Monday, September 1, 2008

Discussing idolatry - parameters

We recently discussed the view of the Gra that a common name is not prohibited to mention - even if it describes a person by that name who becomes viewed as a deity. What about talking or teaching about the idolatry of the Romans or Greeks? The following is a teshuva of Rav Moshe Feinsetein concerning someone whose much teach these matters - what are the guidelines

Rav Moshe Feinstein[1](Yoreh Deah 2:53): It seems obvious that the prohibition of paying attention to idolatry is only in regards to the books that the idolaters themselves composed to praise the nonsensical practices of idolatry. They thought that the practices were glorious. And such books are prohibited forever – even in a time when idolatry is not taken seriously and is not attractive to people. However those books which were composed by those who reject idolatry and view idolatry as nonsense and stupid and just illustrate the ridiculous practices of idolatry – they would not be prohibited even in a time when idolatry was rampant. We even find in the Bible that there are descriptions of idolatry but that is only to denigrate idolatry and thus it is not prohibited. Therefore it is obvious that one would not prohibit these type of books now when there is no attraction to idolatry when they were not prohibited even when idolatry was rampant. Therefore when teaching a course about these historical practice of idolatry and its nonsense, it is necessary to speak in such a way that the students understand that these practices are ridiculous. It should be taught with the attitude of how this ridiculous practice was done even though some one with only half a brain is disgusted by them. This approach is found in Megila (25b): “All ridicule is prohibited except for the ridicule of idolatry which is permitted.” Thus if idolatry is denigrated it is permitted to teach about it.

[1] אגרות משה (יורה דעה ב:נג): אבל נראה פשוט שהאיסור הוא רק בספרים שחברו העכו"ם שעובדים להע"ז שהם כתבו זה לשבחה בדברי הבל ושטות שנדמה להם שהוא שבח שספרים כאלו נאסרו בשביל הטעם בלאו דאל תפנו ונאסר לעולם אף כשיתבטל הטעם שלא ימשכו בנ"א בדבריהם הטפשיים, אבל ספרים שנתחברו מכופרים בע"ז ההיא שהוא רק להתלוצץ בהם ולבזותם במה שמספרים הבלותם ושטותם לא נאסר גם אז, ומצינו גם בקראי שמספרים מעבודתם אבל כיון שהוא באופן שהוא לבזות ולהתלוצץ אינו כלום. וכ"ש שאין לאסור עתה מה שלא היה אסור אז. וא"כ כשצריך ללמד בהקורס שלו עניני דתיהם והבליהם, צריך לדבר בלשון שיבינו שהם עניני שטות והבל איך שדבר הבל זה עשו ודבר הבל זה אשר אפילו קצת בן דעת ימאס בזה וכהא שאמר ר"נ במגילה (כה:) כל ליצנותא אסירא בר מליצנותא דעכו"ם דשריא. ובאופן זה מותר...


  1. Is it not more so a requirement to redicule when discussing the Christian religion. It is more than an obsoletee religion. Does the Shulchan Aruch in 147 not say we must not mention their names in any positive way. This is the source of Reb Moshe's pesak.

    See S"U R. Azriel who paskens that we by custom use the name oso hoish. It is prohibited to give a heter. Just because we know it does not give us license. So, even without "new" issurim do we not have old ones.

    I read that Reb Moshe prohibited reading their bible. Should this not be publicized?

    The blog owner did redicule oso hosih when he brought the shivcheh habesht. better would be if he used the name oso hoish. But, at least it was not lishvach.

  2. This is a very relevant question to those Jewish students who find themself in secular schools or those with a secular component to their studies and whose curriculum requires the learning of ancient Greek mythology. Clearly these stories are being presented as just that: stories. But is there something wrong with learning the mythology in the first place?

  3. I went to public school in the morning for secular studies; we had our Jewish education in the afternoon during "release time" (that was what there was back then). My mother simply wrote a note to the teacher explaining that the study of mythology is forbidden by our religion.

    The Muslim students' and some Christians' parents also wrote in notes asking that their children be excused from the mythology class.

    We were simply assigned alternative reading.

    When I read Rabbi Krohn's mother's memoirs, "The Way It Was"-(Touching Vignettes about Growing Up Jewish in the Philadelphia of Long Ago. Krohn, Edith. Mesorah Publications ,1989.), there is a piece about getting out of studying mythology and it made me laugh.

    My mother got us out of studying mythology and taking exams isru chag in the public school by writing a note, but I could not get my kids out of isru chag exams in the yeshiva.

    Ironic, isn't it?

  4. "I read that Reb Moshe prohibited reading their bible. Should this not be publicized?"

    Did you read the post?

    "It seems obvious that the prohibition of paying attention to idolatry is only in regards to the books that the idolaters themselves composed to praise the nonsensical practices of idolatry. They thought that the practices were glorious. And such books are prohibited forever

  5. Dear not me,

    There is another teshuvah from Reb Moshe that prohibits the new testiment. I cannot give references to every statement. As I said, it is assur (I am not going to bring more citations-it is not my task-the blogmater knows them) as Reb Moshe brought to discuss then without mocking. Tell me if that book of theirs is mocking oso hoish. It mocks and puts our Rabonim )perushim) in a bad light. I did not read it-so I was told.

    Please do not look for a heter that is beferush in Rambam (for example). I will not go on anymore. Everything I said is from mekoros that are known. Go learn. Wow. Looking for a heter for diverei tumah. Unbelievable.

  6. A friend told me to look once more and I did. What you did is not enough. You have to teach and lead. This is the purpose of writing. There are people out there who are permissive and your silence is as good as being matir. You even used oso hoish evne though it is not to be used-heter meikor hadin or not. The person made a "diyuk" to end up with the wrong result. If you fix it and my friend tells me to look again I will. if not then you join in with all the modern orthodox. It is just a matter of degree.

  7. I dunno, maybe I'm stupid, but I can't figure out what ploni almoni is even saying in most of his comments. Maybe it's the poor grammar, his constant referral to unspecified sources, or his apparent assumption that everyone knows what he is talking about without his saying so.

    His combination of incomprehensibility with condescension is somewhat amusing. It does not, however, add anything productive to the discussion.

  8. To Lezara,

    Thank you for your constructive criticsm. I apolgize for being terse. It would take a whole essay to cover every topic that has come up. I hoped that Dr. Eidensohn would take charge and help. I wrote Dr. Eidensohn giving him a few sources and all he chose was the teshuvah of Reb Moshe that discussed mythology.

    There is another teshuvah (I am depending on Dr. Eidensohn to share it with you. It is his decision if he wants to) where Reb Moshe paskens based on the Rambam that it is prohibited to read/study books like the new testiment NT-in fact any other religion. He emphasizes that there is no possibility of a leniency. I know no posek that disagrees. Why would they?

    Let us focus on the question of reading the NT. This was the question someone raised on my first post. Forgive me for not taking the time to find it and print it up. I leave it to Dr. Eidensohn who is a talmid chochom. He will find it-he probably knows it. I cannot fight and debate everyone. I apolgize to you and I suspect that you are not trying to be nasty. Let me make good wityh Dr. Eidensohn's help.

    So, ask the good Dr. to post the teshuvah. If he does not and you cannot find it ask soemone when you go to shul to show it to you. I am not near seforim and if you cannot locate the teshuvah ask and I will cite the actual reference. This is not a new sheeloh.


please use either your real name or a pseudonym.