כ״ו באלול ה׳תשע״ז (September 17, 2017)

Sanhedrin 63a-b: Mentioning a False God

As we learned in the Mishna (60b), while various types of idol worship are punishable by death, other interactions with idols are merely lavin – negative commandments – whose perpetrators are liable for lashes.

One example of the latter type is someone who uses the name of such a deity to take an oath or to fulfill an oath that was taken. According to the Gemara on today’s daf the source for this law is the passage in Sefer Shemot (23:13) ve-shem elohim aḥerim lo tazkiru, lo yishama al pikhah – and the name of a foreign god you should not mention, it should not be heard on your mouth. The first part of this pasuk is understood to forbid even mentioning the name of a false god, for example, to give directions (e.g. “let’s meet near the statue of Zeus”); the second part of the pasuk is understood to forbid using the idol’s name in an oath, or even causing someone else to utter an oath that would be taken in the name of a false god.

This discussion leads the Gemara to bring a teaching in the name of Shmuel’s father who ruled that it is forbidden to enter into a business relationship with a non-Jew, lest it will lead to a situation where the other party will be obligated to take an oath and will swear using the name of a false god, which, as we have seen, is forbidden by the Torah.

In codifying these laws, the Shulḥan Arukh (Oraḥ Ḥayyim 156:1) accepts the ruling presented by Shmuel’s father. In his gloss, the Rema points out that it is common practice today for Jews to enter into business partnerships with non-Jews. He explains that the non-Jews with whom the Jewish community interacts are not pagans; these non-Jews believe in the holiness of the Torah and the God of the Jews. Thus, even if they include another false god in the statement of an oath that they make, nevertheless their intention is not to swear with an idol in mind, rather to the Creator, who they believe in.

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