י״ז בתשרי ה׳תשע״א (September 25, 2010)

Avodah Zarah 42a-b – Suns, moons and dragons

Certain images were known to represent idols, and when found on different utensils may indicate that they are used for avodah zarah. The Mishnah on today’s daf (=page) teaches that when someone finds utensils that have on them images of the sun, the moon or a drakon, they must be cast into the Dead SeaRabban Shimon ben Gamliel distinguishes between important utensils, which can be assumed to be used for idol worship, and simple utensils – like pots and pans – that are permitted even if they have such images on them.

 

In his Commentary to the Mishnah, the Rambam explains that the references to the sun and the moon do not relate to simple drawings of these heavenly bodies, but rather they refer to a Zodiac wheel like one prepared by astrologers, that gives a form to each of the signs of the Zodiac, with a figure representing the sun in the middle.

 

With regard to the drakon, many different interpretations are put forward. The Ra’avad explains that it is a snake, and because of the visceral fear that many people have towards snakes, it was worshiped as a god by many. The Arukhagrees, saying that it is a snake that is uniquely large and that possesses keen eyesight. In his Commentary to the Mishnah, the Rambam suggests that this refers to a drawing of one of the constellations, and it is considered avodah zarah like any other star worship.

 

The R”i mi-Lunil describes the drakon as a snake-like creature with wings that belches smoke and fire from its throat – what we would call a dragon. A dragon is a mythical creature that has the body of a large snake, which is why the term drakon is often used in Greek – and by – to refer to a simple snake. In many religions dragons were used to represent the power of the gods, and, in many cases, to represent the god itself.