Thursday, August 26, 2010

Avodah Zarah 11

For Today’s discussion we will be hitting up page eleven of the Gemara.

Onkelos and turning the other cheek.

The Gemara on page eleven opens up with a discussion about a righteous gentile named Onkelos, the son of Kelonimus (it is doubtful whether the Onkelos here is the Onkelos of the Targums). The story of him, which I will tell later, follows on the heels of another long teaching about some other righteous gentiles, Antoninus who was a good friend of Rebbe (R’Yehuda Hanasi). And  the story of Keitah Bar Shallum, who protected the Jewish community against a particularly Caesar who hated the Jews. According to the Gemara, all of these gentiles have a portion in the world to come even if they had not fully converted to Judaism such as the case with Keitah Bar Shallum who merely circumcised himself but failed to fulfill other requirements of conversion. Accordingly when Keith Bar Shallum died he was emitted right away into the world to come:

“A heavenly voice emanated and proclaimed: Keitah bar Shallum is ready for the life of the world to come”. Rebbi wept and said: “There is one who acquires his portion in the world to come in one hour, and there is another who acquires his portion in the world to come only after many years.”

Avodah Zarah 10b.

Now we return to the discussion about Onkelos, the son of Kelonimus.

Onkelos is a convert to Judaism who seems to have an infectious effect on those around him to convert to Judasim. The story goes that the Caesar sent troops after him three times and each time, instead of killing him, they converted. The first time he entices them with words of Torah, the second time with a teaching about the pillar of fire, and the third time with a discussion about the mezuzah on his doorway. After these three times the Caesar gave up. Avodah Zarah 11a

Points to consider:

Much like the teaching of our Rabbi Yeshua in his sermon on the mount to turn the other cheek against those who seek us harm (Matthew 5:39) “But I tell you, do not retaliate against the wicked person, and to the one who strikes you upon the right cheek, turn to him the other as well”.

I believe, in this instance, Onkelos is following the teaching of our Rabbi, albeit unknowingly, by turning the other cheek to the Romans. OK, I have to admit, I highly doubt that even if he did put up a fight he would have been any match for the Roman task force sent against him. Lets face it folks, Jews (unless your in the IDF) aren’t really made for war, but I digress.

So instead of Onkelos turning to violence he turns to words of Torah, thus causing the Romans to pause for just a second and then, according to the story, convert. I believe we can apply this to our lives, and instead of turning to violence, whether with our words or actions, turn to the words of peace and life found in the Bible as Onkelos did.

To avoid with burning or not?

The Gemara now turns to discuss various types of Pagan holidays and the avoidance of the them, and also contact with Pagans on them. The first one mentioned is the birthday of the Emperor. R’ Meir says to stay away from Pagans three days before the emperor's birthday and the day of his death. However the sages say that business is forbidden before the anniversary of the emperor's death only if the death was marked by the burning of his personal articles. Then Comes R’ Meir to say that the burning of articles is not attached to idolatrous rituals.

The Rabbis now proceed to challenge the opinion of R’ Meir by citing that whither burning is involved or not, the ritual of the king’s birthday and death involve Idolatrous activity.

The Gemara now challenges the opinion of the Rabbis in saying that burning of the king's articles is attached to idolatry saying: “We burn for the honor of Jewish Kings, and this not one of the ways of the Amorite. Now, if it (burning a king's articles) is an idolatrous ritual, how could we burn the articles of a Jewish king? Why, it is written, "And you shall not follow their rituals!”

After this the Gemara reverts to the burning of kings' articles to not be attached to idolatrous ritual. But merely a display of the importance of the king. However the Rabbis and R’ Meir continue to disagree over which days to avoid contact with pagans the Rabbis maintain to avoid contact only when they burn the king's articles and R’ Meir maintains to avoid them whether or not there is burning involved.

Points to consider

Who would you side with? R’ Meir on the side of caution, or the sages on the less cautious side? Why?

Which one makes more sense?

Festive days of Pagans and Romans 14.

Before page eleven ends it states something very interesting that caught my eye and reminded me of something I have read in Pauline writings. See if you can dictate what I caught. The Gemara says.

Shmuel said, "In the Diaspora it is forbidden to do business with idolaters only on the festival itself." The Gemara questions whether this is forbidden: And the festival is forbidden? But Rav Yehudah allowed Rav Beruna to sell wine to pagans, and Rav Gidal to sell wheat to pagans on the festival of Merchants. The Gemara answers that it is different because it is not a fixed day. However, this reminded me of Romans 14 when Paul talks about one day being above the other and some keeping them as unto the Lord and others treating them as common. Paul could be addressing these types of concerns here, or he might not be, the language just has me thinking.

Points to consider

Would you feel comfortable having contact with Pagans on their festivals? Keep the words of Paul in Romans 14, and 1 Corinthians 8-10 in mind. Do you think there is any connection here between the words of Paul and the Sages? Yes? No? how so?

Over all I think this is a good start to a world of discovery! Remember there are no wrong answers!

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