Thoughts from the Daf

Avodah Zarah 18: Too Much Torah!

While we often tend to view the ancient Romans as evil enemies out to eradicate Judaism and kill Jews, the truth is that the relationship between Israel and Rome was a complex and inconsistent one. The Romans destroyed the Temple, but they allowed the academy at Yavne to grow, develop and flourish. While they martyred the asara harugei malchut, many of our Sages—foremost amongst them Rebbe Yehuda Hanassi—had a warm and friendly relationship with the leaders of Rome.

Avodah Zarah 17: Just One Minute

One of the highlights of learning with Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, zt”l, were his occasional “press conferences”, where we could ask any and all questions of Rav Aharon. I recall that at one of these sessions, someone asked if there are any tragic figures in Tanach. Rav Aharon defined a tragic figure as one who, despite a lifetime of fantastic accomplishments, is remembered not for what they accomplished, but for a single mistake they made. As an example, he mentioned Ralph Branca.

Avodah Zara 7: Let's Get a Second Opinion

When seeking out expert opinion on any matter, it is irresponsible not to get a second opinion. It is the rare—and foolhardy—person who will undergo a major operation without consulting with various specialists. And those who want to ensure that they are making the best possible decision seek out opposing views, analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of the opposing arguments before making a final decision. 

Avodah Zara 5: It Takes a Long Time

Forty years is a long time. In Biblical numerology, the number 40 indicates transformation. Forty is the number of days it takes for a fetus to develop. It is the length of time that delineates one generation from the next. The flood lasted 40 days, bringing with it a new world order; and Moshe spent 40 days on Sinai transforming the spiritual world. The Jewish people became a nation only after being strangers in a foreign land for 400 years, and it took 40 years of wandering in the desert before reaching our destination.

Avodah Zara 2: Holiday Greetings

In 1964, as the Second Vatican Council was reassessing its most negative view of Jews and Judaism, Rabbi Soloveitchik penned Confrontation, detailing his reasons for eschewing theological dialogue with other faith groups. While the Rav greatly encouraged co-operation with different faiths on the social, economic and moral issues of the day, he drew the line at religious dialogue. With each religion holding differing axiological truths not up for negotiation or compromise, there is no point to dialogue on the fundamentals of faith. 

Avodah Zara 2: Thank You Rome

As all who study Daf Yomi are well aware, halacha and aggadah—the legal and extralegal portions of the Talmud—“co-exist” side by side, with no hint that one is more important than the other. Actually, they do much more than co-exist. There is a deep connection between the two, with aggadic discussions reflecting the halachic topic at hand. Finding those links—an area that has attracted scholarly interest in recent years—adds much meaning to both halacha and aggadah. 

An Introduction to Masechet Avodah Zara

It would be hard to argue with the notion that the primary goal for the Torah is for all to know that there is one G-d who is Master of the Universe. This theme appears throughout the Torah, in law and narrative. It is with this idea that the Torah opens; it is the purpose behind the plagues in Egypt; it is why we keep Shabbat; it is the opening words of G-d’s revelation at Sinai; and it is the overarching theme of Sefer Devarim.

Shevuot 45: Where is My Pay?

“All who take an oath, take an oath and are exempt [from payment]” (Shevuot 45a). Violating an oath ranks amongst the most serious of transgressions. Despite—or perhaps because—an oath involves no physical act of wrongdoing, swearing falsely is categorized along with the sins that carry the punishment of karet, excision, and the death penalty (Rambam, Hilchot Teshuva 1:2). Its seriousness is such that we are required to swear in G-d’s name (or perhaps it is it because we swear in G-d’s name that an oath is so serious).

Shevuot 30: You Go First

In a recent highly publicized murder trial in Toronto, the jury was not told that the accused – who acted as his own lawyer - had recently been convicted of murder in a prior case (and has another murder trial pending). This is a common practice in the legal systems of the West, where it is felt that such knowledge will bias the judgment of the jury, depriving the accused of a fair trial. 

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