Avodah Zarah


Avodah Zarah

Avodah Zarah (Hebrew: "foreign worship," meaning "idolatry" or "strange worship") is the name of a tractate in the Talmud, located in Nezikin, the fourth Order of the Talmud dealing with damages. The main topic of the tractate is laws pertaining to Jews living amongst Gentiles, including regulations about the interaction between Jews and "idolaters" (who represented most of the Gentile population during the time of the Talmud), both for distancing Jews from the act of idolatry in every shape as well as distancing Jews from the threat of cultural assimilation.

Because of its subject matter, Avodah Zarah has probably been the most controversial tractate in the Talmud, and historically it has been the subject of criticism from Christian Church. Christians view the polemic of the tractate as being directed at them, and as painting them as idolaters and immoral people. The traditional Orthodox attitude has been that the tractate was authored in times of the Roman persecution and that this is what is generally meant by "idolatry" in the tractate.

The placing of the tractate in the order of "damages" says something about the attitude of the Sages towards idolatry. By engaging in idolatry, a person is seen as in effect denying God's creation and doing actual damage to the spiritual forces of creation. It also has the effect of removing the action of idolatry from a purely abstract notion into a real transgression with tangible effects and punishments, alongside theft and swearing a false oath.

Contents

Relationship with Christianity

In the Middle Ages, the entire tractate was expunged from many European editions by Christian censors and it was considerably difficult to obtain a copy. Where the tractate was present there were more censored passages in Avodah Zarah than in any other tractate of the Babylonian Talmud (Talmud Bavli). Certainly, despite the fact that many of the laws from the tractate are in force today, a large number are either out of force, out of practice or have been deemed no longer necessary by more liberal Orthodox rabbis over the centuries

Rabbi Avrohom Yeshaya Karelitz and David Berger Christianity is a form of idolatry and avoda zara as it involves the worship of a man whereas The Creator of this world is not a physical creation, and is beyond time and space.

Most Christian churches permit the artistic creation of objects of worship. Throughout history, many images of Jesus Christ have been drawn, painted, sculpted, molded, and casted. These man-made images are often placed and accepted in the minds of worshippers as they pray, thus provoking the creator's commandments in Exodus 34:11-27, Deuteronomy 5:6-9, Exodus 20:2-5. It is the seal, mark or thought that is bound in the foreheads (minds) and hands (actions) that constitute the breach of the covenant and "strange worship".

Mishna

The tractate consists of five chapters. The number of mishnayot is according to the standard numbering; however, different versions split up the individual mishnayot or combine them and the chapter breaks may vary as well.

Chapter One (nine mishnayot) deals with the prohibition of trade with idolaters around their festival (so as not to be complicit in the festivity) and the items that are forbidden to be sold to idolaters (which is basically any item that the idolater is likely to offer in an idolatrous service or commit an immoral act with). Thus, the main commandment explored in the chapter is lifnei iver.

Chapter Two (seven mishnayot) deals with precautions against the violence and immorality of idolaters and the items that are forbidden/permitted to be bought from idolaters. These include categories of objects that may be by-products of idolatrous services as well as foods with a difficult to identify kashrut status.

Chapter Three (ten mishnayot) deals with the laws of various images/idols and the asherah (idolatrous tree). Thus, it details the distinctions between forbidden and permitted use of various aspects and states of idolatrous items.

Chapter Four (twelve mishnayot) deals with benefit from the auxiliary items of a markulis (a Roman deity consisting of a heap of stones whereby worship consisted of throwing stones and thus adding to the heap) and other idols, the nullification of an idol (effected by an idolater deliberately defacing his/her idol) and the laws detailing the prohibition of the use and benefit of Yayin Nesech.

Chapter Five (twelve mishnayot) continues detailing the prohibition of yayin nesech and the kashering of utensils used by idolaters.

Talmud Bavli

This Gemara on Avodah Zarah was the main target of controversy and criticism. Of all the texts in Rabbinic Judaism, this is probably the one in which it is most difficult to obtain an "authentic" version as almost all the pages have had censorship imposed. In the standard Vilna edition of the Talmud, the tractate has 76 folios. In terms of the actual length of the Gemara, Avodah Zarah is fairly close to the middle, being an "average" length tractate.

A brief list of major topics in each chapter follows. Since the chief aim in the Gemara is to explain and comment on the Mishnah, this is implied and the topics mentioned will be ones that aren't directly about the Mishna (as a commentary is extremely difficult to summarize in a few lines). Folio references in parentheses are approximate and without a side (i.e. a or b).

Chapter One (folios 2-22) The tractate jumps almost straight into a long series of aggadah and abounds in aggadic material such as the plight of the nations in the World to Come(2), the Noahide Covenant and God's laughter(3), God's anger and punishment methodologies for both the Jews and Gentiles(4), the sin of the Golden Calf and its relation to immortality(5), an exposition of Jewish history around the destruction of the Second Temple(8-9), the nature of heresy and the stories of the martyrdom of some eminent Rabbis in the Roman persecution(16-18) and a detailed exposition of Psalm 1(19). Halakhic material related to the immediate subject matter of the tractate includes the laws of attending an idolater's wedding(8), performing an act that looks like idolatry(12), benefiting idolatry(13) and selling weapons to idolaters(15). Halakhic material less related to the main subject matter includes praying for oneself(7), dating documents(10), what can be burnt at a Jewish king's funeral(11), causing a blemish on an animal before and after the Temple's destruction(13) and selling materials to someone suspected of flouting the Sabbatical Year laws(15).

Chapter Two (folios 22-40) This chapter is similar to the last in being long and containing diverse material. Halakhic material related to the tractate includes the laws of buying an animal from an idolater for a sacrifice(23-24), circumcisions performed by idolaters(27), the status of Gentile beer(31), the dung of an ox intended for idolatry(34) and the prohibition of intercourse with Gentiles(36). Halakhic material less related to the tractate includes the laws of a Jewish apostate(26-27), a unique section outlining in detail many medicinal remedies from the Talmudic era(28-29), the safety/contamination issues in leaving water/wine uncovered(30), the process of overruling a previous Rabbinic court(37) and the finer details of recognising kosher fish(39-40). There is some haggadic material describing the return of the Ark after its capture by the Philistines(24) and the sun standing still for Joshua(25).

Chapter Three (folios 40-49) This chapter mainly deals with just the Mishna and other laws relating to idolatry, including the status of an idol shattered by accident(41) and the consequences of worshipping various objects(46-47). There is a small haggadic paragraph on the crown King David wore(44).

Chapter Four (folios 49-61) This chapter is halakhic, dealing mainly with the Mishna. Other laws to do with idolatry discussed include sacrificing to an idol(51), food and vessels associated with idolatry(52), the exchange for an idol(54) and the status of a Gentile child in rendering idolatrous wine(57). Extraneous halakhic material includes the activities allowed and forbidden in the Sabbatical Year and cases of Rabbis making rulings for specific communities following their own opinion(59).

Chapter Five (folios 62-76) This chapter is halakhic, dealing with the Mishna and a large number of related topics of Gentile wine. Some of these are small and many of the folios are made up of a great deal of logical units that are difficult to summarise. A selection of halakhic material to do with idolatry and idolatrous wine includes the forcible opening of wine by idolaters(70) and the stream created when pouring wine(72). Other halakhic material includes the laws of a harlot's wage(62-63), the definition of a Ger Toshav(64), acquisition of property by a Gentile(71-72) and settling a price in negotiations(72). There is one aggadic paragraph where a rabbi explains the merits of the World to Come to a Gentile friend.

References


Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • AVODAH ZARAH — (Heb. עֲבוֹדָה זָרָה; Idolatrous Worship ), tractate of the Mishnah, Tosefta, and Jerusalem and Babylonian Talmuds in the order of Nezikin; its name is already referred to in the Babylonian Talmud (Av. Zar. 56b). The tractate   was assigned to… …   Encyclopedia of Judaism

  • Yeshu — This article is about an individual or individuals found in Jewish literature. For the similar sounding Hebrew or Aramaic name, see Yeshua (name). Yeshu (ישו in Hebrew and Aramaic) is the name of an individual or individuals mentioned in Rabbinic …   Wikipedia

  • AM HA-AREẒ — (Heb. עַם־הָאָרֶץ; lit., people of the land ). Bible In biblical Hebrew, the signification of the term varies in accord with its context. (a) Generally, it denotes population, whether Israelite (II Kings 16:15; 25:3; Ezek. 39:13; 45:22) or non… …   Encyclopedia of Judaism

  • Haninah ben Teradion — Rabbinical Eras Chazal Zugot Tannaim Amoraim Savoraim Geonim Rishonim Acharonim Rabbi Haninah ben Teradion or Hananiah ben Teradion (Hebrew: חנניה בן תרדיון) was a teacher in the third Tannaitic generation (2nd century). He was a contemporary of… …   Wikipedia

  • AMORAIM — (Aram. אָמוֹרָאִים), designation of the scholars in the Land of Israel and Babylonia who succeeded the tannaim and preceded (in Babylonia) the savoraim and geonim. (See Table: Heads of Academies.) The composition of the Mishnah by R. Judah ha… …   Encyclopedia of Judaism

  • RISHONIM — (Heb. רִאשׁוֹנִים; lit. the early authorities ), a term with many connotations–chronological, literary, ethical, and halakhic–serving to indicate the standing and authority of preceding scholars in relation to the scholars of the time in the… …   Encyclopedia of Judaism

  • Glossary of Jewish terms — The following is a list of terms used in Judaism. Complete definitions of these terms, and additional sources, may be found in the full articles to which each term is linked.A* Aggadah * Amen :: The word Amen (Hebrew Name|אָמֵן|Amen|’Amen ; ar.… …   Wikipedia

  • Nezikin — For Jewish law on damages, see Damages (Jewish law) Nezikin (Hebrew: נזיקין, Damages Neziqin) or Seder Nezikin (סדר נזיקין, The Order of Damages) is the fourth Order of the Mishna (also the Tosefta and Talmud). It deals largely with Jewish… …   Wikipedia

  • Eikev — Eikev, Ekev, Ekeb, or Eqeb (עקב Hebrew for “if [you follow] ,” the second word, and the first distinctive word, in the parsha) is the 46th weekly Torah portion ( parsha ) in the annual Jewish cycle of Torah reading and the third in the book of… …   Wikipedia

  • IDOLATRY — Greek eidōlon originally meant image or fantasy. By the time of the Septuagint the term was used for images of gods. Idolatry is literally image worship. To grasp the character of image worship in biblical literature one must first realize that… …   Encyclopedia of Judaism