Avodah Zara 31-32: The Psychology of Ritual

The SD loves this tractate Avoda Zara,  because it explores the  relationship between our emotion and motivation to ritual observance.   The Mishna states that we may not do business with an idol worshipper on his way to idol worship. However we may do business with him after he leaves his temple or whatever.

The Talmud says that we cannot do business with the idol worshipper on his way because, if he is successful he will sacrifice and give thanks to his idol once he is there, however, once he leaves, we are not concerned that he will turn around and go back for more praise or idol worship.  The Talmud then extends the thought to a Jew who takes on idol worship.  The opposite is true for a Jewish idol worshipper. We can do business with him when he is on the way, but not after when he has left the idol worship.  The Talmud explains that maybe the apostate Jews will reconsider worshipping an idol when he is on the way, but he is more “frum” than the idol worshipper and once the Jew makes the deal he will go back and do more idol worship. His appreciation for the idol will motivate more observance.

The SD thinks this raises a fundamental issue of ritual . Is  ritual an isolated event that is not seen in the context of one’s life.  Is it pigeon holed or is it more fluid?  The idol worshipper does not return on his good fortune but the Jew does?

The frum Jewish idol worshipper sees the business deal and then wants to thank the idol. It is a weird appreciation.   He sees the good fortune and wants to give thanks so he returns.  The idol worshippper dosent return because he doesnt see the need for appreciation  and therefore does not return.

Maybe in some crazy way, we can learn from this “frum” apostate Jew. The SD  believes all good fortune flows from Hashem. Any success, good fortune or good turn of events is a gift.  It requires constant recognition of Hashem’s power and his rule of the world. More importantly, it requires constant appreciation. It requires constant give back.  We must always return any good fortune  through ritual and action.


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