Wednesday, June 29, 2005

On the permissibility of circuses

Please Note: I reworked the material in this post, and added much more, at this post: On the permissibility of circuses, take 2.

Update: I'd like to thank Ploni Almoni for his insightful comments. I was wrong on several counts in my initial assessment, since I was lazy and did not look at the gemara inside. I still think that I am correct in the main, and that circuses are not modern circuses. I categorized circuses as places of gladiatorial combat. Indeed, they are primarily places of horse racing, but they offered other forms of entertainment offered as well, including gladiatorial combat involving men and beasts. I also offer an analysis of the gemara from an academic point of view. This (what I consider) careful reading of the gemara was prompted by Ploni's challenges, such that I felt I should treat it in some detail. I finally come to a (totally theoretical, not to be taken halacha limaaseh) conclusion. Please read the comments.

From the very end of the second perek of masechet Shabbat, on Shabbat daf 36a-b (Soncino translation):
For R. Hisda said: The following three things reversed their designations after the destruction of the Temple: [i] trumpet [changed to] shofar, and shofar to trumpet. What is the practical bearing thereof? in respect of the shofar [blown] on New Year. [ii] 'Arabah [willow] [changed to] zafzafah and zafzafah to 'Arabah. What is the practical bearing thereof? — In respect of the lulab [iii] Pathora [changed to] pathorta and pathorta to Pathora. What is the practical bearing thereof? — In respect of buying and selling. Abaye observed: We too can state: Hoblila [changed to] be kasse and be kasse to hoblila. What is the practical bearing thereof? In respect of a needle which is found in the thickness of the beth hakosoth, which if [found] on one side, it [the animal] is fit [for food]; if through both sides, it [the animal] is terefah. R. Ashi said, We too will state: Babylon [changed to] Borsif and Borsif to Babylon
Terminology is important, and terminology changes over time. Which is why R' Gil at Hirhurim, and others who wonder at this, make a tremendous mistake when equating modern circuses with ancient ones.

Rabbi Gil Student cites Avodah Zarah 18b (Soncino translation):
Our Rabbis taught: One should not go to theaters or circuses because entertainments are arranged there in honor of the idols. This is the opinion of R. Meir. But the Sages say: Where such entertainments are given there is the prohibition of being suspected of idolatrous worship, and where such entertainment is not given the prohibition is because of being in 'the seat of the scornful.'

And then applies it without comment to modern circuses. However, this was not the ancient definition of circus, just as the definition of zafzafah changed. An ancient circus involved gladiators, and animals fighting one another. {Update: An ancient circus involved events such as chariot racing as well as violent events such as "gladiatorial combats, spectacles in which bloodshed and brutality were not uncommon."}

In fact, there is a Midrash Rabba on Vayikra, parasha 13, that I saw several months ago that spoke of the reward for the righteous in the world to come. For not attending the ancient circuses Kanigin {animal fights}, God will reward them by making a circus Kanigin for them involving gladiatorial combat between the Leviathan and the Behemoth, and they will then eat of the flesh of these animals. In fact, I believe R' Gil referred to this midrash a while back when discussing the Rambam, and the immutability of the mitzvot, in terms of the question how they could eat the flesh of the Behemoth when it had been slain in a non-kosher manner by the Leviathan! (This midrash is strange to understand - why would tzadikim take pleasure in such violence - it it likely meant metaphorically.)
{Update: I originally remembered this as circuses, but as Ploni pointed out, it just mentions Kanigin. However, this is a good sample of the type of brutal entertainments the Romans enjoyed, and which, we shall see in a moment, was present as well at ancient circuses, accompanying the chariot races.}

When Chazal referred to כרקום קרקסיאות, It was not clowns, tightrope acrobats, trained lions doing tricks, etc.. Rather, it was a brutal and bloody performance for a brutal and bloody mob. {Update: This I feel is still true, even though chariot races happened as well.} This, it makes sense, is a moshav leitzim, seat of scorners.

But you need not turn to the midrash for this definition. Go to for the word "circus," and note that they cite the American Heritage Dictionary, which gives the following note:
Word History: The modern circus owes its name, but fortunately not its regular program of events, to the amusements of ancient times. The Latin word circus, which comes from the Greek word kirkos, “circle, ring,” referred to a circular or oval area enclosed by rows of seats for spectators. In the center ring, so to speak, was held a variety of events, including chariot races and gladiatorial combats, spectacles in which bloodshed and brutality were not uncommon. The first use of circus recorded in English, in a work by Chaucer written around 1380, probably refers to the Circus Maximus in Rome. Our modern circus, which dates to the end of the 18th century, was originally an equestrian spectacle as well, but the trick riders were soon joined in the ring by such performers as ropedancers, acrobats, and jugglers. Even though the circular shape of the arena and the equestrian nature of some of the performances are carried over from its Roman namesake, the modern circus has little connection with its brutal namesake of long ago.

Update: Do not miss the discussion in the comments, and my eventual explanation of the gemara! And please comment!

Update: Anonymous, in a comment, pointed me toward Tertullian's On Spectacles. It is worthwhile reading in order to really understand the gemara - what it means when it refers to idolatry in terms of the (perhaps dramatic) theater and the chariot races at the circus, what is meant by gladiatory contest, and other spectacles involved.

Other gems from On Spectacles: First, Tertullian speaks of an amphitheather, which according to (from American Heritage Dictionary):
[Middle English amphitheatre, from Latin amphithetrum, from Greek amphithetron : amphi-, amphi- + thetron, theater; see theater.]
refers to "An arena where contests and spectacles are held," and this is how Tertullian uses it. So when I mentioned in the comments that we do not necessarily know what is meant by "theater," this might be what they refer to.

Particularly check out chapter 3, where he gives a similar drash on the first pasuk in Tehillim, labelling it as a drash, as a level on top of pshat, even as he gets the "pshat" entirely wrong. Short citation:

Moreover, the other details also fit in well. For at the spectacles there is both sitting 'in the chair' (in cathedra) and standing 'in the way' (in via). For 'ways' (viae) they term both the gangways that run round the girding walls and the aisles that slope down the incline and divide the seats of the populace; in like manner is the very place for chairs in the curving gallery called 'chair' (cathedra).

Update: Indeed, on the theater count, Rashi appears to endorse the coliseum/amphitheater approach, over the dramatic theater approach. He says it is a palatin, and a gathering for sechok and latzon. This seems like the spectacles are being held in them. If so, this is a far cry from modern movie theaters.

Update: Please note, I have a new post on the subject, which is perhaps more comprehensive and hopefully more true. It is available here


Anonymous said...

According to Wikipedia,the circuses were primarily for chariot races. See
& The gladiatorial combats took place in the amphitheters, perhaps referred to in the Talmud as stadiums.Secondly, I find it difficult to say that only acts of cruelty is called Letzonus.Thirdly, how do you explain the prohibition of theaters? Fourthly, the SA OC 307:16 clearly includes all forms of entertainment which have no intrinsic value in this category as he prohibits reading novels. The same goes for the MA who prohibits the Purim plays.

Anonymous said...

Fifthly,your proof from the Midrash about the gladiatorial combat between the Leviathan and the Behemoth is not relevant because the Midrash which is a Yalkut Shimoni in Parshas Shimini does not use the word circus,but rather uses the word Kinegyon which refers to contests of wild beasts.

joshwaxman said...

Firstly, thanks for commenting. I get lonely here.

You make some interesting points, and I will assay to to address them.

Firstly, in a contest between Wikipedia and American Heritage Dictionary, the latter wins. The dictionary is put together by people who have done the research and are scholars on the subject. Wikipedia is put together by people with plenty of time on their hands, but are not necessarily such. See the recent review of some articles by an Encyclopedia Britannica editor, about the numerous mistakes and inconsistencies in the Wikipedia articles he reviewed.

This is not to say Wikipedia is wrong here. In fact, I am about to say it is correct. After all, even the American Heritage dictionary mentions chariot races: "In the center ring, so to speak, was held a variety of events, including *chariot races* and gladiatorial combats, spectacles in which bloodshed and brutality were not uncommon."

Which brings us to point two. The Wikipedia article you cite is about Circus Maximus. But the American Heritage Dictionary mentions explicitly that gladiator contests were held in what were called circuses. Again, it also states chariot races. Perhaps in these specific circuses there was racing, and perhaps racing was a big part, but there definitely existed circuses that involved bloody displays.

The suggestion that stadiums are where the gladiator contests were held seems to me unsupported. Indeed,, again citing American Heritage dictionary, states that this was an ancient Greek *racetrack*:

"A course on which foot races were held in ancient Greece, usually semicircular and having tiers of seats for spectators."

"Middle English, unit of length, from Latin, from Greek stadion, perhaps alteration (influenced by stadios, firm), of spadion, racetrack from spn, to pull.]"

So stadium seems much less likely that the explicitly given circus.

to be continued in a later comment...

joshwaxman said...

Now, if both these bloody contests and these races took place in circuses, it is not trivial to dismiss the gladiator aspect of it. Indeed, if I am right about the midrash - more on this later - I know you have a "fifthly" - it seems Chazal were explicitly thinking about the animal brutality aspect. If this is indeed what they get credit for missing and thus win a middah kineged middah, that the fact that races also happened there - even if races were a major component - is inconsequential.

Point three (your point two): You find it difficult to think that "only acts of cruelty are called Leitzonut." I never claimed that. I did claim that in context, it makes a lot of sense that this is the Leitzanut that Chazal were referring to.

See, just as "circus" and "zafzafah" have had their meanings changed, so has "Leitzanut." In the Biblical sense, it means a scoffer or scorner - one who has a bad or negative attitude towards serious, holy things. It can involve joking, but joking by insinuation of bad things. Chazal take it in this negative sense, and also have the idea that any gathering at which they do not discuss Torah is called this negative "moshav leitzim" - but this is a drasha emphasizing the importance of saying Torah - a metaphorical exaggeration, just as saying that if a group eats and do not mention Torah, it is as if they ate of idolatrous offerings. They did not *actually* eat of idolatrous offerings, but it is as if.
In the modern sense, a Letz is a joker, who does not take things seriously, but I do not think it is the Biblical or Rabbinic "Letz."

I believe it stands to reason that in labeling a gathering as a gathering of scoffers/scorners, the brayta is trying to emphasize a negative attitude and character of the people willing to be such spectators. Just watching mindless entertainment, such as chariot racing, does not strike me as a Letz, except in the more modern sense. (Yes, one could argue from the moshav leitzim from Pirkei Avot, but I believe that to be atypical.)

Anonymous said...

The reason I believe that the stadiums of the Gemara are the site of the Gladiator contests is because the Gemara cites the opinion Of Rabbi Noson that it is permitted to attend the stadiums because one may be able to save the life of a Jew & if necessary to testify that the person was killed, so that his wife may remarry. See Rashi there. This fits very
well with the gladitorial contests where the public had some input in saving the life of a gladiator. It does not fit with it being a racetrack.

joshwaxman said...

Point four (your point three) about theaters:

First, I was just objecting to the seeming automatic jump from ancient circus to modern circus. Theater is tangential, except for its implication of wasteful diversion, which would then include modern theater and modern circuses.

However, theater is also an ancient word, and does not necessarily mean the same that it means today. We must understand what went on in those ancient theaters.

Further, an ancient theater was not necessarily only for plays. Again citing American Heritage Dictionary, cited at, the word history of theater:

[Middle English theatre, from Old French, from Latin thetrum, from Greek thetron, from thesthai, to watch, from the, a viewing.]

Word History: Theories about the development of the theater in the West generally begin with Greek drama; this is etymologically appropriate as well as historically correct, since the words theory and theater are related through their Greek sources. The Greek ancestor of theater is thetron, “a place for seeing, especially for dramatic representation, theater.” Thetron is derived from the verb thesthai, “to gaze at, contemplate, view as spectators, especially in the theater,” from the, “a viewing.” The Greek ancestor of theory is theri, which meant among other things “the sending of theroi (state ambassadors sent to consult oracles or attend games),” “the act of being a spectator at the theater or games,” “viewing,” “contemplation by the mind,” and “theory or speculation.” The source of theri is theros, “an envoy sent to consult an oracle, spectator,” a compound of the, “viewing,” and -oros, “seeing.” It is thus fitting to elaborate theories about culture while seeing a play in a theater.

to be continued...

Anonymous said...

See also Soncino Talmud in the footnote 3 & 8 which say that the stadium is where the gladitorial contests took place.
You actually have four different terms in the Gemara AZ.
4.Kinigyon which Rashi explains as a hunt of animals using dogs.

I don't at least yet see your point about the meaning of theater. Are you trying to say there was something pernicious in their theaters which is absent in our theaters?

joshwaxman said...

Note firstly while "The Greek ancestor of theater is thetron, “a place for seeing, especially for dramatic representation, theater,”" it is not necessarily so. As it later states, "The Greek ancestor of theory is theri, which meant among other things “the sending of theroi (state ambassadors sent to consult oracles or attend games),” “the act of being a spectator at the theater or *games*.”

Also, we need to know fully what went on in those theaters, even if the primary activity was a play. Plus, what was the nature of these plays?

joshwaxman said...

You could add to your example of stadium Bava Kamma 39a, about the Shor HaItztadin, in which case it certainly is speaking of animals trained to kill.

Anonymous said...

I forgot about a fifth term used there.
That is Karkum which seems to mean some kind of military camp.It does not mean circuses as you wrote. Rashi explains on both Karkum & theaters that they peform "Sechok & Letzonis". It seems to me that he just means entertainment.

joshwaxman said...

You make several good points, and you may be right, but I don've have time to address them all right now. Gotta go to sleep soon. Yasher Koach!

joshwaxman said...

looking for my CD for midrash rabba right now so can conduct a search. more later.

joshwaxman said...

Can't find it. In the meantime, let me continue pigheadedly.

Point 5 (your point 4): bringing a proof from Rav Yosef Karo (1488-1575), or the Magen Avraham (1637-1683) as proof to the meaning of "circus" in the time of Chazal is weak. Except of course that they know all the relevant gemaras and sources. But they may have merely been familiar with the circus in the sense of the races. After all, "the first use of circus recorded in English, in a work by Chaucer written around 1380, probably refers to the Circus Maximus in Rome."

joshwaxman said...

In terms of point five, I want to see the source I saw before. I don't think it was the Yalkut Shimoni, which after all is a Yalkut. Since I got a nice Midrash Rabba set two years ago at the YU seforim sale, I made it a practice to try to keep up with the midrash rabba on the parsha, and I recall reading it there. (I don't typically learn through Yalkut Shimoni.) And I recall (but perhaps I recall this incorrectly) seeing something, perhaps in the main text, perhaps in one of the commentaries, something that said circus.

joshwaxman said...

Good catch on the karkom, and I was wrong to identify it with circus, but it is wrong to identify it only as a military camp. Read on!

Now, let us turn to some of the terms, as they occur in the gemara. Firstly, stadium and karqom (variant in the Rif: karkom):
To cite the first time it occurs: Those who visit stadiums or a camp and witness there [the performance] of sorcerers and enchanters, or of bukion and mukion, lulion and mulion, blurin or salgurin — lo, this is 'the seat of the scornful,' and against those [who visit them] Scripture says, Happy is the man that hath not walked in the counsel of the wicked … nor sat in the seat of the scornful, but his delight is in the law of the Lord. From here you can infer that those things cause one to neglect the Torah.

So the first thing to note is that, at least the way I would parse it, *both* stadium and karkom are places you witness all these things. While Rashi makes a distinction and states that a stadium is a place of oxen goring and the karkom is the place of all these things, it seems that these things happen in both a stadium and a karkom.

What this tells me is that there is overlap. Many things happen in a karkom, and many things happen in a stadium. That these performers perform in a stadium does not mean that they do not also have ox-goring in a stadium. Indeed, in antiquity they seemed to have multiple types of entertainment - if the American Heritage Dictionary is to be believed.

Now, this would also mean that just because a type of entertainment occurs in a stadium does not mean it, or a similar type of entertainment, does not occur in some other place. After all, all these things - the "sorcerers and enchanters, or of bukion and mukion, lulion and mulion, blurin or salgurin" occur in both the stadium and karkom. Is it really farfetched to imagine that the same violent activity could occur in both a stadium and a circus?

Another thing to derive from here: Two of the items mentioned here are bukion and mukion. Jastrow traces the Greek and identifies bucco the clown in the Atellanae Fabulaei of the Romans. He traces mukion to Maccus, a buffoon in Roman faces. So here we actually have real entertainment, in something parallel to what we have today. For convenience, citing Soncino:
"Names given to various performers and performances. [Krauss, op. cit. III, 120, gives the Latin equivalent: bucco, pappus, maccus, morio (kinds of clowns), ludio (mimic), burrae (drolleries), scurrae (buffoons).]"

And note where it is mentioned. Not in terms of circus, but in terms of stadium and karkom!

Indeed, the Ran identified karkom as a place where they are building a building of frivolty, like a fortress.

If R' Gil wanted an effective source for modern circuses, he could have done well to cite this brayta!

Indeed, if you look in the Rif (daf 5b in the Rif), you will see that he cites this brayta about stadiums and karkom, and *omits* the one about circuses and theaters. At least here. Perhaps he mentions it elsewhere (don;t currently have search functionality), but he should have mentioned it here. (Certainly others - such as even the Magen Avraham cited by R' Gil brings down about circuses and theaters, but it is not brought down in the Rif.)

joshwaxman said...

Because I cannot leave well enough alone, I will also point out that this statement From here you can infer that those things cause one to neglect the Torah. cited above is the stama degemara, making an elaboration for the purpose of then stating ureminhu. So the idea of it causing bitul Torah is not in the brayta itself.

joshwaxman said...

The next brayta is posed by the gemara as a contradiction to the first:

It is permitted to go to stadiums, because by shouting one may save [the victim]. One is also permitted to go to a karkom for the purpose of maintaining order in the country, providing he does not conspire [with the Romans], but for the purpose of conspiring it is forbidden.

We see here a very different picture of stadium and karkom. Here, a stadium has violent acts. Someone might get killed. And a karkom has people conspiring with Romans!

This is a far cry from the stadium and karkom with magicians and clowns!

As I said before, this shows that stadium, karkom, circus, etc., have many things that happen in them, and some of them may be objectionable.

Indeed, I will now dismiss out of hand the stama degemara's assertion on the first brayta: "From here you can infer that those things cause one to neglect the Torah."

That is not the problem here. The problem with the stadium is the violence, and the problem with the karkum is with the possible conspiring with Romans. Indeed, "Happy is the man that hath not walked in the counsel of the wicked" may be the part of the verse that refers to karkom, while "nor sat in the seat of the scornful"
might refer to the violence in the stadium.

The first brayta is then teaching us a major chiddush. Namely, even if one goes to a stadium for an innocuous reason - to see the magic tricks and buffoons - which one might think would be permissible, it is still forbidden. Why? The brayta does not say because it is obvious, and the stama degemara, sufficiently distant from the brayta, does not intuit the reason.

That reason is that while these particular entertainments are innocuous, and he is going to be leaving so as not to to witness the violence, and has no intention of collaborating with the Romans, still, the people who go there - the company present - are the crowd that watches gory contests between beast and beast, beast an man, etc., and ones that collaborate with Romans. Thus, they constitute a moshav leitzim.

joshwaxman said...

Thus, the reason for the first brayta is not because entertainment from magicians and buffoons cause neglect of Torah study, but rather because the environment is poisoned because of the other activities that go on there (violence and collaboration).

What about that second brayta? It certainly does contradict the first!

The brayta again:

It is permitted to go to stadiums, because by shouting one may save [the victim]. One is also permitted to go to a camp for the purpose of maintaining order in the country, providing he does not conspire [with the Romans], but for the purpose of conspiring it is forbidden.

That is, not only is it permitted to go to stadiums when innocuous activities are going on - it is even permitted to go when violence is going on!

In terms of stadiums, the stama degamara answers (by citing a brayta) that it is according to Rabbi Natan who permits for two reasons: "first, because by shouting one may save [the victim], secondly, because one might be able to give evidence [of death] for the wife [of a victim] and so enable her to remarry."
Meanwhile, the Tanna Kamma would forbid even when the violence is going on.

I would posit that in fact it is not KiTannai. When do they have the dispute? When violence is going on, and he has opportunity to save the (human) victim and give evidence for the victim's wife. Then, this is surely Moshav Leitzim, since they are a bloodthirsty crowd. And so the Tanna Kamma forbids. And Rabbi Natan permits because of the tremendous potential to do good in the case of pikuach nefesh or aguna.

However, the first brayta is when there is no violence going on, and so there is no chance to do good. In such a case, since it is a bloodthirsty crowd, even Rabbi Natan would agree that it is Moshav Leitzim and should be forbidden.

Now let us turn to the karkom issue in the second brayta. Again:

One is also permitted to go to a karkom for the purpose of maintaining order in the country, providing he does not conspire [with the Romans], but for the purpose of conspiring it is forbidden.

Let us contrast with the previous brayta. In truth, going for sheer amusement of magicians and buffoons is forbidden, but not because the amusement is forbidden. It is because one sits amongst conspirers.

This brayta now seems to say that only if one is actually conspiring is it forbidden. This would imply that if one goes for another reason - namely, for the purpose of maintaining order in the country, or in the previous brayta, to be amused, but is not going to conspire, it would be permitted! Thus, the two brayata contradict one another!

The answer, to my mind, is that indeed, because conspirators with the Romans are are there, it has a status of "counsel of the wicked" (or perhaps "seat of scorners"). However, the second brayta is saying that if there is an overriding reason to go, it will trump the "counsel of the wicked/seat of scorners" issue. Indeed, the first half of the brayta is about being allowed to go to a stadium because you may save someone - an overarching need tha trumps moshav leitzim.

So, the two brayata are not contradictory. The first talks about going for mere amusement, and not "for the purpose of maintaining order in the country." In such a case, there is an issue of "counsel of the wicked/ seat of scorners." However, when one's concern is maintaining order, this issue falls by the wayside.

joshwaxman said...

Let us now turn to the brayta that was at issue in the first place:

Our Rabbis taught: One should not go to theatres or circuses because entertainments are arranged there in honour of the idols. This is the opinion of R. Meir.
But the Sages say: Where such entertainments are given there is the prohibition of being suspected of idolatrous worship, and where such entertainment is not given. the prohibition is because of being in 'the seat of the scornful'.

And the gemara cites someone who declares a distinction between the two, since in any case, both according to Rabbi Meir and the Chachamim, one would be forbidden in all instances of going there:

What is the difference between these two reasons? Said R. Hanina of Sura: There is a difference in the case of calling to do business.

According to Rabbi Meir's explanation, the reason is that they do things for idols, and benefit would be had if one did business, and so it would be forbidden. Meanwhile, since one does not sit with the scorners in order to do business, it would be permitted.

Alternatively - my own suggestion, which I prefer - the reverse. Since he is only going to do business, Rabbi Meir would permit, since he is not having any benefit from Avoda Zara. The Chachamim are adding another reason where Avodah Zara is not present, for the purpose of being more stringent. That is, by conducting business there, he is associating with scorners! And that is forbidden even if you are not engaging in the activity labelled scorn. This fits rather neatly with the idea I developed earlier, that the first brayta was forbidding otherwise permitted activity, since it is done in the company of scorners. Apparently, Rav Chanina MiSura recognized this as well.

joshwaxman said...

Why are circuses and theaters to be forbidden? I would posit that if we say it is because of Moshav Leitzim, it is for the same reason as for stadiums and karkomim. That is, because they had violent activities happen there besides the main event.

And here, I will even agree to Ploni that the main event of the circus was racing. Still, we know that gladiatory combat, and animal fights, happened there as well. (See American Heritage Dictionary). These fights happened in multiple venues - stadium and circus, and perhaps theater as well. Thus, these are transformed into Moshav Leitzim.

This is of the same thought behind the forbidding of stadiums even if one is going to see the magicians and buffoons.

However, if nothing violent or evil happens on occassion in the circus or theater, we would expect it to be permitted. After all, the only reason watching magicians and buffoons in the stadium and karkom were forbidden was because of other activities!

One final source: Rabbi Shimon ben Pazi (an Amora):

R. Simeon b. Pazi expounded [that verse as follows]: 'Happy is the man that hath not walked' — i.e., to theatres and circuses of idolaters 'nor stood in the way of sinners' — that is he who does not attend contests of wild beasts; 'nor sat in the seat of the scornful' — that is he who does not participate in [evil] plannings. And lest one say, 'Since I do not go to theatres or circuses nor attend contests of wild animals, I will go and indulge in sleep.' Scripture therefore continues, 'And in His Law doth He meditate day and night.'

I would explain as follows. He divides up the various things one should not attend, and bases them on psukim. Since he has nothing to do, perhaps he should go to sleep? The answer is: no - use the time to study.

I would further posit that he is actually listing the four activities mentioned earlier. Circus and theater are explicit. But the latter two he mentions based on activity rather that place of venue: Instead of stadium, we get "attend contests of wild beasts," which is the basic thing that happens in a stadium. And instead of karkom, we get "participate in [evil] plannings," in other words conspiring with the Romans, which is a basic thing that happens in the karkom.

joshwaxman said...

Now, I will pretend to rule on the basis of the above, though I should make clear I am not speaking halacha limaaseh:

Our modern day circus is a place of mere entertainment. It is not dedicated to idolatry, and no violence of conspiring happens there.

Therefore, based on the first brayta about stadium and karkom, one is only forbidden from going to a place for pure enjoyment if at other times there is violence and conspiracy, which would transform it into a Moshav Leitzim. Since our modern circuses are not such places, it is permitted to attend them.

In terms of ancient circuses and theaters, these were places of idolatry, which modern circuses are not. So the single reason of Rabbi Meir, and half the reason of the Chachamim, do not apply.

The second half of the Chachamim's reasoning was that they are Moshav Leitzim. We know why they might be termed such - because a minor part of the performance it brutal. (We know this only for certain in the case of a circus, but if it is so for a circus, we may extrapolate to the theater.) This is not applicable to today's circuses and theaters.

Thus, it is permissible to attend.

Finally, I still desire to trace down that midrash, because it might be different from the Yalkut Shimoni.

Anonymous said...

"For not attending the ancient circuses, God will reward [the righteous in the world to come] by making a circus for them involving gladiatorial combat between the Leviathan and the Behemoth..." This sounds lhavdil like a kinder version of the reason the Christian Father Tertullian gave in his _On Spectacles_ that his coreligionists shouldn't go to the Roman circus. If they did they might be damned to Christian hell for eternity, but if they didn't and escaped damnation and went on to paradise they would enjoy the ultimate (for Tertulian) in spectacles, the torture of the damned in hell. Gives you a feel for the sort
of spectacle people in the Roman empire expected from the circus, I think. It wasn't trapeze acts and clowns that concerned Chazal. but bloodsport and Tzaar Baalei Chaim .

joshwaxman said...

thanks - a very interesting source.

I should add something to my previous analysis. One obvious issue is that in the first brayta they use the prooftext of moshav leitzim in relation to two arenas issue that featured buffoons. This would *seem* to imply the issue was the buffoonery, and waste of time. However, we see this issue fall by the wayside, since in the second brayta regarding karkom, since the only issue is if one will come to collaborate with the Romans. If yes, it is a problem, but if not, it is permitted.

Anonymous said...

Nice creative analysis of the Gemara, but I am not ready to agree with you for several reasons. However, I will agree with you that there was overlap in the type of performances done in each place.
I am not willing to accept that the Gemara misunderstood the Beraisos based on flimsy evidence & to therefore argue with the Gemara's & poskim's understanding. Secondly,your assertion that "From here you can infer that those things cause one to neglect the Torah" was not part of the Beraiso is incorrect because it is stated in the Tosefta Chapter2. Thirdly, I am not willing to create an idea that is not anywhere in the sources,namely that the whole concern of the Beraisos was cruelty. It is more reasonable to equate these passages with the Mishna in Avos that 2 people sitting together with no Torah discussion is a Moshav Letzim. It does not say like a Moshav Letzim, but an actual one. Fourthly, even according to your analysis theaters & circuses could be equated to the Roman
ones because of the Pretzus which is usually or sometimes present,which would make it a bad environment.

Anonymous said...

Regarding my 3'rd argument that the objection to the cruelty is not mentioned in the sources, I take that back because in Tosefta 2:7 it says that one who sits at an "Astatrton" is a murderer. Bach emends our Gemara which says the problem with stadiums is Moshav Letzim, to read that thay are murderers.
The Yerushalmi also says that is the problems with stadiums. This could mean that one who attends is encouraging these activities & is considered like an accessory. However,although your thesis gains some credibility,there is still no direct mention of the concept that a place which sometimes has bad activities or if the people present sometimes engage in bad activities, it automatically becomes a Moshav Letzim.
BTW,the Artsroll Gemara understands the Ran as holding that a Karkom is a circus, as you originally suggseted.

joshwaxman said...

I have a response, but it is going to be somewhat long, and today am preoccupied with various others things that need be taken care of.


joshwaxman said...

First, in terms of the Tosefta, you are correct - that shows that the statement is indeed part of the brayta.
However, it still does not show that the *reason* it is called a Moshav Leitzim is the neglect of Torah study. Indeed, it would seem to suggest quite the opposite, in that it was first called a Moshav Leitzim, and the fact that the next pasuk says Ki Im beTorat Hashem Cheftzo, these things labelled Moshav Leitzim *bring* a man to neglect Torah study.

In terms of the Ran regarding karkom=circus, one should take care, because as you know, the Ran himself does not use the word circus, but it is Artscroll's extrapolation, based on his use of the word "matzor."

There are, however, variant manuscripts, which replace ק's for כ's and some which replace ס for ם.

The difference is that כרכום seems rooted in Hebrew כרם (with reduplication of the כ) to mean encirclement, while קרקסיאות seems rooted in the Latin word circus, meaning circle.

joshwaxman said...

In terms of the major reinterpretation of the gemara, this is just a matter of my own personal style of analysis. That is, the gemara can be taken on many layers:

(a) the Tanaaitic statements
(b) the gemara, in terms of the statements of named Amoraim
(c) the gemara, in terms of anonymous statements, which seem to be post-Ravina /Rav Ashi, the sof horaah, and which may be savoraic or in some instances Geonic. (e.g. pesikta is Geonic)
(d) the interpretation given to the gemara by various meforshim

I typically move to level (a) and (b) in my analysis, just because it lets me think about the sources without coloration.

This does not mean that my understanding does not work at level (c) as well, though with some minor adjustments. Indeed, it may even work out, with some adjustment, at level (d). I did not focus on those initially because I did not wish to confuse things by writing to much, and reduplication similar ideas. I will attempt to do this in the near future, Hashem, and baby, permitting.

Also, a clarification. I do not mean that Moshav Leitzim only means murderer/ violence, or even that this is how it is being taken here. Rather, it means bad association, keeping the company of the wicked or of the unsavory elements in the community, and participating with them in the type of events they would enjoy. The parallel, I posit, would not be attending movie theaters or modern circuses, but rather WWF, the racetrack, cock fights, sports bars, etc.

joshwaxman said...

Also, as to the statement: "Fourthly, even according to your analysis theaters & circuses could be equated to the Roman ones because of the Pretzus which is usually or sometimes present,which would make it a bad environment."

I would say: firstly, your statement seems to assume modern theater is parallel to ancient theater, in terms of both being places of drama. In fact, is would seem, based on placement next to circuses, that it is an *amphitheater*, which is another place of gladiatorial combat. Indeed, this is how Rashi understands it (as a place of leitzanut, rather than acting). And, that is how the Aruch understands it, classifying both circus and (amphi-)theater as types of stadiums, which were mentioned above. So I would posit that movie theaters should be taken out of the picture entirely.

In terms of general feel, the environment of a movie theater and modern circus is not the same as that of an ancient one, and the people who attend are often not the dregs of society, but people wanting to have their young children entertained. I would claim that the innocuous elements were condemned because they were part of the general negative environment, which Chazal wished to condemn in toto.

joshwaxman said...

As an aside, in terms of staying true to the understanding of the meforshim, in many instances the meforshim are not commenting based on a tradition as to the meaning of these words, but rather based on other evidence, in the text, and in other texts.

For example, Rashi knows what Itztadinin (stadium) means - a place of bull goring from sources such as Bava Kama 39a, about "Shor HaItztadin," the bull trained to kill. That is why he mentions specifically "Shor."
Rashi (not only the Ran) identifies כרכום as a matzor, which might be taken as a seigeworks, or an encirclement, based on the Targum to Dvarim 20:20 of matzor.
The Ran argues on Rashi, but not on etymology, but rather whether it is an actual seigeworks or just something made to look like a seigeworks/ encirclement (he claims the latter).

The reason for this dispute is again rooted in how they understand the text. The first brayta lists a bunch of entertainments happening there, while the second mentions conspiring with the Romans. Ran roots himself in the first brayta, and thus it is "kemin matzor," in the form of a seigeworks. Rashi pays more heed to the second brayta, and so it is a seigeworks, but to give sense to the first brayta, "leitzanus" happens there.

Rashi identifies bukion, mukion, etc., as types of leitzanut, (and he means entertainments) and he is in fact not far off (more on this later). However, he is informed in this by the use of the pasuk Moshav Leitzim.

Similarly, his statement regarding theaters is based in part on his girsa, but he assigns it as a place of sechok and leitzanut based on the labelling of it Moshav Leitzim in close proximity.

In most places, I agree with these labelling, but on the other hand, I will not regard it as the end-all and be-all. Everyone is trying to understand the basic text of the gemara, and if we have other evidence to better identify some of these things, I will not ignore the realia.

That said, some of my rereading of the gemara I do think was slightly off, and I would reformulate it slightly.

However, I still need to present an overall approach to the gemara, which encompasses every word in the gemara, and fits in to a large extent to the words of the meforshim. I hope to present this shortly, probably in a separate post (I will link to it from here if so), and will leave to the reader the task of extrapolating what I would change here.

Anonymous said...

I did not mean to say that the only issue of Moshav Latzim is Bitul Torah of the moment, but rather to point out that it is strongly associated with it,and viewed as anything that leads to it. In that sense I understand it to mean any Kvius of entertainment.
I don't understand your proof from Rashi that he understands "Theaters" to refer to amphitheaters which is a bad environment because of the other activities that go on there. The fact that Rashi says it is a place of sechok and leitzanut,could equally apply to a drama theater as being a place of entertainment which is all that those terms mean. In addition if it was an amphitheater why change the term from Itztadinin which was used previously?
BTW where did the Roman drama theater take place? Did they have special buildings for them?

joshwaxman said...

I will be posting a more comprehensive answer, beEzrat Hashem, sometime this week, in which the way I regard these drashot becomes more clear, and without that context it is difficult to answer Al Regel Achat. But for now, let it suffice that Moshav Leitzim has a different meaning in the various braytot, in the statement of R Shimon b Pazi, and in Pirkei Avot. To a very small extent, I do agree with you about the meaning of moshav leitzim, but I will save the elaboration of this for my forthcoming post.

In terms of Rashi, the idea is as follows. If there were two types of theater (and from what I can see, it does seem like they were in two separate places), and Rashi just writes the generic "sechok and leitzanut" which is similar to that written for karkom, it would seem that he is identifying it as the place where they have the general "sechok and leitzanut." Otherwise he should have said drama. (Antigone is not "sechok and leitznut" in its character.) I don't really think Rashi was able to identify this sechok and leitzanut, as gladiatorial combat or what not - not like the Aruch did. But I was just pointing out that according to Rashi, movie theaters are not *necessarily* in the picture, and combining his statement with what we know based on other sources, it would seem closer to the amphitheater.

"In addition if it was an amphitheater why change the term from Itztadinin which was used previously?"
I will address this in more detail in my blogpost, but according to the Aruch, stadium is a Shem Kollel, and while amphitheater is a Shem Prati, and circus is a Shem Prati. Or, they could be very similar in nature, but have different architecture. Tertullian, in his "On Spectacles" condemns stadiums, circuses, amphitheaters (which sometimes he simply calls theaters), and dramatic theaters, and from his condemnations, it is fairly clear that these spectacles took place in all of the first three.

joshwaxman said...

Please note: I have finally posted the followup post I had been promising. This addresses the various drashot of moshav leitzim, as well as how I would read the gemara in full.

It can be found here:


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