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Babylonian Talmud: Tractate ‘Abodah Zarah

Folio 2a



GEMARA. Rab and Samuel [differed]: the one quoting [from this Mishnah] ed, while the other quoted 'ed.5  The one who quoted ed is not in error, nor is the one who quoted 'ed in error.6  The one who quoted ed is not in error, since Scripture says: For the day of their calamity is at hand;7  so also is he who quotes 'ed not in error, for Scripture also says: Let them bring their witnesses [testimonies] that they may be justified.8  Why does he who quotes ed not have 'ed? — He might say, the term ed ['calamity'] is more applicable [to idolatry]. Why then does not the one who quotes 'ed have ed? — He might say: What is it that brings about that calamity [if not] their testimony? hence the term 'ed ['testimony'] is more apt.

But does the verse, Let them bring their witnesses that they may be justified, refer to idolaters at all? It surely refers to Israel; as R. Joshua b. Levi said: All the good deeds which Israel does in this world will bear testimony unto them in the world to come, as it is said: Let them bring their witnesses that they may be justified — that is Israel; And let them hear and say: It is truth — these are the idolaters. Whereupon R. Huna the son of R. Joshua said that the one who quotes 'ed derives it from this verse: They that fashion a graven image are all of them vanity, and their delectable things shall not profit,' and their own witnesses see not, nor know.9

R. Hanina b. Papa — some say R. Simlai — expounded [the foregoing verse] thus: In times to come,10  the Holy One, blessed be He, will take a scroll of the Law in His embrace and proclaim: 'Let him who has occupied himself herewith, come and take his reward.' Thereupon all the nations will crowd together in confusion, as it is said: All the nations are gathered together, etc.11  The Holy One, blessed be He, will then say to them: 'Come not before Me in confusion, but let each nation come in

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Original footnotes renumbered.
  1. The Hebrew word [H] ED, here used as a metonymy for FESTIVITY, means CALAMITY; in the variant spelling [H] 'ED it means WITNESS OR TESTIMONY — hence the variation discussed in the Gemara which follows.
  2. Lest any benefit they may derive from these be made by them a cause for rejoicing before their idols on the day of festivity.
  3. The reason for the objection does not therefore exist.
  4. Representing the opinion of teachers in general.
  5. V. n. 1.
  6. As both terms are used in Scripture in connection with idolatry. The letter [H] was frequently confused, especially among the Babylonians, with [H]; and according to Berliner, Beitr. z. Gram. i. Tal. u. Mid., p. 17, it is Samuel the Babylonian who quoted [H] while Rab who was a Palestinian, read [H].
  7. Deut. XXXII, 35.
  8. Isa. XLIII, 9.
  9. Ibid. XLIV, 9.
  10. A typical example of consolatory Aggadah wherewith the Rabbis sought to sooth the people's present afflictions by depicting the glories which the future had in store for them. A liturgical difficulty is solved thereby. The term consolations [H] in the Kaddish passage: 'Blessed be He above all the blessings and hymns, praises and consolations which are uttered in the world' (P.B., p. 75), which is so puzzling to commentators, is explained by the fact that the Kaddish is in its origin a doxology pronounced after Aggadic expositions, which were generally of a consolatory nature. Cp. [H] (Sot. 49a).
  11. Isa. XLIII, 9.
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‘Abodah Zarah 2b

with its scribes;' as it is said, and let the peoples be gathered together,'1  and the word le'om [used here] means a kingdom, as it is written, and one kingdom [u-leom] shall be stronger than the other kingdom.2  (But can there be confusion in the presence of the Holy One, blessed be He? — [No;] it is only that they be not confused, and so hear what He says to them.) Thereupon the Kingdom of Edom3  will enter first before Him. (Why first? Because they are the most important. Whence do we know they are so important? — Because it is written: And he shall devour the whole earth and shall tread it down and break it in pieces;4  and R. Johanan says that this refers to Rome, whose power is known to the whole world. And whence do we know that the most important comes forward first? — Because R. Hisda said: When a king and a community appear before the [Heavenly] tribunal, the king enters first, as it is said: That He maintain the cause of His servant [King Solomon] and [then] the cause of His people Israel.5  And why is it so? — You may say, because it is not the way of the world that a king shall wait without; or you may say [in order that the king shall plead] before the anger [of the Judge] is roused.)6  The Holy One, blessed be He, will then say to them: 'Wherewith have you occupied yourselves?' They will reply: 'O Lord of the Universe, we have established many market-places, we have erected many baths, we have accumulated much gold and silver, and all this we did only for the sake of Israel, that they might [have leisure] for occupying themselves with the study of the Torah.' The Holy One, blessed be He, will say in reply: 'You foolish ones among peoples, all that which you have done, you have only done to satisfy your own desires. You have established marketplaces to place courtesans therein; baths, to revel in them; [as to the distribution of] silver and gold, that is mine, as it is written: Mine is the silver and Mine is the gold, saith the Lord of Hosts;7  are there any among you who have been declaring this?' And 'this' is nought else than the Torah, as it is said: And this is the Law which Moses set before the children of Israel.8  They will then depart crushed in spirit. On the departure of the Kingdom of Rome, Persia will step forth. (Why Persia next? — Because they are next in importance. And how do we know this? — Because it is written: And behold another beast, a second like to a bear;9  and R. Joseph learned10  that this refers to the Persians, who eat and drink greedily like the bear, are fleshly like the bear, have shaggy hair like the bear, and are restless like the bear.)11  The Holy One, blessed be He, will ask of them: 'Wherewith have ye occupied yourselves?'; and they will reply 'Sovereign of the Universe, we have built many bridges, we have captured many cities, we have waged many wars, and all this for the sake of Israel, that they might engage in the study of the Torah. Then the Holy One, blessed be He, will say to them: 'You foolish ones among peoples, you have built bridges in order to extract toll, you have subdued cities, so as to impose forced labour;12  as to waging war, I am the Lord of battles, as it is said: The Lord is a man of war;13  are there any amongst you who have been declaring this?' and 'this' means nought else than the Torah, as it is said: And this is the Law which Moses set before the Children of Israel.14  They, too' will then depart crushed in spirit. (But why should the Persians, having seen that the Romans achieved nought, step forward at all? — They will say to themselves: 'The Romans have destroyed the Temple, whereas we have built it.')15  And so will every nation fare in turn. (But why should the other nations come forth, seeing that those who preceded them had achieved nought? They will say to themselves: The others have oppressed Israel, but we have not. And why are these [two] nations singled out as important, and not the others? — Because their reign will last till the coming of the Messiah.) The nations will then contend: 'Lord of the Universe, hast Thou given us the Torah, and have we declined to accept it? (But how can they argue thus, seeing that it is written, The Lord came from Sinai and rose from Seir unto them, He shined forth from Mount Paran?16  And it is also written, God cometh from Teman.17  What did He seek in Seir, and what did He seek in Mount Paran?18  — R. Johanan says: This teaches us that the Holy One, blessed be He, offered the Torah to every nation and every tongue, but none accepted it, until He came to Israel who received it. [How, then, can they say that the Torah was not offered to them?] Their contention will be this: 'Did we accept it and fail to observe it? But surely the obvious rejoinder to this their plea would be: 'Then why did you not accept it?' — This, then, will be their contention: 'Lord of the Universe, didst Thou suspend the mountain over us like a vault19  as Thou hast done unto Israel and did we still decline to accept it?' For in commenting on the verse: And they stood at the netherpart of the mountain.20  R. Dimi b. Hama said: This teaches us that the Holy One, blessed be He, suspended the mountain over Israel like a vault, and said unto them: 'If ye accept the Torah, it will be well with you, but if not, there will ye find your grave.') Thereupon the Holy One, blessed be He, will say to them: 'Let us then consider the happenings of old,' as it is said, Let them announce to us former things,21  'there are seven commandments which you did accept.22  did you observe them?' (How do we know that they did not observe them? — For R. Joseph learned:23  He standeth and shaketh the earth, He seeth and maketh the nations to tremble:24  what did He see? He saw that the nations did not observe even the seven precepts which the sons of Noah had taken upon themselves,25  and seeing that they did not observe them, He stood up and released them therefrom.26  Then they benefited by it; according to this it pays to be a sinner! — Said Mar the son of Rabina:

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Original footnotes renumbered.
  1. Ibid.
  2. Gen. XXV, 23.
  3. Edom, or Esau, generally represents Rome.
  4. Dan. VII, 23.
  5. I Kings VIII, 59.
  6. By the misdeeds of the people for which the king would be held responsible.
  7. Hag. II, 8.
  8. Deut. IV, 44.
  9. Dan. VII, 5.
  10. Kid. 72a.
  11. Cf. Lewysohn, Zoologie des Talmuds, p. 99. The Persians are compared to the bear, which bolts its food, is covered with a girdle of fat, and can stand the winter with but little food. The skin is woolly and thick, and only gets softer with age. He is always rolling about, even if kept in a cage.
  12. [G] = angaria.
  13. Ex. XV, 3.
  14. Deut. IV, 44.
  15. Referring to Cyrus's edict. Ezra I, 2 seq.
  16. Deut. XXXIII, 2.
  17. Hab. III, 3.
  18. Seir or Edom representing the predecessors of Rome; Paran, those of Ishmael, Gen. XXI, 21.
  19. Lit., 'cask', 'tub'.
  20. Ex. XIX, 17.
  21. Isa. XLIII, 9.
  22. V. n. 6.
  23. B.K. 38a.
  24. Hab. III, 6.
  25. The Rabbis held that God had given Noah seven commandments embracing the whole of natural religion: against (i) idol worship, (ii) blasphemy, (iii) bloodshed, (iv) adultery, (v) robbery, (vi) for the establishment of courts of justice, (vii) against eating the limb torn off a living animal. These were imposed on all men, Jews and non-Jews alike. V. Sanh. 56a ff. Cf. Maimonides' Guide for Perplexed, III, 48.
  26. The Heb. word for maketh to tremble, [H], also means, 'he releaseth', cf. [H] permitted.
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