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Avodah Zarah, Daf Yod Zayin, Part 3
Reading for Tuesday, October 10

Avodah Zarah 17-3


רבי ר’ חנינא ור’ יונתן הוו קאזלי באורחא. מטו להנהו תרי שבילי חד פצי אפיתחא דעבודת כוכבים וחד פצי אפיתחא דבי זונות.

אמר ליה חד לחבריה ניזיל אפיתחא דעבודת כוכבים דנכיס יצריה.

א”ל אידך ניזיל אפיתחא דבי זונות ונכפייה ליצרין ונקבל אגרא.

כי מטו התם חזינהו [לזונות] איתכנעו מקמייהו

א”ל מנא לך הא

א”ל (משלי ב, יא) מזמה תשמור עלך תבונה תנצרכה.


Hanina and R. Yonatan were walking on the road and came to two paths, one of which led by the door of a place of idol-worship and the other led by a brothel.

One said to the other: Let us go [through the one leading] by the place of idolatry, for the inclination has been destroyed.

The other however said: Let us go [through that leading] by the brothel and defy our inclination and we will receive a reward.

As they approached the place they saw the prostitutes withdraw from before them.

One said to the other: How did you know this? 

The other said back, “Foresight (mezimah) will protect you, and discernment will guard you” (Proverbs 2:11).


This story is here again because of the juxtaposition of fornication and avodah zarah. Interestingly, the rabbis choose the path that offers greater temptation. The rabbis were not tempted by idol worship and indeed this tractate is not really about idol worship. It is about sharing public space with idolaters. But the sexual urges—well those have not gone away. But when they get to the brothel, the prostitutes run away. And one rabbi seems to have known that they would be protected from sin. This is based on a pun on the verb. “Mezimmah” which I have translated as “foresight” but be read as “from licentiousness.” Thus the verse could be rendered, “you will be protected from licentiousness.”


א”ל רבנן לרבא מאי מזימה?

אילימא תורה דכתיב בה זימה ומתרגמינן עצת חטאין וכתיב (ישעיהו כח, כט) הפליא עצה הגדיל תושיה אי הכי זימה מבעי ליה

ה”ק מדבר זימה תשמור עליך תורה תנצרכה


The rabbis said to Rava: What does the word “mezimmah” mean?  If we render it “Torah” since the word zimmah in Scripture is translated in the Targum, “It is a counsel of the wicked”   and Scripture has the phrase, “Wonderful is His counsel and great His wisdom” (Isaiah 28:29)?  But in that case the word should have been zimmah.

This is what it therefore means, “Against matters of licentiousness (zimmah) she shall watch over you, and discernment will guard against you.”


Here Rava explains why he renders the word “mezimmah” as from or against matters of licentiousness and not Torah. The “mem” in front of the word does not make sense if “mezimmah” is simply Torah.