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Avodah Zarah, Daf Het, Part 5
Reading for Thursday
, August 10
Avodah Zarah 8-5



Today’s sugya deals with the holiday of “Kratesis.” I should note that I am not an expert on the historical accuracy of these traditions concerning Roman history. This is not something I will delve into all that much in explaining this sugya. I do not think these sugyot should be treated as being particularly historical. At best, they preserve some very vague memories.


וקרטסים וכו’: מאי קרטסים? אמר רב יהודה אמר שמואל יום שתפסה בו רומי מלכות.

והתניא קרטסים ויום שתפסה בו רומי מלכות?

אמר רב יוסף שתי תפיסות תפסה רומי אחת בימי קלפטרא מלכתא ואחת שתפסה בימי יונים.


Kratesis etc. What is Kratesis? Rav Judah said in the name of Shmuel: The day on which Rome seized the kingship. 

But was it not taught Kratesis and the day on which Rome seized the kingship?

Joseph said: Rome seized the kingship twice; once in the days of Cleopatra, the queen [of Egypt] and in the days of the Greeks.


Kratesis is the anniversary of the Roman Empire. There are two such days, according to R. Joseph. One of more recent memory and one from the distant past.


דכי אתא רב דימי אמר תלתין ותרין קרבי עבדו רומאי בהדי יונאי ולא יכלו להו עד דשתפינהו לישראל בהדייהו. והכי אתנו בהדייהו אי מינן מלכי מנייכו הפרכי אי מנייכו מלכי מינן הפרכי.


For when R. Dimi came he said: The Romans fought 32 battles against the Greeks and could not prevail against them until the Romans made an alliance with the Israelites. And these were the conditions made with them: If the kings are [chosen] from among us, the princes should be chosen from yours, and if the kings are chosen from among you, the princes shall come from us.


The Talmud imagines that Rome could not prevail against Greece until Israel joined them in battle. They made an agreement to share their power should they win.


ושלחו להו רומאי ליונאי עד האידנא עבידנא בקרבא השתא נעביד בדינא. מרגלית ואבן טובה איזו מהן יעשה בסיס לחבירו?

שלחו להו מרגלית לאבן טובה.

אבן טובה (ואינך) איזו מהן יעשה בסיס לחבירו?

אבן טובה לאינך.

אינך וספר תורה איזו מהן יעשה בסיס לחבירו? אינך לספר תורה.

שלחו להו [א”כ] אנן ספר תורה גבן וישראל בהדן כפו להו.


Then the Romans sent to the Greeks as follows: Up until now we have been engaging in battle, now let us argue out in logic: A pearl and a precious stone which shall form a setting for which?  They sent the reply: The pearl for the precious stone.

And a precious stone and an onyx, which shall form a setting to the other? ‘

The precious stone to the onyx.

And an onyx and a Sefer Torah which shall serve as the setting for the other?

The onyx for the Sefer Torah.

The Romans then sent word: In that case, the Sefer Torah is in our possession, for Israel is with us. Thereupon the Greeks gave in.


With Israel in tow, the Romans now set out to verbally convince the Greeks to give in. Since Rome is in possession of the “Sefer Torah,” and even the Greeks agree that the Sefer Torah is the “jewel” and thus the onyx, a symbol of Greece, should serve as the setting for the Torah, the symbol of Israel and due to their alliance, Rome. The Greeks concede to this argument and Rome and the Israelites win.


עשרין ושית שנין קמו להו בהימנותייהו בהדי ישראל.

מכאן ואילך אישתעבדו בהו.

מעיקרא מאי דרוש ולבסוף מאי דרוש? מעיקרא דרוש (בראשית לג, יב) “נסעה ונלכה ואלכה לנגדך” ולבסוף דרוש (בראשית לג, יד) “יעבר נא אדני לפני עבדו”


For twenty-six years the Romans kept faith with Israel, thereafter they subdued them.

What did they expound at the outset and what did they expound at the end? At the outset they expounded: “Let us start on our journey and I will proceed at your pace” (Genesis 33:12).

And at the end they expounded: “Let my lord now pass before his servant” (v. 14).


The Romans shared rule with the Israelites for 26 years, but then they turned them into their subjects. The rabbis read this into Rome’s biblical ancestor—Esau. At first Esau and Jacob walk together. But in the end, Esau walks ahead (in the biblical story, this is at the insistence of Jacob).