Monday, August 17, 2009

Are all matzeivot forbidden, or just idolatrous ones?

In the beginning of parshat Shoftim (Devarim 16:22), an injunction against making a matzeivah:
כא לֹא-תִטַּע לְךָ אֲשֵׁרָה, כָּל-עֵץ: אֵצֶל, מִזְבַּח ה' אֱלֹהֶיךָ--אֲשֶׁר תַּעֲשֶׂה-לָּךְ.21 Thou shalt not plant thee an Asherah of any kind of tree beside the altar of the LORD thy God, which thou shalt make thee.
כב וְלֹא-תָקִים לְךָ, מַצֵּבָה, אֲשֶׁר שָׂנֵא, יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ. {ס}22 Neither shalt thou set thee up a pillar, which the LORD thy God hateth. {S}
and there is a dispute between Rashi and Ibn Ezra about how to understand this prohibition. Rashi writes:
And you shall not set up for yourself any monument: A monument of one stone, to sacrifice on it even to Heaven. ולא תקים לך מצבה: מצבת אבן אחת, להקריב עליה אפילו לשמים:
which [the Lord your God] hates: God has commanded you to make an altar of stones and an altar of earth. This, however, He hates, because this was a [religious] statute of the Canaanites, and although it was dear to Him in the days of the Patriarchs, now He hates it, since these [people] made it a statute for idolatry. (See Sifrei) אשר שנא: מזבח אבנים ומזבח אדמה צוה לעשות, ואת זו שנא כי חק היתה לכנענים. ואף על פי שהיתה אהובה לו בימי האבות עכשיו שנאה, מאחר שעשאוה אלו חק לעבודה זרה:

Mekorei Rashi says to see Sifrei, as well as Tosafot on Avodah Zarah 11a.

The Sifrei reads:
ולא תקים לך מצבה אשר שנא ה׳ אלהיך • אין לי אלא מצבה (אשירה) עבודת כוכבים מנין? ש
ודין הוא. ומה מציבה שאהובה לאבות שנואה לבנים, (אשירה) עבודת כוכבים ששנואה לאבות אינו דין שתהא שנואה לבנים

While there are clearly girsological issues here which might affect the target of the kal vachomer, certainly the assumption regarding the source is that this matzeiva which is hated is a regular matzeiva for Hashem.

Indeed, perhaps the juxtaposition with the asheira in the previous pasuk promotes this idea, for this seems to be an asheira planted right beside Hashem's altar, and thus perhaps as a decoration dedicated to Hashem.

Meanwhile, Ibn Ezra writes:
כב ולא תקים לך
מצבה: לע״ז והעד אשר שנא , רק
מצבה שלא לע״ז איננה אסורה, והעד הנאמן
בפרשת וישלח יעקב
He refers to Bereishit 35:14, where Yaakov erects a matzeiva:
יד וַיַּצֵּב יַעֲקֹב מַצֵּבָה, בַּמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר-דִּבֶּר אִתּוֹ--מַצֶּבֶת אָבֶן; וַיַּסֵּךְ עָלֶיהָ נֶסֶךְ, וַיִּצֹק עָלֶיהָ שָׁמֶן.14 And Jacob set up a pillar in the place where He spoke with him, a pillar of stone, and he poured out a drink-offering thereon, and poured oil thereon.
Of course, Rashi and Sifrei are also aware of this, and note the distinction. Admittedly, it is easier to have a constant Divine attitude towards matzievot, but it is workable either way. In terms of the connection to ashera in context, it would not necessarily be directed to Hashem. If she is the chief consort to El, the ashera could well be entirely idolatrous, just accompanying the altar of Hashem. And the pillars can be towards idolatry as well.

What about Ibn Ezra's other point, that the word asher means that there are some God hates and some God likes? Well, there are two ways of interpreting the word asher. Let us consider some English sentences.

(a) Please take out the garbage that stinks.
(b) Please take out the garbage, which stinks.

In sentence (a), there is perhaps the implication that there are multiple bags of garbage, and my wife is asking me to select from among them the garbage bag that stinks, but not the garbage that does not stink.

In sentence (b), there is simply a request to take out the garbage. And there is additional information that the garbage stinks. It might well be that all garbage stinks.

Ibn Ezra is interpreting the asher as in sentence (a). Thus, only the specific matzeiva that Hashem hates is forbidden. Rashi is interpreting the asher as in sentence (b). Thus, it is a general command not to have a matzeiva, followed by a related piece of information about matzeivot, that Hashem hates them.

Thus, Ibn Ezra is not necessarily better "peshat" here. In fact, I prefer Rashi's explanation slightly as a matter of the grammar of the pasuk. The explanation that Hashem soured on these pillars even toward Himself because of idolatrous uses is possible, but not compulsory. We do see another form of worship fall out of favor, namely the private bama.


Ben Gurion said...

Of course the DH would say that deuteronomy was written during Josiah, so the Asherah (trees) and bamot were outlawed, even for Hashem's sake.

shlomo said...

BG - Of course these verses are designed to combat a preexisting desire to built asherot/matzevot. That desire was likely present in both Moshe and Josiah's times, so it is not clear what the DH adds here.

JW - Does God have and process emotions the same way we do? If we hated matzevot, we would likely have a negative reaction whenever we saw a matzeva, whatever the circumstances. If God "hates" matzevot, it likely means that God disapproves and intends to punish their use. I do not think there is the same implication regarding how God would have felt about a matzeva built in different circumstances centuries beforehand.

The same approach explains God's "haron af" - not that He gets angry like we do, but that He begins to inflict a punishment. I'm not sure how well this approach works for positive emotions like rachamim (emotional reciprocity is harder to reconcile with pure action by one side), but I think it is a good way of explaining God's negative emotions in Tanach.

Ben Gurion said...

I am ambiguous about the DH, but the truth is that the Avot did make asherot and bamot as written in genesis. G-d wasn't angry with Abraham? But he was before the Torah, though the Torah says he kept the whole torah.
Examples though, for where the Josianic reform can be felt is with 'eating on the blood'. During Shmuel hanavi, it was wrong, so Shaul built an altar, so as to sacrifice the blood. But this is completely assur (building altars) according to Deut. With regards the blood, no problem, just spill it on the ground like water. This is the strength of the DH. The mefarshim in Shmuel have to bend back and foreards to explain the discrepancy (i.e. what Bnei Yisrael did wrong)
Read I samuel 14:32-35.

joshwaxman said...

where do we see the avos making asherot?

Ben Gurion said...

Ah, the avos planted trees at the holy places, if I am not mistaken ashera is a tree.
ויטע (אברהם) אשל בבאר שבע ויקרא שָׁם בשם ה' אל עולם

I think Alon moreh was also some kind of holy tree at the altar in Shechem.

Of course, a non-koferdik appraoch would be to say that D was lost, and found in the Bayt Hamikdash during the reign of Josiah, so the halakhot of not sacrificing on the bamot was lost to them.

Ben Gurion said...

An interesting story about one who tried to plant an eshel in Beer Sheva:

joshwaxman said...

ah, thanks. is there evidence that if there is a tree at Elon Moreh, that Avraham was responsible for it?

offhand, there may be a difference in terms of it not being called an Ashera, and thus lacking in the association with the divine consort. and yaakov's was a standalone matzeiva explicitly to Hashem, and functioned somewhat as an altar itself, rather than something accompanying the altar and possibly directed at a divine consort. Rashi/Sifrei may have a point that later associations by overuse in specific idolatrous cults poisoned the practice, such that it fell out of favor (at whatever point).


joshwaxman said...

btw, the link doesn't work for me.

Ben Gurion said...

Hi Josh, How about this one.
Joshua 24:26

וַיִּכְתֹּב יְהוֹשֻׁעַ אֶת-הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה, בְּסֵפֶר תּוֹרַת אֱלֹהִים; וַיִּקַּח, אֶבֶן גְּדוֹלָה, וַיְקִימֶהָ שָּׁם, תַּחַת הָאַלָּה אֲשֶׁר בְּמִקְדַּשׁ יְהוָה

As you said, probably there was no problem with this until it became idol worship. Similar to the Nehushtan that Hezekiah destroyed.
I wonder whether this is connected in anyway to the kabbalistic Leshem Yihud? Interesting.

joshwaxman said...

indeed, that is a very good one, in terms of DH, because these events according to the traditional understanding happened after the Mosaic command. (naturally Rashi offers explanations of this.)

are you thinking here of the even gedolah, or of the alah? if the even gedolah, i am not sure this would necessarily be considered a matzeiva, in the standard sense. the alah might not be an ashera. even if this were a permanent sanctuary, perhaps the purpose is practical rather than religious. if you are going to have a place where people congregate and stick around, it makes sense to put it in a place with natural shade. i wonder, indeed, if that is the reason for building bamos וְתַחַת כָּל-עֵץ רַעֲנָן וְתַחַת כָּל-אֵלָה עֲבֻתָּה -- not for a religious purposes, and they did not plant them for these purposes, but merely because it was a convenient shady place, and etz raanan.

meanwhile, the prohibition in Devarim is to plant it lechatchila, לֹא-תִטַּע לְךָ.

this also might encourage us to adopt Ibn Ezra's parse, in which case neither the avos' actions nor yehoshua's actions would present any problem...



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