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Babylonian Talmud: Tractate ‘Abodah Zarah

Folio 8a

Now R. Joshua holds that we are guided by [the example of] Moses,1  while R. Eliezer says we should not follow the example of Moses; it is different with Moses whose greatness is so outstanding.2  The Sages, however, say [the decision is] neither according to the one nor according to the other, but that one should pray for his personal needs at the Benediction [concluding with], 'Who heareth prayer'. Rab Judah in the name of Samuel declared that the halachah is that one should pray for his personal needs only at the Benediction [ending with], 'Who heareth prayer'.

Said Rab Judah the son of Samuel b. Shilath in the name of Rab: Even though it was said that one should pray for his private needs only at 'Who heareth prayer,' nevertheless, if he is disposed to supplement any of the Benedictions [by personal supplications] relevant to the subject of each particular Benediction, he may do so. [So also] said R. Hiyya b. Ashi in the name of Rab:3  Even though it has been said that one should pray for his own needs only at 'Who hearest prayer', still if [for example] one has a sick person at home, he may offer [an extempore] prayer at the Benediction for the Sick;4  or if he is in want of sustenance, he may offer a [special] prayer in connection with the Benediction for [Prosperous] Years.4  R. Joshua b. Levi said: Though it has been decided that private prayers for personal needs only may be inserted in the Benediction 'Who heareth prayer',5  yet if one is disposed to offer supplication after The Prayer to the extent of the Day of Atonement Service.6  he may do so.7


GEMARA. Said R. Hanan b. Raba: KALENDA is kept on the eight days following the [winter] equinox. SATURNALIA on the eight days preceding the equinox. As a mnemonic take the verse, Thou hast beset me behind and before.13

Our Rabbis taught:14  When primitive Adam saw the day getting gradually shorter, he said, 'Woe is me, perhaps because I have sinned, the world around me is being darkened and returning to its state of chaos and confusion; this then is the kind of death to which I have been sentenced from Heaven!' So he began keeping an eight days' fast. But as he observed the winter equinox and noted the day getting increasingly longer, he said, 'This is the world's course', and he set forth to keep an eight days' festivity. In the following year he appointed both15  as festivals. Now, he fixed them for the sake of Heaven, but the [heathens] appointed them for the sake of idolatry.

This is quite right according to the one who holds that the world was created in Tishri,16  so that he saw the short days before seeing the longer days; but according to the one holding that the world was created in Nisan, Adam must have seen the long days as well as the short ones!17  — Still, he had not yet seen the very short days.

Our Rabbis taught: When Adam, on the day of his creation, saw the setting of the sun he said! 'Alas, it is because I have sinned that the world around me is becoming dark; the universe will now become again void and without form — this then is the death to which I have been sentenced from Heaven!' So he sat up all night fasting and weeping and Eve was weeping opposite him. When however dawn broke, he said: 'This is the usual course of the world!' He then arose and offered up a bullock whose horns were developed before its hoofs, as it is said [by the Psalmist], And it [my thanksgiving] shall please the Lord better than a bullock that hath horns and hoofs.18  Rab Judah said in the name of Samuel: The bullock which Adam offered had only one horn in its forehead, as the verse says, And it shall please the Lord better than a bullock that is horned and hoofed. But does not 'horned' imply two horns? — Said R. Nahman b. Isaac: 'Horned' is here spelt [defectively].19

R. Mattena asked: When Rome appoints a Kalend and there are towns in its vicinity subjected to her, is it forbidden or permitted [to transact business etc.] in those towns?20  R. Joshua b. Levi said: On the Kalends the prohibition applies to all. R. Johanan said: The prohibition applies only to [the Romans] who celebrate it. A Baraitha is taught which accords with the view of R. Johanan: Even though it was said that when Rome institutes Kalends they extend to all the towns in its vicinity which are subjected to it, yet the actual prohibition is only in regard to those who celebrate it. As to Saturnalia, Kratesis, Royal Celebrations, or the day on which a king is proclaimed, the prohibition applies to the period preceding them, but thereafter it is permitted. If an idolater gives a banquet for his son the prohibition is limited to that day and that man.

Said R. Ashi: We ourselves have learnt likewise. For our Mishnah states21  [AS TO] THE DAY OF SHAVING ONE'S BEARD OR LOCK OF HAIR, OR THE DAY OF LANDING AFTER A SEA VOYAGE, OR THE DAY OF RELEASE FROM PRISON — THE PROHIBITION ONLY APPLIES TO THAT DAY AND THAT PARTICULAR PERSON. Now, it rightly says. THAT DAY, thereby excluding the preceding and following [days], but what is THAT MAN meant to exclude, unless it excludes those subjected to him? From here then you deduce it!

It has been taught: R. Ishmael says,22  Israelites who reside outside Palestine serve idols though in pure innocence. If, for example, an idolater gives a banquet for his son and invites all the Jews i n his town, then, even though they eat of their own and drink of their own and their own attendant waits on them, Scripture regards them as if they had eaten of the sacrifices to dead idols, as it is said, And he will call thee and thou wilt eat of his sacrifice.23  But does not this apply to actual eating? — Said Raba: If that were so, the verse would have only said, And thou shalt eat of his sacrifice; why then say, And he will call thee? That extends the prohibition to the time of the participation. Hence

To Part b

Original footnotes renumbered. See Structure of the Talmud Files
  1. Hence the Shemone-'Esre, declaring God's praise, should be recited before any private petition.
  2. An ordinary man should proceed direct with his petition; to dilate might be considered as presumptuous.
  3. Ber. 31b.
  4. P.B. p. 47.
  5. Ibid. p. 49.
  6. Which may last all day.
  7. While the obligatory prayers are necessarily fixed, private extemporary prayers are desirable.
  8. Referred to in our Mishnah (supra 2a).
  9. The Roman New Year which was observed as a day of rejoicing.
  10. [G] A Roman festival beginning on the 17th December and lasting several days. 'Feasting and revelry and all the mad pursuits of pleasure are the features which seem to have specially marked this carnival of antiquity' (Frazer, Golden Bough, III, p. 138).
  11. [G]. A Roman festival commemorating the conquest of Eastern Countries.
  12. Which Greek and Roman youths, on arriving at puberty, offered to the gods.
  13. Ps. CXXXIX, 5. As an aid to remembering that KALENDA mentioned first in the Mishnah is behind the equinox and SATURNALIA mentioned later is before it.
  14. V. ARN ch. VIII.
  15. The eight days preceding and following the equinox (v. p. 8, note 2).
  16. The Jewish year has two starting points. The New Year begins on the 1st of Tishri (about September) yet in counting months, Nisan (about March) is taken first. Hence the different opinions as to which of these two dates formed the beginning of the year ONE (v. R. H. 10a und 11b).
  17. His experience during the spring and summer should have made him familiar with the fluctuation of the days.
  18. Ps. LXIX, 32, which is taken to refer to sacrifice offered by Adam, since the animal is described as [H] lit. a bullock-ox, implying an animal which was mature in form though young in age. [H] denotes a mature ox, whereas [H] designated an ox even of the tenderest age; cf. Lev. XXII, 27 (Rashi).
  19. [H] ('horned') owing to its defective spelling, instead of [H], may be read [H] (of a horn).
  20. Whose inhabitants do not observe the festivity, lest their profit, which generally goes to Rome, be used for procuring offerings to idols.
  21. V. supra p. 36.
  22. Tosef. V and ARN XXVI have 'R. Simeon b. Eleazar'.
  23. Ex. XXXIV, 15.
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‘Abodah Zarah 8b

during the entire thirty days [following a marriage celebration] whether it is or it is not mentioned that the banquet is connected with the wedding, [participation in it] is forbidden; from that time onward, however, if it is stated that it is connected with the wedding, it is forbidden, but if its connection with the wedding is not mentioned, it is permitted. And how long [is it forbidden] if it is connected with the wedding? — Said R. Papa: For a twelvemonth thereafter. And how long is it forbidden beforehand? — Said R. Papa in the name of Raba: From the time when the barley is placed in the tub.1  Is it, then, permitted [to partake of food in the house] after the twelvemonth? Yet R. Isaac the son of R. Mesharsheya, who happened to be in the house of a certain idolater more than a year after a marriage, when he heard that they were feasting [because of that event] abstained from eating there! It is different with R. Isaac the son of R. Mesharsheya who was a highly esteemed man.2

KRATESIS etc. What does KRATESIS mean? Said Rab Judah in the name of Samuel: [the anniversary of] the day on which Rome extended her dominion.3  But have we not learnt Kratesis and the day on which Rome extended her dominion? — Said R. Joseph: Rome extended her dominion twice; once in the days of Cleopatra4  the queen [of Egypt] and [once before] in the days of the Greeks. For when R. Dimi came5  he said: Thirty-two battles did the Romans fight against the Greeks and could not prevail against them until the Romans made an alliance with the Israelites. And these were the conditions made with them: If the kings are [chosen] from among us, the princes should be chosen from your midst, and if the kings are chosen from among you, the princes shall come from our midst. Then the Romans sent word to the Greeks as follows: Hitherto we have been fighting matters out, now let us argue them out: Of a pearl and a precious stone which shall form a setting for which?6  They sent the reply: 'The pearl for the precious stone.' And of a precious stone and an onyx which shall form a setting to the other? 'The precious stone to the onyx.' was the reply. And of an onyx and the Book of the Law which shall serve as the setting for the other? 'The onyx for the Book of the Law,' they replied. The Romans then sent word: In that case, the Book of the Law is in our possession, for Israel is with us. Thereupon the Greeks gave in.

For twenty-six years did the Romans keep faith with Israel, thereafter they subdued them.

What scriptural support did they have for their former attitude and what for the latter? To the former may be applied the words: Let us take our journey and let us go.7  And to the latter may be applied the words: Let my lord now pass before his servant.8

Whence can it be proved that Rome kept faith with Israel for twenty six years? [From the following:]9  For R. Kahana said: When R. Ishmael b. Jose was ill they sent word to him: Rabbi, tell us the two or three things which thou hadst told us in thy father's name. He then told them: One hundred and eighty years before the Temple was destroyed did Rome cast her rule over Israel; eighty years before the destruction of the Temple it was decreed that neighbouring countries of Palestine10  were to be regarded as ritually unclean,11  and likewise all glass vessels.12  Forty years before the Temple was destroyed did the Sanhedrin abandon [the Temple] and held its sittings in Hanuth.13  Has this any legal bearing? — Said R. Isaac b. Abdimi: It indicates that [from that time onward] they did not deal with cases of fines.14  'Cases of fines'! How can that enter your mind? Has not Rab Judah said [the following] in the name of Rab: Verily that man, R. Judah b. Baba by name, be remembered for good, for were it not for him the laws of fine would have been forgotten in Israel? 'Forgotten'! Surely, they could be studied? — Nay, they would have been abolished;15  for the wicked Government of Rome16  issued a decree that he who ordains a Rabbi shall be slain, likewise he who is ordained shall be put to death, the town in which an ordination takes place shall be destroyed and the tehum17  in which the ordination is held shall be laid waste. What did R. Judah b. Baba do? He went and sat down between two mountains and between two large towns between two tehums,18  namely, between Usha and Shefar'am19  and there he ordained five elders: R. Meir, R. Judah [b. Il'ai]. R. Jose, R. Simeon and R. Eleazar b. Shammua (R. Awia adds also R. Nehemiah). On seeing that they were detected by the enemies, he said to them, 'Flee, my children!' but they said to him, 'And you, O Rabbi, what about you?' 'I,' he replied. 'will lie still before them, even as a stone that is not turned.' It was stated that the Romans did not move from there until they drove three hundred iron spears into his body and made his corpse like a sieve!20  — But said R. Nahman b. Isaac: Say not that 'cases of fines' ceased, but that capital cases ceased. Why? — Because when the Sanhedrin saw that murderers were so prevalent that they could not be properly dealt with judicially, they said: Rather let us be exiled from place to place than pronounce them guilty [of capital offences] for it is written21  And thou shalt do according to the sentence, which they of that place which the Lord shall choose shall tell thee, which implies that it is the place that matters.22

[Now, it was mentioned above that Rome cast her rule over Israel] one hundred and eighty years prior to the Destruction. Is not the period longer? For R. Jose b. Rabbi23

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Original footnotes renumbered. See Structure of the Talmud Files
  1. Some time prior to a wedding, barley was customarily sown in tubs to sprout forth in time for the wedding, when they were placed before the bridal pair to symbolise fertility (Rashi).
  2. And importance would have been attached to his partaking of the celebration even at a later period.
  3. On conquering the Greeks.
  4. [When Octavian gained the victory over her at the Battle of Actium.]
  5. From Palestine to Babylon.
  6. I.e., which is the inferior of the two.
  7. I.e., as equals; words spoken by Jacob to Esau, Gen. XXXIII, 12.
  8. Ibid, 14. I.e., Rome is to lord it over Israel.
  9. Shab. 15a.
  10. Syria and Asia Minor.
  11. One who went outside Palestine was regarded as defiled and on returning had to undergo the usual process of purification. According to Graetz this measure was intended to stem the migration of the people, and in particular of the priests, from the Holy Land.
  12. [Glass vessels imported from those countries were regarded as unclean; probably to protect the glass industry in Palestine. V. L. Ginzberg's lecture on The Place of the Halachah, etc., p. 6. Hebrew University. Jerusalem, 1931.]
  13. [A place on the Temple mount, v. Sanh. (Sonc, ed.) p. 267, n. 4.]
  14. These could only be dealt with by Rabbis ordained in Palestine by the laying on of hands [H] (v. Sanh. 13b-14a). This mode of ordination, first mentioned in connection with the appointment by Moses of Joshua as his successor (Num. XXVII, 20), was continued, according to tradition, unbroken throughout the succeeding generations; it ceased about the 4th century when the academies of Palestine declined. An attempt by Jacob Berab to re-introduce the Semichah in Palestine, in 1538, ended in failure.
  15. For want of properly ordained Rabbis who are qualified to adjudicate such matters; v. B. K 84a-b.
  16. During the Hadrianic Persecutions in 135 C.E.
  17. [H], fuller term [H] a Sabbath limit is an area of 2000 cubits (about 1516 metres) round an inhabited place, forming the limit within which it is permitted to walk on Sabbath (v. Er. 42a).
  18. I.e., in an area adjacent to neither of the two towns, in the meaning of the decree.
  19. Towns in Galilee near Tiberias.
  20. These Rabbis were thus qualified to deal with the imposition of fines some 100 years after the Destruction; how then can R. Isaac b. Abdimi say that cases of fines ceased to be dealt with 40 years before the Destruction?
  21. Deut. XVII, 10.
  22. Capital cases were only dealt with by any court of 23 while the Sanhedrin sat in the Hewn-Stone Chamber of the Temple: the abandoning of their seat therefore meant the cessation of judging capital cases. V. Sanh. (Sonc, ed.) p. 267, n. 7.
  23. [Read with MS.M.: R. Jose b. Halafta.]
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