For the week ending 2 October 2010 / 23 Tishri 5771

Avodah Zarah 51 - 57

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
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  • Different forms of worship of idols
  • What disqualifies an animal for the sacrifice of a non-Jew
  • Sacrifices brought in the wrong places
  • Status of objects found on an idol
  • Benefiting from garden or bathhouse of idol priests
  • When does an idol become forbidden and how does it lose that status
  • What must be done with an idol worshipped by Jews
  • How does an idol worshipper show his rejection of the idol
  • Idols abandoned by their worshippers
  • Animal worshipped as idol
  • Dialogue between Sages and heathen philosophers regarding idols
  • Harvesting and pressing grapes together with non-Jews
  • The forbidden wine of non-Jews

Idols and Dead Dogs

  • Avoda Zara 54b

"It is written in your Torah," a heathen philosopher challenged Rabban Gamiliel, "that your G-d is a jealous G-d (Devarim 4:24). Why does He direct the anger aroused by this jealousy to the idol worshippers and not to the idols themselves?"

The Sage replied with a parable:

A human king had an only son who raised a pet dog which he called by the name of his father. When he took an oath he would swear in the name of his father dog. Upon hearing this would the king be angry with his son or with the dog?

The heathen refused to accept this rejoinder because he claimed that idols must have power since a fire once destroyed his entire town sparing only the local temple of idolatry. To this the Sage replied with another parable:

When a human king wages war against a rebellious province does he battle against the living or the dead?

Upon hearing this comparison of idols to dogs and dead the heathen asked why then does G-d not eliminate them from this world?

If the idolaters worshipped only things which are not vital to the universe, replied the Sage, He would eliminate them. But they also worship the sun, moon and heavenly bodies, and G-d is not going to destroy His world because of such fools.

Maharsha asks that this explanation fails to deal with why G-d does not just eliminate the expendable idols while leaving the indispensable ones. The answer to that, he points out, has already been mentioned in the mishnah. If all the other idols would be destroyed and the heavenly bodies spared, this would strengthen the belief of their worshippers that they are deities.

What the Sages Say

"One who appoints a judge who is unfit is considered as if he planted an idolatrous asheira tree in Israel."

  • Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish - Avoda Zara 52a

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