05 Feb 2018

Touring the Talmud: Aboda Zara 12-18 (Shabbat Yitro) – Driving Forces

Touring the Talmud: Aboda Zara 12-18

 We continue to examine the nature of idol worship and its place in humanity. We come to find that it has a peculiar connection to promiscuity. The intertwining issues of sex and worship are the subject of our pages this week. 
These primal, fundamental drives are studied and discussed by our Hakhamim and the details that emerge touch on the very core of our humanity, love, respect and all that we hold sacred.

Driving Forces

 ‘A man’s sexual choice is the result and the sum of his fundamental convictions…’

— Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged



This world presents us with many toxins. There are relatively few interactions that we can have with other elements on this planet that are not harmful to us. Life is fragile and Earth is hostile to it. That is true both biologically and psychologically. Our brains are wired to work in certain ways and they are engineered to respond to various stimuli based on our evolutionary history. Therefore, there are psychological experiences that are harmful to us while others nourish us.

Our studies in the Talmud this week discuss how we are to navigate through life and deal with potentially toxic situations. There are two major toxins that the Talmud identifies here that profoundly affect both our psychology and spirituality: illicit sex and foreign worship[1] both of which aim right for the heart.

Do not go scouting around after your heart and after your eyes after which you are licentious. (Num. 15:39)

 After your heart: This means heresy. 
After your eyes: This is thoughts of promiscuity…
After which you are licentious: This is thought of foreign worship. 
(Berakhot 12)

The ‘heart’ in these verses and in our vernacular is a borrowed term used to refer to the limbic aspect of our brains that controls our ability for nurturance and socialisation. It is also responsible for our reactions to danger, fear and feeling the need for protection. The ‘heart’ is where sex and worship live.


The Torah deems sex as an important part of healthy living[2] unless it happens in specific, counterproductive situations. There are certain sexual interactions that, no matter who one is and how one feels, are deemed by the Torah to be existentially damaging to us[3]. These acts are predominantly incestuous in that they engage with family and the familiar or they are adulterous in that they breach the relationships of other people. They affect our ability to develop an independent and fully mature identity in that they restrict the possibilities for nurturing, mature and mutual love. Because we are hard-wired with a powerful drive for sexual reproduction which is essentially blind to the psychological and spiritual dangers of the unions to which we find ourselves attracted, we do not naturally differentiate between those intimacies which are ‘good’ and ‘bad’ for us.

The drive for worship on the other hand, comes from a combination of our innate fear of the unknown and the deep need we have for parental approval[4]. With these coupled primal necessities, the creation of gods who will both protect and reward us is ubiquitous in humanity. While the overt and immature worship of idols seems to have diminished over time, which the Talmud recognises in this week’s study (Daf 17b), it is not so much that the drive for protection and subservience has been reduced — but the old, immature objects and mode in which we worshipped as a young species. As we mature, our objects of worship mature with us. The toys of a child are not the toys of an adult. While our worship may not be to a pantheon of gods or to the works of our own hands in wood and stone, and instead is focused on an omnipotent force, we find ways of self-serving worship — even in mainstream religion — that borders on, if not fully being, illicit and superstitious.

Our drives for sex and worship are both rooted in the limbic brain in that they are modes of survival, connection, security, and self-preservation. They have always gone together; human beings have either incorporated sex into their worship or worship into their sex.

Rab Yehuda said in the name of Rab,
Israel knew that there was not much substance in idol worship. 

They only engaged in it because it allowed them public promiscuity. (Aboda Zara 63b)



The power of the fundamental drives for survival holds us firmly in its grasp. It is immensely difficult to break the neural circuits that we build when engaging in these activities which encourage us towards repeating the behaviour — especially when we experience triggering stimuli.

Once we experience a trigger it is a formidable challenge to resist repeating the behaviour. Our brains learn the patterns of comfort quickly, therefore we are warned not to do anything that even looks like foreign worship:

If a thorn became imbedded in one’s foot while he was standing before an object of idol worship, he may not bend down and remove the thorn, because he appears to be bowing down to the object of idol worship; but if it doesn’t appear so it is permitted.

If ones coins were scattered while he is before an object of idol worship, he may not bend down and pick them up, because he appears to be bowing down to the object of idol worship…

Likewise, if there is a spring that runs before an object of idol worship, one may not bend down and drink from it, because he appears to be bowing down to the object of idol worship…

With regard to figures of human faces that spout water in the cities, (i.e., fountains), one may not place his mouth on the mouths of the figures and drink, because he appears to be kissing the object of idol worship. (Daf 12)

Nor are we to do anything which even borders on illicit sexual interaction.

Ulla says: Mere physical contact with a woman with whom one is prohibited from engaging in sexual intercourse is prohibited, due to the maxim: ‘Go, go’, we say to a nazirite, ‘go around, go around but do not come near to the vineyard’. Just as a nazirite is warned not even to come into close proximity of a vineyard lest he consume a product of the vine, so too one is obligated to distance himself from anyone with whom intercourse is forbidden. (Daf 17)

 It is forbidden for a person to make motions with his hands or feet or wink with his eyes to one of the people with whom intercourse is forbidden, to share amusement with her or to act frivolously with her. It is even forbidden to smell her perfume or gaze at her beauty.(Rambam, Isure Bi’ah, 21:1)

All of these boundaries keep us from stimuli which trigger the neural connections that drive us towards licentious acts. They are aimed at keeping us away from the toxins so that we might remain healthy and whole in our relationships.


It seems safe enough, but there is another side of this that must always be considered. The Torah does not look favourably on restrictions in general. Our restrictions are only meant to keep us from harmful realities be they physical, psychological, emotional or spiritual. When there is little to no danger of failure, restrictions are counterproductive.

We have already explained that it is proper to permit the people all that is possible to be permitted, and not to burden them, and the individual person may privately be as stringent as he pleases… (Rambam, Letters)[5]

If people believe something is prohibited when the law is not so, it is unfitting to leave them with that belief by any means! Rather you must censure them and inform them that that which they thought was prohibited is permitted and it was mistakenly recognised as a prohibition by them. (Rambam, Letters)[6] 


One can get into serious trouble in the eyes of the Torah if they misrepresent its laws. In the times of the Sanhedrin, the Supreme Court of the Nation of Israel, a scholar who intentionally ruled against them was subject to capital punishment.

When any legal matter is too extraordinary for you… you are to come to…the judge that there is in those days… You are to take care to observe what they instruct you. Now the man who does presumptuously, by not hearkening to the… judge: dead is that man! So you shall burn out the evil from Israel! (Deut. 17:8-13)

The person who disagrees with the Supreme Court (is punished) whether they prohibit and he permits or they permit and he prohibits. (Rambam, Mamerim, 4:1)

The allowances of the Torah are just as vital to our lives and viability as its restrictions and they should not be easily dismissed.

Rav Dimi said in the name of R’ Yitzchak: Is that which the Torah prohibited not enough for you that you request to prohibit other things as well?! (Yerushalmi, 9:1)



The reason for this is that above all, the Torah is interested in protecting and cultivating life.

You are to keep my laws and my regulations, which when a human does them, he lives by them, I am God!  (Lev. 18:5)

 ‘Live by them’ — and not die by them. (Yoma, 85b)

 It is prohibited to hesitate when transgressing the Sabbath for the sake of a dangerously sick person, as it is written ‘which when a human does them, he lives by them’ and not die by them. Here you have learned that the regulations of the Torah are not vengeful, rather merciful and good. (Rambam, Shabbat, 2:3)

She (Torah) is a tree of life to those who hold on to her.… (Prov, 3:18)

The more restrictions, the less opportunities to live a full life. Even sex and worship are meant to be joyous and visceral experiences when they occur in proper and healthy circumstances.

Here God our Lord has let us see all His glory and His greatness, and His voice we have heard from the midst of the fire. This day we have seen that God can speak to humans and they remain alive! So now should we die?…If we continue to hear the voice of God our Lord anymore we will die!…And God hearkened to the voice of your words…[and] said to me: Go, say to them: Return to your tents! (Deut. 5:21-22,25,27)

 ‘Return to your tents’ [means] – return to the joy of intercourse (Aboda Zara 5a)

 ‘Return to your tents’ [means] – To the life of flesh and worldly enjoyment, as is human nature. 
(Netsiv, He’emek Dabar, ibid.)

In the House of God we shall walk with great feeling. (Psalms 55:15)

These drives are not inherently evil and they must be employed by us for a productive, thriving and meaningful life. We cannot simply ignore them or shut them down.

Sexuality keeps the world running:

They sought to eradicate the sexual inclination (to save people from promiscuity)…they captured it and held it for three days and there was not a fresh egg to be found in all the land. They said: If we kill the sexual inclination we will destroy the world! (Yoma, 69b)

And the inclination for idolatry lives in the most ironic of places:

For three days and nights they fasted to locate the inclination for foreign worship. At last it was given into their hands, and emerged from the Holy of Holies…(ibid.)



What then, is one to do? On the one hand, the dangers are great and must be avoided at all costs. On the other, to keep from engaging in what Torah permits us is itself a prohibition. Unfortunately, it seems that the road to living our best and most fulfilled lives is more like a tight rope than a boulevard.

Much of it depends on just how dangerous the world is for a person. An alcoholic relates to a drink entirely differently than a non-alcoholic does.

When we have sufficiently achieved a healthy world view in which we do not entertain counterproductive options for our lives, the restriction of stimuli does not apply, because they are no longer triggers to dangerous behaviours. In the same vein, someone who has a low threshold for certain behaviours and is prone to acting unlawfully or immorally, will be affected by the slightest hint towards the possibility of transgression; everything becomes a stimulus towards the particular vice that vexes him. It is not a ‘one size fits all’ issue.

The examples abound in our readings this week. Among them:

One may not keep an animal in the inns of gentiles, because they are suspected of engaging in bestiality. Rav says if it is a place where the Sages permitted one to sell animals to gentiles, it must be that the gentiles of this location are not suspected of this transgression. (Daf 14b)[7]

 Ulla would come from the study hall, he would kiss his sisters on their hands, and some say on their chests. (Daf 17a)

 Ulla allowed himself to act in this manner because he did not regard them as sexually stimulating in any way[8].

(Tosafot, ibid.)



However, a fundamental problem remains in all of this. Changing the rules for different individuals is itself risky. How are we to trust our own risk assessment in such matters? The drives that move us towards our desires have been practicing for millennia. They are expert and cunning. And the possibilities for creative rationalisation in the human brain for poor, self-destructive behaviour is staggering. It is a far more dangerous job than it seems. And while we may believe that we can slay the dragon or have already slain the dragon, it always manages to rear its ugly head in the most unexpected and undetectable ways. Take for example, the subtle coquettishness of R. Hanina Ben Teradyon’s daughter as she walked in front of the Roman soldiers in our readings:

Rabbi Yoḥanan says: Once, the daughter of Rabbi anina ben Teradyon was walking before the nobles of Rome, and they said to each other: How pleasant are the steps of this young woman. Upon hearing this, she immediately took care to keep walking in such a fashion that her steps would continue to be pleasing to them. (Daf 18a)


Anyone would have seen that to be innocent enough. But when we assume innocence we often open the door to indiscretion.

And this is the same as that which Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish says: What is the meaning of that which is written: “The iniquity of my heel encircles me” (Psalms 49:6)? It means that the sins that a person tramples with ones heel in this world, i.e., dismisses and pays no attention to them as they seem to lack importance e.g., the way that one walks, will come and encircle him on the Day of Judgment. (ibid.)

Our brains are not to be trusted.

Do not trust yourself until the day you die. (Abot 2:4)

We return then to square one. If we cannot be trusted with our drives, how are we to engage with life? How can we ever hope to overcome the selfish gene that drives us to the abyss of self-destruction?


There is one master key to the locks of desire that drive us: Healthy relationships and love. Sure, it sounds trite and cliche, but it is, nevertheless, the truth. Illicit sex and foreign worship or idolatry are illicit precisely because they are not set up for love and relationship. They are selfish and self-centred and they lock one away from the world and an ability to fully integrate into it. When the drives that are meant for relationship and connection are used for personal gain or self-protection rather than sharing, the potential for relationship deteriorates into prostitution: they are acts of love and devotion used for personal gain and ulterior motives. We can act in ways that feign care but in reality they only aim at gaining personal benefits. It is not surprising, then, that talk of prostitution peppers a portion of this week’s pages[9].

Yet, when we develop and mature and learn to go beyond the selfish concern for our own needs and begin to see ourselves connected with others we learn that anything outside of a life built on love, care and sharing is cold and empty. We end up living in a world of objects rather than one filled with living beings and potential connections. Our hearts and souls cannot survive in such conditions.

Do not be like the servant who serves the master in order to get a prize for it. Be rather like the servant who serves for no ulterior motives. (Daf 19a)

Even the study of Torah alone without actively integrating its principles into benevolent and life-sustaining acts leaves one essentially godless.

Rab Huna said anyone who engages in Torah alone [and does not engage in acts of kindness] is like one who has no God. (Daf 17)

Perhaps the most astonishing and moving assertion in our studies this week is the notion that just one act of pure love void of any ulterior motives, binds us forever to God and eternity. Even if one spent an entire life as an addict.

They said about Ribbi Elazar ben Durdayya that he was so promiscuous that he did not leave one prostitute in the world with whom he did not engage in sexual intercourse. Once, he heard that there was one prostitute in one of the cities overseas who would take a purse full of dinars as her payment. He took a purse full of dinars and went and crossed seven rivers to reach her. When they were engaged in the matters to which they were accustomed, (a euphemism for intercourse),…

She said: …Elazar ben Durdayya will not be accepted in repentance…

 This statement deeply shocked him, and he went and sat between two mountains and hills and said: ‘Mountains and hills, pray for mercy on my behalf, so that my repentance will be accepted’. They said to him: ‘Before we pray for mercy on your behalf, we must pray for mercy on our own behalf, as it is stated: “For the mountains may depart, and the hills be removed” (Isaiah 54:10)‘. He said: ‘Heaven and earth, pray for mercy on my behalf. They said to him: Before we pray for mercy on your behalf, we must pray for mercy on our own behalf, as it is stated: For the heavens shall vanish away like smoke, and the earth shall wax old like a garment (Isaiah 51:6)

 …Elazar ben Durdayya said: Clearly the matter depends on nothing other than myself. He placed his head between his knees and cried loudly until his soul left his body. 

A Voice emerged and said: ‘Rabbi Elazar ben Durdayya is destined for life in the World-to-Come’. 

(The Gemara explains the difficulty presented by this story): And here Elazar ben Durdayya was guilty of the sin of forbidden sexual intercourse, and yet he died once he repented. The Gemara answers: There too, since he was addicted to the sin, to an extent that transcended the physical temptation he felt, it is similar to heresy, as it had become like a form of idol worship for him.

When Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi heard this story of Elazar ben Durdayya, he wept and said: There is one who acquires his share in the World-to-Come only after many years of toil, and there is one who acquires his share in the World-to-Come in one moment. And Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi further says: Not only are penitents accepted, but they are even called: Ribbi (Master), as the Divine Voice referred to Elazar ben Durdayya as Rabbi Elazar ben Durdayya. (Daf 17a)

 When the very object of R Eliezer ben Durdaya’s addiction itself turned to him to tell him he was condemned he realised that he had erased his very being in his addiction. He begged for help from the world and, realising that the whole world too needed help, and he along with it, there was nowhere to turn but to his Maker with all his heart. In the end, it was Elazar’s rediscovered love for his own life that redeemed him.

A life which is entirely dedicated to the fervour of misplaced religious worship and devotion, could be just as self-effacing. R Hanina ben Teradyon came very close to losing his connection to God through his very religiosity. With all of his Torah study and religious zeal, it was a simple act of selfless charity that saved him.

The Sages taught: When Ribbi Yosei ben Kisma fell ill, Ribbi Ḥanina ben Teradyon went to visit him. Rabbi Yosei ben Kisma said to him: anina my brother, do you not know that this nation has been given reign by a decree from Heaven? The proof is that Rome has destroyed Gods Temple, and burned His Sanctuary, and killed His pious ones, and destroyed His best ones, and it still exists. Evidently, all of this is by Divine decree. And yet I heard about you that you sit and engage in Torah study, and convene assemblies in public, and have a Torah scroll placed in your lap, thereby demonstrating complete disregard for the decrees issued by the Romans.

 Rabbi Ḥanina ben Teradyon said to him: Heaven will have mercy and protect me. Rabbi Yosei ben Kisma said to him: I am saying reasonable matters to you, and you say to me: Heaven will have mercy? I would be surprised if the Romans will not burn both you and your Torah scroll by fire. Rabbi Ḥanina ben Teradyon said to him: My teacher, what will become of me? Am I destined for life in the World-to-Come?

Rabbi Yosei ben Kisma said to him: Did any special act come into your hands to perform? Rabbi Ḥanina ben Teradyon said to him: I confused my own coins that I needed for the festivities of Purim with coins of charity, and I distributed them all to the poor at my own expense. Rabbi Yosei ben Kisma said to him: If that is so, may my portion be of your portion, and may my lot be of your lot. (Daf 18a)

 R Hanina thought that his unabashed risk of teaching Torah in public, even against the dangers of Roman decree, was his pious dedication to God. Yet, his rabbi tells him that it is all a mistake. His drive for doing so was not about his relationship with God, but his religious zeal that was misplaced. His drive for worship took over. Realising this, R Hanina asks his rabbi if he has a place in the World to Come. Indeed, he does, but only because he gave a full purse of money away to charity when he had not intended at all to do so.

Only when there is no plan, no angle, no manoeuvre to get something done do we use our drives as tools in our service as opposed to them using us as tools in theirs. When our drives serve our souls, sex becomes an act of true love and worship a mode of faithful communion with God. The acts become ones of profound care and sharing rather than ones of self-centred needs.

Our only access to God, Life and Eternity is faithfulness, honour and love. The whole Torah, therefore, points us towards them.



The one lethal danger to succeeding in this endeavour is cynicism. Because cynicism thrives on mockery and the cheapening of things. We mock things in order to break their sanctity so that we need not deal with them and bear the weight of the responsibility that sanctity brings with it.

Happy is the man who has not walked in the counsel of the wicked, nor stood in the way of sinners, nor sat in the presence of cynics (Psalms 1:1)

 The verse serves to say to you that if he walked with the wicked, he will ultimately stand with them. And if he stood with them, he will ultimately sit in their company, and if he sat, he will ultimately mock along with them. And if he mocks, the verse says about him: “If you are wise, you are wise for yourself; and if you mock, you alone shall bear it
(Daf 18b)

Rab Nahman said: All cynicism is prohibited other than the cynicism of idol worship that is permitted. (Megila 25b)

You see the severity of cynicism and its great destruction, because just as a shield slick with oil causes the arrows to slip and casts them to the floor and does not allow for them to reach the body of the soldier, cynicism stands in the way of criticism and opposition.Because with one mocking word or the slightest snicker a person casts aside a great deal of inspiration and stimulationof which the heart is inspired and stimulated on its own by seeing or hearing matters that awaken it to the calculation and examination of deeds. 
(Rabbi Moshe Haim Luzzatto, Mesilat Yesharim, 5)

 We laugh at things from our imagined fortified towers of ego and arrogance. But inside those towers live cowering, pitiful hearts that yearn for true love and belonging.

We make our own gods, and sleep with people for our own lustful desires. All of it we do to pacify ourselves and protect ourselves from the pain of vulnerability that is required for real connection. But as we build our faithfulness, our integrity and our ability to love and care, we can grow and we change if we truly wish to. And in doing so the world becomes a whole and healthy place for us. The encouragement of Torah to engage in life and its beauty is not simply so we can enjoy and be happy but rather so that we can, through it, come to know the One who Spoke and Created it.

When we become true lovers of the Holy One and we do not mock the people and elements of His vast and multi-faceted world, when we do not take advantage of them, we do not take selfishly from them and instead love, cherish and honour them, the world rises to support us and protects us from the toxins that would otherwise undo us.

Rabbi Ḥanina and Rabbi Yonatan were once walking along when they came to a fork in the road, one of which branched off toward the entrance of a place of idol worship, and the other one branched off toward the entrance of a brothel. One said to the other: Let us go by the path that leads to the entrance of the place of idol worship, as the inclination to engage in idol worship has been slaughtered and the temptation to sin in this manner is diminished.

 The other said to him: Let us go by the path that leads to the entrance of the brothel and overpower our inclination, and thereby receive merit. When they arrived there, they saw that the prostitutes yielded before their presence, (i.e., they entered the building out of respect for the Sages).

One said to the other: From where did you know this, that the prostitutes would retreat from us in embarrassment? He said to him: It is written: From lewdness it shall watch over you; discernment shall guard you (Proverbs 2:11) (Daf 17a-b)

When we walk faithfully and with discernment in God’s world, when we love our lives and respect our relationships, we become the masters and drivers and the world rises to our aid. God then walks with us in peace and security, always.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Joseph Dweck



Touring the Talmud: Aboda Zara 12-18


Chapter #1: Teaches us the proper mannerisms for business with idol worshipers.

 Chapter #2 : Deals with some more personal mannerisms (which includes eating their food).

Chapter #3: Begins to deal with prohibitions regarding actual items of worship.

 Chapter #4: Speaks of how items can be regarded or disregarded as items of worship, and how wine can become ‘wine used for  sacrificial libation’.

Chapter #5: Deals with the prohibition of having any sort of benefit from libation wine.


 Daf 11



•   If there are idolatrous festivities within a city, it is permitted to do business in a marketplace outside the city. If the festivities are in the marketplace that it is outside the city, it is permitted to do business in the city.

•   It is permitted to travel to a city (for personal matters) on a day that it is celebrating an idolatrous festival only if the path leading to the city leads to other places as well.



 Daf 12

The Gemara asserts that the ‘marketplace outside the city’ mentioned in the Mishna, can be even directly adjacent to the city.

The Gemara brings situations that appear to be idolatrous and should be avoided ( such as: bending over to pick something up in front of an idol – appears to be bowing, drinking directly from a fountain with the face of an idol – appears to be kissing it).

The Gemara identifies dangerous ways of drinking water (as one might swallow a parasite).


A city where some stores have [idolatrous] decorations and some do not, it is prohibited to do business with the decorated stores.


 Daf 13

The purpose of the prohibition is discussed:

•   Reish Laqish – The buyer enjoys the decorations (assuming they are scented or the like) and it is prohibited to have enjoyment from idol worship. If they are not scented, he may conduct business.

•   R’ Yohanan – The decorations are a sign that the store owner gives a cut to the local house of idol worship. If however it is clear that the storeowner does not give a cut to idol worship, it is permitted to buy from him.

If an animal was brought from an idol worshipper, it must be lamed/crippled (generally seen as a crime), as one is not allowed to have enjoyment from it. Types of laming are discussed.

Stories of sages who bought from stores that did give taxes to idol worship are relayed.


The Mishna lists things prohibited to sell to idol worshippers, as they are used for idolatrous practices, among them is a white rooster.

•   R”Yehuda holds that it is permitted to sell a white rooster if it is sold among other roosters.

R”Meir adds two items to the list of things prohibited to sell to idol worshippers.

All other things are permitted to sell unless the buyer specifies that he wishes to buy it for idolatrous purposes.

 Daf 14


 The Gemara explains what each item is.

The argument between R”Yehuda and the first opinion in the Mishna is clarified. Different types of language that a buyer might use, and his implied intentions (idolatrous or not) are considered.

The Gemara has trouble identifying the items added by R”Meir to which one scholar exclaims “Abraham our forefather wrote four hundred chapters on idol worship, and we’ve only got five and cannot understand them!”.


 Selling small domesticated animals (sheep, goats) to idol worshippers depends on the what is customary in that area.

It is prohibited to sell large domesticated animals (cows, donkeys) and their young to idol worshippers even if the animal is injured, as it can still do minor tasks.

•   R”Yehuda allows selling an injured animal.

•   Ben Betera allows selling a horse.


 The reason why the selling of small animals is dependent on custom is brought.

 Daf 15

The reason it is prohibited to sell a large domesticated animal is because selling is similar to renting, and it is prohibited to rent out an animal because it will do work on the Sabbath.

It is permitted to sell a large domesticated animal to an idol worshipper by way of an agent. A scholar posits that it is also permitted to sell if there is room to say that he is buying it for consumption and not for labour.

Just as it is prohibited to sell a large domesticated animal to an idol worshiper it is prohibited to sell one to a member of Israel who sells to idol worshippers.

It is prohibited to sell weapons to idol worshipers (and to dangerous citizens of Israel), unless citizens of Israel reside among them and they are protecting them.

Daf 16

The argument between Ben Betera and the main opinion of the Mishna regarding the sale of a horse is explained.

The Gemara ponders how to categorise the sale of fattened cattle.



•   It is prohibited to sell dangerous wild animals (or anything that poses a threat to the public), to an idol worshipper.

•   It is prohibited to help them build structures they use for life threatening purposes such as a gallows or amphitheaters used for gladiator/bull fights.

•   It is permitted to help them build useful structures (such as a bathhouse), however when they reach the point of creating an idol it is prohibited to continue (he is permitted to continue so long as he disengages before the finishing touches –Gemara).


 The Gemara discusses the status of a large (tame) wild animal:

Is it prohibited/permitted to be sold, dependent on the local custom, like small domesticated animals, or rabbinically prohibited like large domesticated animals?

The Gemara compares the post mortem reflex of a large wild animal to that of a small domesticated animal.

Different types of prohibited and permitted structures are discussed.

The Gemara relates the story if R”Eliezer who was tried and almost hanged by the Roman government. It was assumed by the sages that he had in some way engaged in matters relating to heresy. He later admits that he heard an interpretation of Jewish law from Jesus by one of his students and enjoyed it.

 Daf 17

We are to stray far from governmental positions, idolatrous philosophies and promiscuity.

The Gemara discusses the dangers of theses three things, and how difficult it is to pull away from them.

The Gemara relates the story of R’ Elazar Ben DUrdaya, a man steeped in promiscuity who managed to repent, earning him the title ‘Master’.

Engagement in Torah guards a person from falling into promiscuity.

The Gemara tells the stories of R’ Elazar ben Parta and R’ Hanina ben Teradyon who are tried by the Roman government:


•   Someone who only studies Torah, is considered as if he has no God.

  • R’ Elazar ben Parta is saved by a string of miraculous events.
  • R’ Hanina ben Teradyon is deemed guilty by the Roman court for studying Torah and is sentenced to death along with his wife, and their daughter is sold as a harlot.

Daf 18


•   The reasons for each of their punishments are given.

•   They each praise God for His fair judgment.


The story of R’ Hanina’s execution.

The story of how R’ Hanina’s daughter was liberated from the brothel.

The prohibition against going to gladiator/bull fights and circuses as they are murderous and frivolous.

Circumstances that would permit someone to go to a gladiator/bull fight or circus are discussed.

The severity of mockery and cynicism.

One should not only keep from engaging in unhealthy atmospheres, but also actively engage in healthy ones.







[1] i.e. – the worship of anything other than God or the inappropriate worship of God

[2]  Rambam, De’ot, 4:19.

[3] Lev. 18:6-24; 20:7-22.

[4] See Fromm, E. The Art of Loving, Ch. 3, ‘The Objects of Love: The Love of God’.

[5] Shelat ed., p. 393

[6] Shelat ed., p. 279

[7] Me’iri, a Rishon, along other 20th century authorities (Rav Avraham Isaac Kook, Rav Eliezer Waldenberg, Rav Yehiel Yaakov Weinberg) hold that this does not apply to contemporary gentiles. For further examples see 15b.

[8] Cf. Ketubot, 17a

[9] Daf 17 and 18.