Sunday, November 02, 2003

Lifnei Eideihen

This past week, I had a discussion with someone about the first mishna and gemara in Avoda Zara which states that it is forbidden to conduct business dealings with idolators 3 days before their festivals. Rashi explains that this is because they will go and thank their idols on the day of the festival. (The idea seems to be that idolatry is a sin, and thus it is forbidden to do anything that would prompt an idolatrous act.)

On the basis of this, Tosafot notes that this should apply to buying and selling as well, and it therefore seems problematic that people do buy and sell on the day of the idolatrous festival.
Tos has a solution, which is assumed by some to be an effort to justify existing practice, rather than say best pshat in the gemara. That is, to be melamed zechut on Jews who do do business on the day of the festival, even if this is not necessarily the simplest reading (rather than saying that the Jews are acting in error). This is interesting in terms of understanding how halacha is decided, and whether one rules lichatchila or bidieved in terms of justifying existing practice versus finding truth in what Chazal meant (which has some obvious impact on the type of stuff I'm doing right now).

Tosafot adds that especially since they have one holy day every week, it would be forbidden always to conduct business with them. He rejects the notion tha, based on a gemara in Chullin, one can say that non-Jews outside of the land of Israel are not true idolators but are merely following their ancestor's customs, for in masechet Avoda Zara, Shmuel says that in exile, only the day of the festival itself is forbidden. Since that day is forbidden, they must be reckoned as doing idolatry, or else there would be no prohibition on the day of the festival itself. Tosafot next suggests that it is so that animosity between Jews and non-Jews is not caused, but thinks this is somewhat difficult because then repaying debts would be permitted, but no animosity would be caused by saying that he is not interested at the moment in buying or selling. He finally decides that it is because the gentiles amongst them do not serve idols, giving examples in the masechet where this was used as a reason to permit business dealings, and then cites a yerushalmi that thats the prohibition is only on a non-Jew he doesn't know, for if the non-Jew knows him, he is insulting him. And Rabeinu Tam says that dealing with them is only in matters that would be brought as an offering, so for example, purchasing an item would not cause it. This is based on whether we decide in the gemara that the reason is lifnei iver (we don't want to lead the non-Jew into sin) or for harvacha that he would have many animals to sacrifice. Tosafot notes on the basis of this that current gentiles do not sacrifice animals but give gifts of money, and they have other money to give anyway, and so one could justify the practice on the basis of that. However, it is better to be stringesnt and refuse to lend money in the specific instance where the non-Jew asks for money specifically so he can go and serve the idol. Check it out inside.

Anyhow, I just read this article:
They allowed more than 6000 Palestinian laborers into Israel to work.

For most Palestinians who are celebrating the monthlong holiday of Ramadan, fasting from dawn to dusk and then holding lavish feasts, the timing could not have been better.

"It is a miracle from God because I was running out of money due to the holy month of Ramadan and I was thinking how I would manage to feed my children in this very bad economic situation," said Mohammed Salman, a 42-year-old construction worker who has seven children.

Look at the above quote closely. It is Ramadan, the Islamic holy month. They spend the day fasting and nights holding lavish feasts. Because of the feasts, they are tight on money. They need money to conduct these lavish feasts. Thus, conducting business with them (by having them work and then paying them) is directly contributing to their religious service. Further, this is being done on the festival day itself. And further, in accordance with Rashi's reason, the interviewee specifically thanked his God.

The generally held Jewish opinion is that Islam is not idolatry since it is monotheistic and worships the God of Avraham, in which case there would be no prohibition associated with allowing them into Israel to work (except for the fact that it increases likelihood of a suicide bomber getting into Israel, and putting Israeli citizens into danger like that may involve its own prohibition). Even so, you can see the specific motivations and sociological observations made in the gemara, Rashi, and Tosafot manifesting themselves here.

(Note: I am not entirely conviced that a monotheistic religion that professes some of the same beliefs as Judaism is not idolatry in Jewish thought. My basis is a midrash which states that the King Menashe, who brought idols into the Temple, also took a sefer Torah and erased every instance of YKVK and Elokim, replacing it with Baal. This was *not a good thing* that he did, and presumably the midrash regarded it as further instance of his idolatry. Yet, the Torah with Baal's name would still say that there is no god but Baal, and have Baal interact with the forefathers, and take the Jews out of Egypt, etc. Obviously there is also different modes of worship involved in Baal. By analogy, Islam has Allah, and claims he is the same as the God of the Hebrews, yet claims the Torah was corrupted and has some false stories, with the Koran and other sources telling the true story and legislating different worship, including the hajj (tossing a stone before Markulis) and Ramadan. The beliefs are different, and the God is different, so perhaps this would render Islam to be idolatry in the eyes of halacha.)

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