Following Ediyyot is Avodah Zarah (worship of idols, literally the phrase means “strange/alien service”). This section deals with the problems raised for Jews by living among idolaters. While technically it may refer to the problems engendered for Jews who live among idolatrous cults, such as those in ancient Babylon, this treatise also deals more generally with the problems for Jews living in a non-Jewish society. In other words, how do Jews live among non-Jews and retain their distinct Jewish identity? It could be argued that this goes back to the situations addressed by the biblical books of Ezra and Nehemiah. There, the Jewish leaders were faced with the problems of Jews beginning to lose their cultural identity, and took strong steps to preserve that identity. The following is an example of the discussion that takes place.
“It is permitted (to do business) outside of a city that has idol worship inside it. If there is idol worship outside the city, it is permitted (to do business) inside. What about he who should travel to this place --- in the time that the road converges to this place alone, it is forbidden (to do business); but if one can walk on this road from another location, it is permitted (to do business). A city which has in it idol worship and has both decorated and undecorated shop fronts -- this was the case in Beth Shean --- the Sages say: the decorated shops are forbidden (as places in which business can be done) and those shops without decorations are permitted.”
The next treatise Pirke Abot (“sayings of the fathers”) is perhaps the best-known treatise from the Mishnah. It has been published separately in a number of different editions over the years, and is readily available on the used book market. This section of the Mishnah begins with the following statements.
- Moses received the Torah from Sinai and transmitted it to Joshua; Joshua to the elders; the elders to the prophets; and the prophets handed it down to the men of the Great Assembly. They said three things: Be deliberate in judgment, raise up many disciples, and make a fence around the Torah.
- Shimon the Righteous was one of the last survivors of the Great Assembly. He used to say: On three things the world is sustained: on the Torah, on the (Temple) service, and on deeds of loving kindness.
The entire text is available online at http://www.shechem.org/torah/avot.html. An important thing to remember in reading this particular section is that in Jewish tradition, there are two aspects to the Law or the Torah. The first is the written Torah, which Moses received at Sinai, and which is embodied in the Pentateuch. The second aspect is the oral Torah. This Torah was passed on by mouth from one generation to the next. It is this Torah, rather than the written Torah, which is then understood to form the foundation of many of the Mishnaic teachings.
The final section of Nezikin is Horayot (decisions). Its discussion springs from the sacrificial regulations in Leviticus 4 concerning sacrifices for unintentional sins. In the Mishnah, these are specifically understood in the following way: “The special communal offering may be brought only when the sin was committed in accordance with an erroneous enactment passed by the higher court.”
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