Volume 51 Number 90
                    Produced: Wed Apr  5  5:50:05 EDT 2006

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

Avoda Zara, Idolatry and Anger
         [P.V. Viswanath]
Two Dinim in Minyan
         [Chana Luntz]


From: P.V. Viswanath <pviswanath@...>
Date: Apr 3, 2006 11:56 PM
Subject: Avoda Zara, Idolatry and Anger

Meylekh Viswanath, March 26, 2006
(adapted from a droshe given at my daughter's bas mitsve)

In various places, in the rabbinic tradition, we learn about the
destructive effects of anger.  In fact, the Talmud goes much farther.
In Tractate Shabbos, 105b, it says: "one who tears his garments in
anger, one who breaks utensils in anger and one who scatters coins in
anger, it's as if he is guilty of avoda zara.  Moses Maimonides, the
12th century Jewish philosopher, also known as the Rambam, in commenting
on Chapter 2, Mishna 10 in the tractate "Ethics of the Fathers" simply
renders this as "Whoever gets angry, is as one who worships Avoda Zara."

So what is Avoda Zara?  Literally translated, it is "foreign worship,"
but that hardly tells us much.  I would like to offer some thoughts,
this morning, as to what this elusive, yet important, idea is.  It is
well-known that a very important element in Judaism - perhaps the most
important element - is the oneness of God.  I would like to argue is
that Avoda Zara is simply denial of the oneness of God.

The term "avoda zara," however, is often translated as idolatry.  But is
simply making idols to represent the Deity, the essence of the sin of
Avoda Zara?  There are those who make this argument; however I do not
believe that this is correct.  Let us see what the Rambam has to say
about these issues.  In the Moreh Nevukhim, "The Guide to the
Perplexed," section I, chapter 36 (p. 84 in the Pines edition), he
writes regarding one whose beliefs regarding God are incorrect: "he
does not believe that He exists; or believes that there are two gods, or
that He is a body, or that he is subject to affections; or again that he
ascribes to God some deficiency or other.  Such a man is indubitably
more blameworthy than a worshipper of idols who regards the latter as
intermediaries or as having the power to do good or ill."

What we see from here is a person who worse than an idol worshipper -
namely, one who believes that God is subject to affections or passions
or emotions.  I believe the Rambam is describing Avoda Zara, here.  In
other words, there's Avodas Elilim and Avoda Zara - the the person who
erects idols and uses them as intermediaries to God and worships them is
guilty of Avodas Elilim or idolatry; the person who anthropomorphizes
God is guilty of Avoda Zara.

So, what we have then is that Avoda Zara is the denial of the oneness of
God by doing such things as ascribing passions to him and ascribing
human-like characteristics to him, as if God were like Man, only better
in all ways.  Thus, the Rambam cites (in I:59; Pines edition p. 140) R.
Khanina in Berakhos 33b, "(E)ven as regards the first three epithets
(haggadol, haggibor vehannoro in our daily prayer), we could not have
uttered them if Moses our Master had not pronounced them in the Law,"
i.e. in Deuteronomy 10:17.  In other words, according to the Rambam,
"the necessity to address men in such terms as would make them achieve
some representation - (Yevamos 71a) dibra torah bilshon benei odom -
obliged resort to predicating of God their own perfections when speaking
to them.

In other words, Judaism abhors any comparison of the Deity to human
beings even in ascribing positive characteristics to Him.  However, as a
concession to the need to describe him at all, certain such inherently
avoda-zara-like acts are permitted to Jews to a limited extent and
others are prohibited.  Thus, using phrases to describe God, such as
"the great, the powerful, the awesome" are allowed; similarly, calling
him, "our Father, our King" is permitted, but constructing an idol to
describe Him is forbidden.  Thus, verbal symbolism is permitted, but
physical symbolism is forbidden, even though all symbolism is ultimately
"inappropriate."  Some representations of the Deity are permitted but
others are forbidden, lest they bring the person to actual Avoda Zara,
i.e. believing that God is other than He is, absolute and not subject to

One might ask why such distinction was made for the Jews.  I submit that
physical representation was forbidden for Jews because of their history.
We will soon be saying in the Haggada, on Passover night, "In the
beginning, our forefathers were worshippers of Avoda Zara."  The Rambam
says in one of his letters to Ovadyah, the convert (see "Iggerot
haRambam," Shilat, p. 235), "Know, that our fathers who exited Egypt
were largely idolaters while in Egypt, they became assimilated with the
nations and adopted their behavior until the point God commissioned
Moses" Hence it was because of their history that God forbade physical
representation for the Jews; but, out of necessity, He permitted verbal
representation.  An implication of this line of reasoning is that, for
other peoples with other histories, the lines circumscribing permitted
representation of God may well be different - not necessarily stricter
or more lenient - simply different.

So now that we know what Avoda Zara is, let us ask why it is consider
bad.  By bringing the Deity closer to ourselves, by ascribing human
characteristics to him, physical or otherwise, we tread on dangerous
ground.  We bring ourselves closer to believing that He can be
controlled.  We come to believe that we have control over outcomes
because we can manipulate the Deity.  Such thinking brings us close to a
belief in magic.  R. Gidon Rothstein, formerly of the Riverdale Jewish
Center, says in his discussion of Chap. 37 of the Rambam's Guide to the
Perplexed, "In Rambam's explanation, then, the problem with idolatry,
magic, and the ways of the Emorites is that it gives the impression that
there is a supernatural order to which we can appeal in trying to
control events in this world."  R. Rothstein gives the example of feng
shui, which is a belief that one can control outcomes in a non-physical
way by manipulating spirits.

Once we believe that we are in ultimate control, this leads us to
downplay cooperation.  If we can get what we want by ourselves (or by
controlling the Deity), we don't need anybody else's help.  I am sure I
don't have to impress upon anybody here the importance of co-operation
and co-ordination.  Thus, religions that outlaw Avoda Zara pave the way
for cooperation by discouraging the sort of thinking that takes one away
from cooperation.  Hand-in-hand with such indirect support of
cooperation, we also have a multitude of laws in Judaism that work on
the principle of cooperation and community.  Let me give you two
examples - one, environment laws, such as the prohibition on destroying
fruit-bearing trees; and two, the laws requiring communal prayer.

So coming back to our original topic.  Why is anger compared to Avoda
Zara?  Because when the person is angry, he is thinking only of himself.
His needs loom large; he is not thinking about other people.  Thus, when
Akashveyrosh got angry, he forgot all about Vashti and what she meant to
him; all he could think of was the slight to his honor.  Similarly, when
Haman got angry at Mordechai, he was consumed with his own importance
and he was willing to sacrifice an entire people at the altar of his

The musar haskel, clearly is that we should always keep far from anger;
that we should never think that we can do it all by ourselves; that we
always think about our fellow human beings; and that we prize
cooperation for what it is - a characteristic that raises human beings
above animals.


From: Chana Luntz <chana@...>
Date: Tue, 4 Apr 2006 23:19:32 +0100
Subject: Two Dinim in Minyan

 Mark Steiner writes:

> I apparently did not make myself clear in my opinion concerning
> minyan, and I believe that my explanation is in line with classical
> halakha. I'll try once more:

> 0. There is the concept of the rabbis institutionalizing a 
> Torah mitzvah and obligating us to perform it even in 
> circumstances where the Torah does not obligate us.  

Agreed - or setting the time and place to perform the Torah mitzvah (or
even the amount - I have seen quite a bit of discussion on the
relationship of shiurim [amounts] which are generally understood to be
d'rabbanan vis a vis d'orisa obligations such as not eating or drinking
on yom kippur).

> 1. There is a general mitzvah of kiddush hashem, and 
> prohibition of hillul hashem, which goes far beyond the cases 
> or obligatory martyrdom mentioned by Chana. This is clear 
> from the gemara in Yoma where, for example, talmidei hakhamim 
> are required to avoid buying on credit which is for them a 
> hillul hashem. 

Although they are cleraly related, being based on two halves of the same
pasuk (Vayikra 22:32), the concept of chillul hashem and kiddush hashem
are I would have said more generally divided into two separate Torah
obligations: chillul hashem being based on "Do not profane my holy name"
and kiddush hashem being based upon "and I will be sanctified in the
midst of Bnei Yisroel".  For example, the Chinuch treats them as mitzvah
295 (chillul hashem) and 296 (kiddush hashem) - and while he brings for
chillul Hashem concepts like a talmid chacham not buying on credit as
well as obligatory martyrdom, for kiddush hashem, he only brings
obligatory martyrdom (and it is only in the latter discussion does he
bring the concept of ten.)

> 2. In many cases kiddush hashem or hillul hashem is done in 
> public, which is defined as an "edah" (community).  (Note, 
> however, that the Mishnah in Avot speaks of hillul hashem 
> done in secret, a very important topic which I can't go into here.)

In some casese (eg times of war etc) kiddush Hashem also applies in
private see the Chinnuch there.  Do you have a source, however, for the
application of edah to hillul hashem rather than to kiddush hashem?

> 3. What is called in the Mishnah "davar she-bikdusha" 
> (kedusha, kriat hatorah, barkhu) actually is the 
> institutionalizing of kiddush hashem in the liturgy.  The 
> rabbis obligated us during the davening to actually perform 
> the mitzvah of kiddush hashem which is a mitzvah min hatorah.

This is where I think we disagree, and you start to diverge from the
classic sources.  When the Rabbis in the gemora bring a pasuk in
relation to a particular mitzvah, there are two possibilities.  The
first is that they are indeed bringing a d'orisa that they then further
define and institutionalise And the second that the pasuk is an asmuchta
b'alma, and that the halacha is purely d'rabbanan.

Sometimes the rishonim argue as to which it is.  I think in the past I
have discussed on this list the concept of a brocha sheaino tzricha [a
brocha that is not necessary] and whether the reference to the pasuk is
in fact bringing a d'orisa violation or is an asmachta b'alma.  The
Rishonim disagree.  And, to over generalise, the Sephardi poskim have
take the view that it really is a d'orisa violation to make a brocha
that is not necessary, and hence go l'chumra [strictly], and the
Ashkenazi poskim have tended to follow tosphos et al, who hold that it
is an asmachta and hence the violation is d'rabbanan , meaning you can
go l'kula [leniently] in a case of safek [doubt].  This machlokus
[disagreement] leads to a significant number of differences in the
brochas that Ashkenazim and Sephardim say (eg, as we are coming up to
Pesach, do you say two brochas over the cups of wine or four?
Ashkenazim say borei pri hagafen four times at the seder, the Sephardim
only say it twice).

But in the case in question, the Ran states emphatically that the
reference pasuk "vikidashta" and "toch" "toch" in relation to minyan is
an asmachta b'alma, and I am not aware of anybody who disagrees, except
R' Mark Steiner.  In his brief discussion on whether Tephila b'tzibbur
is d'orisa or d'rabbanan in chelek 4, marchet tav, clal 37, the Sde
Chemed after bringing a few achronim that discuss the question,
summarises by saying that even the Rambam who holds that tephila itself
is d'orisa, in any event holds that tephila b'zibbur is d'rabbanan.  And
the Encyclopedia Talmudit, under the heading "dvar shebekedusha" writes
"and the rishonim write that these drashot [to v'kidashti b'toch benei
yisroel as well as to psukim in tehillim] are only an asmachta.

But perhaps directly on point to the matter we are discussing: When the
Rema says in Orech Chaim siman 55 si'if 5 that in order to count a boy
of 13 into a minyan, we do not need in this case [l'inyan zeh] to
investigate whether or not in fact he has got two pubic hairs, but we
can rely on the chazaka [presumption] that he has to allow us to count
him, the Magen Avraham brings in si'if katan 7 (s"v linyan zeh): "the
explanation is since tephila is d'rabbanan", and the l'vushei shared
[further down the page] explains even more clearly on this Magen Avraham
(s"v d'tephila): "that is to say the requirement to have 10 is
d'rabbanan and the gezera shava from the spies that the Taz brings in
si'if katan 1 is only an asmachta".

Counting a 13 year old boy who may or may not have be fully mature under
the d'orisa definition, is not exactly an uncommon occurrance - and it
would seem clear from the Magen Avraham and related commentators that
according to your interpretation, ie if you are not prepared to
acknowledge that minyan is d'rabbanan and we go safek d'rabbanan l'kula
in matters of counting then we could not be counting 13 year old boys
without an investigation into their actual state of adulthood.

> 4. The definition of "edah" for this purpose is nevertheless 
> the same concept as defined in the Torah itself.

> 6. Where there is a doubt here, we have to go lehumra, since 
> the question here is whether the mitzvah of kiddush hashem is 
> being accomplished or not.  The fact that the rabbis 
> instituted the requirement of saying kedusha etc., does not 
> make the matter a safek derabbanan.

The Magen Avraham et al would seem to disagree, if we had an edah
constituted for Torah purposes, then we would have a different attitude
to 13 year old boys and the safek of adulthood that they present.

Rather, while I agree that the aim of every Jew is to live al kiddush
Hashem in the wider sense, I do not think you can, without more, broaden
the d'orisa obligation to everything that a Jew touches or does, nor
apply the d'orisa designation to mitzvos that the Rishonim accept and
acknowledge are d'rabbanans, because they may be linked to a pasuk, even
a pasuk as resonating as that in regard to kiddush Hashem, when the
Rishonim and Achronim clearly states that the link is an asmachta.




End of Volume 51 Issue 90