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Avodah Zarah, 16
AVODAH ZARAH 16 - dedicated by Reb Gedalya Weinberger of Brooklyn, N.Y. in
memory of his father, Reb Chaim Tzvi ben Reb Shlomo Weinberger. Reb Chaim
Tzvi, who miraculously survived the holocaust, raised his children with an
intense dedication to the Torah and Gedolei Torah.
1) THE PROHIBITION AGAINST BUILDING CERTAIN STRUCTURES WITH "NOCHRIM"
OPINIONS: The Mishnah states that we may not join with Nochrim in building a
"Basilki," "Gardom," "Itztadya," and a "Bimah."
What exactly are these structures, and why is it prohibited to build them
together with Nochrim?
(a) The RA'AVAD and the RAMBAM (in Perush ha'Mishnayos here) explain that
these structures are typically built for purposes of Avodah Zarah. The
Rambam specifies that these were chairs and platforms built in honor of
idols, and for use by the idols themselves.
Since these structures are used for purposes of Avodah Zarah, it is clearly
forbidden for a Jew to take part in their construction.
(b) RASHI explains that a "Basilki" and a "Bimah" are towers with platforms,
and they are used for carrying out death sentences by pushing people to
their deaths from them. A "Gardom" is a courthouse in which trials of
capital punishment take place. An "Itztadya" is a coliseum used for sports
such as having wild bulls gore people to death. Many Rishonim seem to learn
like Rashi (see below).
Rashi (DH Bimah) explains that the reason why a Jew may not join a Nochri in
building such structures is because all of these structures were used by the
Nochrim for violent purposes. Since it could happen that another Jew might
be arrested and become the victim of the sadistic urges of the Nochrim in
these places, a Jew is not permitted to take part in the building of these
structures. (See also Rashi to 15b, DH Shalshalos.)
The RITVA seems to understand the Mishnah in the same way that he explains
an earlier Halachah. Earlier, he explains that the reason why it is
forbidden to sell deadly weapons to Nochrim is because of "Lifnei Iver" -- a
Jew is enabling the Nochri to kill, an act which Nochrim are prohibited from
doing. The Ritva, in his comments on the Mishnah here, seems to follow his
reasoning earlier, and maintains that it is prohibited to help a Nochri
build such structures because of "Lifnei Iver" -- the Nochrim will use these
structures to kill people (as Rashi explains). In contrast to Rashi's
explanation, though, the Ritva noticeably omits that the injustice might be
meted out to Jews, and he says instead that the problem is that the Nochrim
are suspected of harming people and killing them unjustly.
The RI MI'LUNIL records both the reason of Rashi and the reason of the
Ritva. He further explains Rashi's reason by stating that building such a
structure constitutes a violation of the verse, "Lo Sa'amod Al Dam Re'echa"
(Vayikra 19:16), the Torah's commandment to save the life of another Jew. If
we are commanded to save our fellow Jew when he is in danger, then certainly
we cannot cause him to be harmed, even indirectly.
The SEDER YAKOV deduces that the Rambam agrees with the Ri mi'Lunil's
explanation. The Rambam records these Halachos twice (in Hilchos Avodah
Zarah 9:8, and in Hilchos Rotze'ach 12:12). Why does the Rambam need to
mention these Halachos twice? Perhaps it is because he maintains that
helping a Nochri build these structures is prohibited because of two
reasons. In Hilchos Avodah Zarah, the Rambam is discussing the prohibition
from the perspective of the problem of "Lifnei Iver." He states that just as
it is prohibited to sell to Nochrim objects that will help them to
strengthen their worship of Avodah Zarah, it is also prohibited to sell them
objects that harm the populace. In Hilchos Rotze'ach, he records the
Halachah based on the other reason -- that it is prohibited to give any
assistance to Nochrim in a matter that might lead to the harm, or death, of
Jews. (Y. Montrose)
2) REBBI ELIEZER WAS "NITFAS L'MINUS"
AGADAH: The Gemara relates that when Rebbi Eliezer was "Nitfas l'Minus," he
was brought up to the "Gardom" to be judged. Who took him to the Gardom, and
for what was he being judged? Why was he so distressed after his release?
(a) RASHI (DH l'Minus) explains that he was apprehended by "Minim" who
wanted to force him to serve Avodah Zarah. In this context, "Minim" refers
to people who are idol worshippers (see Rashi to Chulin 13b, DH Min). This
also seems to be the understanding of the CHIDUSHEI HA'RA'AVAD. The Ra'avad
comments that when the judge asked Rebbi Eliezer why such an esteemed elder
such as himself was "wasting time with these idle matters," he was referring
to Rebbi Eliezer's devotion to learning Torah.
The text in some versions of the Tosefta in Chulin (2:6) is vague as to the
source of Rebbi Eliezer's distress. The Tosefta merely says that Rebbi
Eliezer was pained that he was "Nitfas l'Minus." Similarly, Rashi, as cited
in the Ein Yakov here, comments that Rebbi Eliezer wanted to do Teshuvah but
did not know why this misfortune happened to him, and thus he was
distressed. It seems that the Tosefta and Rashi are simply stating that this
was a frightening and difficult experience that could only have happened
through Heavenly retribution of "Midah k'Neged Midah" for some sort of
Aveirah related to Avodah Zarah that he had done.
The SEDER YAKOV suggests another approach to understanding the Gemara. The
judged who freed Rebbi Eliezer first pronounced the name of his god as a way
of swearing that he was freeing him. It caused Rebbi Eliezer great pain that
he was the cause of an oath taken by a name of an idol, even though he had
no way of knowing that such a thing would happen. He was distressed that he
had transgressed the verse, "Lo Yishama Al Picha" -- "Do not let it be heard
through your mouth" (Shemos 23:13), which is understood to mean that a Jew
may not even cause a Nochri to mention the name of a false god (see Rashi to
6a, DH Mishum). Rebbi Eliezer therefore was trying to recall a sin that he
might have done with more intention, which would have caused him to do this
sin as well.
(b) However the DIKDUKEI SOFRIM comments that this understanding is
problematic from a chronological perspective, because Rebbi Eliezer lived
during the time of the second Beis ha'Mikdash. During that time, there was
no religious persecution, and the Jews were not being forced to serve Avodah
Zarah. He explains instead that the "Minus" mentioned here refers to the
beginnings of the teachings of the Nazarene. The Romans persecuted anyone
they found associated with the Nazarene, and anyone whom they believed was
connected to the Nazarene in any way. (This might also explain the variant
text in the words of Rashi. Instead of saying that Rebbi Eliezer was taken
by "Minim," some texts of Rashi read that he was taken by "Minei Romayim,"
or "Roman heretics.")
This also seems to be the intention of the version of this incident as it
appears in one edition of the Tosefta (Tzukermandel edition) in Chulin.
According to the text of that edition, Rebbi Eliezer was distressed that he
had been "Nitfas *Al Divrei Minus*" ("apprehended *on the matter of words of
heresy"), which implies that his captors accused him or thinking or speaking
This is also the approach of RABEINU CHANANEL, who says here that Rebbi
Eliezer was accused of believing in the existence of two gods. The NETZIV in
MEROMEI SADEH writes that the words of Rabeinu Chananel perhaps should read
"three" gods, referring to the Nazarene concept of that belief.
Why, though, would the Romans think that Rebbi Eliezer was connected in any
way with the Nazarene?
The CHILUFEI GIRSA'OS, NETZIV, and others explain that this is the reason
why Rebbi Eliezer was distressed after this event and was inconsolable. He
was worried about the statement of the Chachamim (Moed Katan 18b) that a
person is not suspected of wrongdoing unless he at least thought about doing
that sin. Rebbi Eliezer understood, therefore, that he must have entertained
some type of heretical thought. Rebbi Akiva therefore suggested the
possibility that Rebbi Eliezer once took pleasure from a heretic. Rebbi
Eliezer responded that he now saw the Heavenly retribution in this incident,
because he indeed once took pleasure from the comments of a heretic. (Y.