.e., whatever grows in that year shall be always in a state of holiness.
  17. They are both 'holy'. [They can be eaten by the owner only as long as like produce is available to the public and animals in the fields. Once this produce is beginning to fail, it must be 'removed' from the house and made free to all.]
  18. And is holy.
  19. [It is 'holy'. We thus have two texts to teach the prohibition of things obtained in exchange for forbidden things, so that there is no need of the phrase 'it' to exclude 'orlah etc.' Hence it must be applied to the exclusion of that which is obtained as the result of a double exchange.]
  20. Who deduces that the result of a double exchange is forbidden.
  21. They were R. Gamaliel, Eleazar b. Azariah, Joshua b. Hananiah and Akiba, who visited Rome in 95 C.E. V. Bacher, Agada d. Tann, I, p. 84, and the authorities quoted by him.
  22. The essential things which God spared.
  23. The wicked make wrong use of the sexual instinct with which they have been endowed by God and trouble Him to form the embryo which results from their immorality.
  24. Deut. IV, 24.
  25. The idol is a dead thing, so God does not wage war with it.
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