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by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek


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Parashas Shoftim (64)

This sedra teaches us many laws both between Man and Man and between Man and G-d. Much discussion revolves around the laws of Jewish worship to Hashem as differentiated from the pagan way of serving their gods. The following is atypical example.

Deuteronomy 16: 22

"Do not erect for yourself a monument that Hashem, your G-d hates."


That (Hashem) hates: Rashi: An altar made of stones and an earthen altar is what He commanded , but this (the single-stone monument) He hates. Because it was the law of the Canaanites and even though He had loved it (such an altar) in the time of the Forefathers, He now hates it. Since they (the Canaanites) made it a law of their idol worship.


Rashi is explaining that only the single-stone "matzaivah" was forbidden, while the earthen altar and the many-stoned altar were not only permitted, they were explicitly commanded as a way to worship Hashem.

Rashi goes on to explain that although the single-stone monument - altar was used by the Forefathers and thus could not have been hated by Hashem, nevertheless since in later generations the Canaanites began using this as their mode of worship, it has since become despised by Hashem.


A Question: What is Rashi referring to when he says "and even though He had loved it (such an altar) in the time of the Forefathers" ?

Can you think of a place that the Forefathers used a single-stone matzaivah?

Your Answer:

An Answer: Rashi is referring to the fact that Jacob had set up single-stone altars many times (see Genesis 28:18) so it couldn't have been hated then.


Another Question: There is a story in the Talmud that seems to contract Rashi's reasoning here. The Talmud in Avoda Zara 44b tells the following incident recorded in the Mishnah:

Proklos the son of Ph'losophos asked Rabbam Gamliel in Acco while he was bathing in the bathhouse of Aphrodite, he said to him "It is written in your Torah 'Nothing of the banned property shall adhere to your hand' (i.e. you shall not benefit from idol worship property). Why, then, do you bathe in the bathhouse of Aphrodite?" [Rabban Gamliel answered him]: We may not answer (Torah) in the bathhouse." When he went out, he said to him: "I have not come into her (Aphrodite's) domain, she has come into my domain.!" (Meaning, the bathhouse was built to wash in, then, later, they attached the idol on its roof.)

Considering Rabban Ganmliel's answer, that first the bathhouse existed and only later was it used for idol worship we can ask on Rashi: Why should the single-stone altar be hated by Hashem? Was it not first used by Jacob for pure purposes - to worship Hashem, why should it be banned if later the Canaanites used it for their impure worship?

Can you answer the question?

Hint: See the rest of Rabban Ganmliel's answer in that Mishnah.

Your Answer:


An Answer: The Mishnah continues with the rest of Rabban Gamliel's retort "We do not say 'The bathhouse is beautiful for the god Aphrodite. We say, instead, 'Aphrodite is an adornment for the bathhouse.'"

This means that the bathhouse is not in the service of idol worship. The statue was put there to enhance the bathhouse. So Rabban Gamliel was not benefiting from an object of pagan worship. Certainly the bathhouse was not a place of idol worship.

The Altar of one stone, on the other hand, was the actual means of idol worship in Canaan. Its whole purpose was for serving the Canaanite idols. Therefore Hashem hated it, once this development took place.

Shabbat Shalom
Avigdor Bonchek

"What's Bothering Rashi?" is a production of "The Institute for the Study of Rashi."

The Institute is preparing a new volume on Megillas Esther. It will be titled: "What's Bothering Rashi and the Midrash?" It analyzes both Rashi and selected Midrashim on the megillah. If you would like to be a sponsor, please contact us.

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