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Avodah Zarah, Daf Het, Part 6
Reading for Friday
, August 11
Avodah Zarah 8-6

 

Introduction

Today’s section begins to discuss how the sages determined that Rome and Israel cooperated for 26 years. Note that we will not get the answer to this question until next week’s daf. So stay tuned!

 

עשרין ושית שנין דקמו בהימנותייהו בהדי ישראל מנא לן?

דאמר רב כהנא כשחלה רבי ישמעאל בר יוסי שלחו ליה רבי אמור לנו שנים וג’ דברים שאמרת לנו משום אביך. אמר להו מאה ושמנים שנה קודם שנחרב הבית פשטה מלכות הרשעה על ישראל.

פ’ שנה עד לא חרב הבית גזרו טומאה על ארץ העמים ועל כלי זכוכית.

מ’ שנה עד לא חרב הבית גלתה סנהדרין וישבה לה בחנות.

 

That Rome kept faith with Israel for twenty six years, from where do we know this? [From the following:]  For R. Kahana said: When R. Yishmael b. Yose was ill they sent word to him: Rabbi, tell us two or three things which you told us in your father’s name.

He said to them: One hundred and eighty years before the Temple was destroyed evil Rome cast her rule over Israel; eighty years before the destruction of the Temple they (the rabbis) decreed impurity on the lands of the nations and on glass vessels.  

Forty years before the Temple was destroyed the Sanhedrin was exiled from [the Temple] and dwelled in Hanut. 

 

The count begins with the beginning of Roman rule over Israel. This began roughly around 110 B.C.E. (in reality it was later), 180 years before the destruction of the Temple. Around the year 10 B.C.E. the sages made two famous decrees concerning impurity. The first is that anyone who walks anywhere outside of Israel becomes ritually impure. The second is that glass vessels are susceptible to impurity. The Torah does not list glass as a substance susceptible to impurity. The third is that around the year 30 B.C.E. the Sanhedrin, the ruling body in Israel, moved from its special chamber in the Temple to another area called “Hanut” which was also on the Temple Mount.

 

למאי הלכתא?

א”ר יצחק בר אבדימי לומר שלא דנו דיני קנסות.

דיני קנסות סלקא דעתך! והאמר רב יהודה אמר רב ברם זכור אותו האיש לטוב ורבי יהודה בן בבא שמו שאלמלא הוא נשתכחו דיני קנסות מישראל. נשתכחו! לגרסינהו!

אלא בטלו דיני קנסות מישראל שגזרה מלכות הרשעה גזרה כל הסומך יהרג וכל הנסמך יהרג ועיר שסומכין בה תחרב ותחום שסומכין בו יעקר.

 

What is the legal significance of this?

Yitzchak b. Avdimi said: It indicates that [from that time onward] they did not adjudicate the laws of fines.

“The laws of fines”! Do you really think so? Has not Rav Judah said in the name of Rav: That man R. Judah b. Baba should be remembered for good, for were it not for him the laws of fines would have been forgotten in Israel? “Forgotten”! Let them study them?

Rather, the laws of fines would have been abolished; for the wicked Kingdom of Rome decreed that he who ordains a rabbi shall be put to death, and he who is ordained shall be put to death, the town in which an ordination takes place shall be destroyed and the border in which the ordination is held shall be laid waste.

 

The Talmud takes a detour here trying to explain what the significance is of knowing that the Sanhedrin moved to an area on the Temple Mount called Hanut. What difference does it make? The answer is that from that point and onwards they did not adjudicate the laws of fines. 

But this answer itself is difficult, for we have another tradition according to which the rabbis after the Temple did adjudicate the laws of fines. The Romans decreed against ordination of rabbis and rabbis are necessary in order to adjudicate laws of fines. This was, according to legend, a devastating blow against the rabbinic movement.

 

מה עשה רבי יהודה בן בבא? הלך וישב בין שני הרים גדולים ובין שתי עיירות גדולות בין ב’ תחומי שבת בין אושא לשפרעם וסמך שם חמשה זקנים ר”מ ור’ יהודה ור’ יוסי ור”ש ורבי אלעזר בן שמוע

ורב אויא מוסיף אף רבי נחמיה. כיון שהכירו בהם אויבים אמר להם בני רוצו.

אמרו לו רבי ואתה מה תהא עליך? אמר להם הריני מוטל לפניהם כאבן שאין לה הופכין.

אמרו לא זזו משם עד שנעצו לגופו ג’ מאות לולניאות של ברזל ועשאוהו לגופו ככברה.

 

What did R. Judah b. Baba do? He went and sat down between two mountains and between two large towns between two borders, namely, between Usha and Shefar’am and there he ordained five elders: R. Meir, R. Judah [b. Il’ai]. R. Yose, R. Shimon and R. Eleazar b. Shammua (R. Avia adds also R. Nehemiah). Once their enemies saw them, he said to them, “Flee, my children!” They said to him, “Rabbi, what about you?” He replied, “I lie before them as a stone that is not turned.” They say that the Romans did not move from there until they drove three hundred iron spears into his body and made his corpse like a sieve.

 

This foundational tradition is cited here to show that even after the destruction of the Temple there were rabbis who were qualified to adjudicate the laws of fines. The five elders that are listed here are some of the most important rabbis of the mid-2nd century C.E. Their names appear all the time in the Mishnah and Tosefta.

 

אמר רב נחמן בר יצחק לא תימא דיני קנסות אלא שלא דנו דיני נפשות.

מ”ט כיון דחזו דנפישי להו רוצחין ולא יכלי למידן אמרו מוטב נגלי ממקום למקום כי היכי דלא ליחייבו דכתיב (דברים יז, י) “ועשית על פי הדבר אשר יגידו לך מן המקום ההוא” מלמד שהמקום גורם:

 

Nahman b. Yitzchak said: Do not say “cases of fines” but rather that they did not adjudicate capital cases. Why? Because when the Sanhedrin saw that murderers were so prevalent that they could not be properly judged, they said: Rather let us be exiled from place to place than pronounce them guilty [of capital offences] for it is written “And you shall do according to the sentence that they tell you, from that place” (Deuteronomy 17:10). This indicates that the place matters.

 

Nahman b. Yitzchak now offers a new suggestion as to what changed with the exile of the Sanhedrin to Hanut. From this point forth, they no longer adjudicated capital crimes. But this change was not because of Roman persecution. It was because of Jewish corruption. There were so many Jewish murderers at that point that the courts could no longer properly try them. To avoid having to exile so many murderers, the court chose to go into a sort of “mini-exile.” For once their place of judgment had changed, they could no longer adjudicate capital crimes.

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