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Avodah Zarah, Daf Yod Zayin, Part 6
Reading for Friday, October 13

Avodah Zarah 17-6



Elazar has escaped. The story now continues with the trial of R. Hanina b. Tradion, who we know will not.


אתיוהו לרבי חנינא בן תרדיון. אמרו ליה אמאי קא עסקת באורייתא? אמר להו כאשר צוני ה’ אלהי.

מיד גזרו עליו לשריפה ועל אשתו להריגה ועל בתו לישב בקובה של זונות.


They then brought up R. Hanina b. Tradion and asked him, “Why have you occupied yourself with the Torah?”  

He replied, “This is what the Lord my God commanded me.” At once they sentenced him to be burned, his wife to be killed, and his daughter to be sent to a brothel.


Note the very different reaction that R. Hanina has to his accusers. Whereas R. Elazar consistently lied and thereby avoided martyrdom, R. Hanina willingly admits to his violation of Roman law and testifies that this is what he believes that God wants him to do. He seems to relish his opportunity to be executed. In reality, R. Hanina is not martyred because he only occupied himself with Torah and not with gemilut hasadim. He is martyred because he does not take the opportunity to avoid it.


עליו לשריפה שהיה הוגה את השם באותיותיו.

והיכי עביד הכי? והתנן אלו שאין להם חלק לעולם הבא האומר אין תורה מן השמים ואין תחיית המתים מן התורה. אבא שאול אומר אף ההוגה את השם באותיותיו.

להתלמד עבד כדתניא (דברים יח, ט) לא תלמד לעשות אבל אתה למד להבין ולהורות.

אלא מאי טעמא אענש? משום הוגה את השם בפרהסיא


He was sentenced to be burned because he ronounced the Name in its full spelling.

 But how could he do so? Have we not learned: The following have no portion in the world to come: He who says that the Torah is not from Heaven, or that the resurrection of the dead is not taught in the Torah. Abba Shaul says: Also he who pronounces the Name in its full spelling? He did it in order to practice, as we have learned: “You shall not learn to do” (Deuteronomy 18:9). But you may learn [about them] in order to understand and to teach.

Why then was he punished? — Because he was pronouncing the Name in public.


The Talmud tries to find sins that would explain why R. Hanina was executed. Note that this is “overexplaining”—the Talmud explained earlier that he dies because he did not engage in gemilut hasadim.

Hanina is accused of pronouncing God’s name according to its letters. But then the Talmud explains that he only did so in order to practice or understand, but not for magical purposes. Nevertheless, he was punished for pronouncing God’s name in public.


דהוי ועל אשתו להריגה דלא מיחה ביה מכאן אמרו כל מי שיש בידו למחות ואינו מוחה נענש עליו.


His wife was punished by being slain, because she did not protest against him. From here they said: Anyone who has the power to prevent [one from doing wrong] and does not prevent, is punished for him.


Hanina’s wife was punished for not stopping R. Hanina from pronouncing God’s name in public. Pretty harsh punishment.


ועל בתו לישב בקובה של זונות דאמר ר’ יוחנן פעם אחת היתה בתו מהלכת לפני גדולי רומי.

אמרו כמה נאות פסיעותיה של ריבה זו? מיד דקדקה בפסיעותיה והיינו דאמר ר’ שמעון בן לקיש מאי דכתיב (תהלים מט, ו) עון עקבי יסבני עונות שאדם דש בעקביו בעולם הזה מסובין לו ליום הדין


His daughter was consigned to a brothel, as R. Yohanan said that once his daughter was walking in front of some great men of Rome. They remarked, “How beautiful are the steps of this maiden!” Immediately she took particular care of her step. And this accords with what Resh Lakish said: What is the meaning of the verse, “The sin of my heel encompasses me” (Psalms 49:6). Sins which one treads under one’s heels in this world encompass him on the Day of Judgment.


The Talmud searches for a sin for which R. Hanina’s daughter is punished as well. Note, the Talmud is not satisfied with saying that his wife and daughter are punished in order to punish him. This might make sense as a simple reading of the story but does not match the rabbinic understanding of God’s justice and power. Rather, they are punished for their own sins. His daughter’s sin was as minor as taking delight in the attention the Roman men paid to her.


בשעה שיצאו שלשתן צדקו עליהם את הדין. הוא אמר (דברים לב, ד) “הצור תמים פעלו” [וגו’] ואשתו אמרה (דברים לב, ד) “אל אמונה ואין עול” בתו אמרה (ירמיהו לב, יט) “גדול העצה ורב העליליה אשר עיניך פקוחות על כל דרכי” וגו’

אמר רבי [כמה] גדולים צדיקים הללו שנזדמנו להן שלש מקראות של צדוק הדין בשעת צדוק הדין


As the three of them went out [from the tribunal] they declared the righteousness of the judgment. He quoted, “The Rock, His work is perfect; for all his ways are justice” (Deuteronomy 32:4). His wife continued: “A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and right is He” (ibid). And the daughter quoted: “Great in counsel and mighty in work, whose eyes are open upon all the ways of the sons of men, to give everyone according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doing” (Jeremiah 32:19).

Rabbi said: How great were these righteous ones, in that the three passages, expressing the righteousness of judgment, readily occurred to them just at the appropriate time for the declaration of such righteousness.


This is what martyrdom in the ancient world was all about. Going to one’s death and still maintaining faith in the justice of God. It was a form of “testimony” to the outside world of the greatness of the God of the martyr. Again, I should emphasize that some stories in the Talmud celebrate the martyr, but some do not.

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