ט״ז בשבט ה׳תשע״ג (January 27, 2013)

Shabbat 116a-b: Holy Books in Babylonian Temples

The discussion of whether holy books could be saved from a fire on Shabbat leads the Gemara to discuss the status of books found in Babylonian temples.

Yosef bar Ḥanin raised a dilemma before Rabbi Abbahu: With regard to these books of the house of Abidan, does one rescue them from the fire or does one not rescue them? There were sacred Jewish texts in that house, which were used in debates and discussions on matters of faith. Rabbi Abbahu did not give him a clear answer but said yes and no, and the matter was uncertain to him.
Rav would not go to the house of Abidan for conversation, and all the more so he would not go to the house of Nitzrefei, the Persian fire-temple. Shmuel, to the house of Nitzrefei he did not go, but to the house of Abidan he did go. The gentile scholars said to Rava: Why did you not come to the house of Abidan? He evaded their question with an excuse and said to them: There is a certain palm tree on the road, and that makes the path difficult for me. They said to him: We will uproot it. He said to them: Nevertheless, the resulting pit in its place will be difficult for me.
Mar bar Yosef said: I am one of them, we are friends, and I do not fear them. Still, one time he went and argued with them and they sought to endanger his life.
Rabbi Meir would call the Christian writing, the Evangelion, the wicked folio [aven gilyon]; Rabbi Yoḥanan called it the sinful folio [avon gilyon].

According to the tradition of the ge’onim, the house of Abidan was a well-known courtyard in which there were books of knowledge from all the nations. Scholars and wise men from all nations gathered there to discuss wisdom. The house of Nitzrefei served a similar purpose. However, it was also a temple for idol worship. Therefore, it was appropriate for Shmuel to attend meetings and discussions in the house of Abidan, which he considered as a forum for philosophical debates, but he would never enter the house of Nitzrefei, which was devoted to idolatry. There were other Sages who thought that the debates were problematic and dangerous, and it was preferable to refrain from participation in those forums.

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