Translate

3.7.14


In order to understand the Talmudic tractate about idolatry [called Avoda Zara] it seems to me to be necessary to get an idea of what idolatry is.
 It seems to me to be necessary to understand what was going on in lets say Athens at the time when people really believed in idols.

This would not refer to the philosophers who probably thought most of what was going on in the temples of the gods was ridiculous.

Now for people who were not specifically devoted to one god or the other it clearly was a benefit to have the Pantheon in Athens so that an average businessman on his way to work could make a quick detour to the Pantheon and offer scarifies to all the gods or at least the major ones, (and specifically the one that he thought might have some power over his future transactions).

But of course, there were people that were devotes of a particular god. They would spend as much time  possible in the temple of that god and would do as much services to that god as possible. E.g., devotes of Dionysus would go around in groups in a state of ecstasy and frenzy and do damage as they would go around the city and countryside. (Wine was of benefit to help them get into a state of frenzy.) 

Devotees of Venus would have other services they thought would be pleasing to Venus. But that would not stop them from offering sacrifices to propitiate other gods also.

The major experience of idolatry was not fear of retribution. The god that one was devoted to provided  the meaning of life and of the universe and everything else.


Nowadays that science and philosophy have pushed the realm of religion into the background, we are not aware of how much the gods were a major source of the very meaning of life for the ancients.

The Talmud itself does not deal with any of this. It is interested solely in the laws relevant to the statutes of the gods. The reason is that the religion of the Talmud is monotheism. The underlying assumption of monotheism is that there is a First Cause of everything that exists and that this First Cause provides the meaning of everything that exits. He made it all for some purpose.

Nowadays, we do not find devotes of Dionysus or Venus. People do try to get into states of frenzy and do seek physical pleasures that one might associate with Venus but without being devotes of Venus. But we do find modern substitutes that can provide people with the same kind of experiences  that devotes of the gods had.

There are several major examples but certainly the cult the Gra ut into excommunication would be a good example. Graves of tzadikim [saints] also for that matter. [note 1] The kind of frenzy of Left Wing Politics seems to be also a good example.

[note 1] For the sake of clarity I think it is good to learn the books of a tzadik and to follow his teachings. I think one can do so and should do so without crossing the line into idolatry. But in spite of that there are people would do cross the line.

In fact I think after seeing some of the problems there are in the world of orthodox Judaism that at the very least we can say his understanding of Torah is deep and profound.