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We read in Yerushalmi- Avodah Zarah 3:1 18a (English translation by Rabbi Jacob Neusner):

[A] All images are prohibited.

[B] "Because they are worshipped once a year", the words of R. Meir [T4].

[C] And Sages say: "Prohibited is only one that has in its hand a staff, bird, or sphere".

[D] Rabban Simeon b. Gamaliel [T1 or T4] says: "Any which has anything at all in its hand".

[I.1] [A] If the idols are worshipped once a year, then how come Rabbis permit?

[B] Said R. Hiyya bar Ba: "[The reason all images are prohibited] is that in the great city of Rome they are worshiped twice in a septennate".

[C] If that is the operative reasoning, then in a locale in which they are worshiped they should be forbidden, while in a locale in which they are not worshiped they should be permitted [for Israelite commerce].

[D] Said R. Yose:"Once they are prohibited in a single locale, the prohibition applies in every locale".

[E] How shall we explain [the dispute between Meir [T4] and the sages]?

[F] [Here is the problem:] If it is a matter of certainty that [statues are] of kings [and hence made for worship], then all will have to concur that they are forbidden.

[G] If it is a matter of certainty [that the statues are] of local authorities [and hence not for worship], then all will have to concur that they are [made merely for decoration and hence] permitted.

[H] But thus we must interpret the dispute: in the case of a statue lacking all specification [as to its clear-cut purpose].

[I] R. Meir [T4] says:"When they lack all specification, they are of kings".

[J] And Rabbis maintain: "When they lack all specification, they are of local rulers".

If the translation is correct, a distinction is made here between the statues of "kings" (forbidden) and the statues of "local authorities" (lawful).

Is this interpretation correct? And what exactly is meant in this passage by the words "kings" and "local authorities"?

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The Talmud Bavli avoda zara 41a makes a clear distinction between benefiting* from a statue at the front of a small village and a statue at the front of a big City.

דכפרים מי איכא למ"ד לנוי קעבדי להו דכפרים ודאי למיפלחינהו עבדי להו אלא אי אתמר הכי אתמר אמר רבה מחלוקת בשל כרכים אבל בשל כפרים ד"ה אסורים

Do villages craft statues just to look nice? Of course not they make statues as idols to worship, Rabba explains that Rabbi Meir and Rabanan are only arguing about the statues of Cities (Rabbi Meir forbids on the small chance it was worshipped as an Idol, and Rabanan assume it was crafted as an artistry.) everyone agrees village statues are forbidden (as they are purely for idol worship).

Rabeinu Tam explains in Tosfos 40b:

פרק כלל גדול (שבת דף עב:) משמע שאין סתמן לעבוד דקאמר אי דחזא אנדרטי וסגיד ליה אי דקבליה עליה וכו' לכך פי' רבינו תם דהכא קאי אהיתרא דרבנן וה"ק הא דשרו רבנן במתני' היינו דוקא באנדרטי של מלכים ובעומדין על פתח מדינה דבהנהו שרו רבנן דודאי לנוי עביד להו

An "Andarta" - a sculpture of the current rulers found in Cities - people don't normally worship and when they bow down they are just showing respect to authority of the monarchy and that is why Rabanan say that an "andarta" Statue at the entrance of a City is permitted from benefit (not to bow down to though) according to Rabanan as it is an artistry.

The Yerushalmi is essentially saying that there are certain "Statues of Kings" that are actually worshiped as an idol and Rabbi Meir is worried that they were originally made for worshipping like in Rome even though its does not seem to be worshipped. But Rabanan hold that we can assume (outside rome where we are uncertain of intentions behind statues) that when they are of The Monarchy (authority), they are just to show respect but not to worship. The Bavli just goes into more detail.


*According to Gemara avoda zara 43a One can benefit from an "andarta" made by a gentile for artizan purposes (i.e not to worship) as long as it is either in public, it comes apart into peices, or it is for educational purposes. One cannot make such a statue himself at all.

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  • I understand, except for my mistake, that for both Talmuds there are statues of human beings that are not prohibited, as they are functional for artistic / ornamental purposes and not at will of worship.I wonder then: why Rambam, in Avodat Kochavim 3: 10-11, establishes that all three-dimensional images of human beings are prohibited by the Halakhah? – Amos74 Feb 17 at 19:47
  • @Amos74 i have addressed your comment in an added note – user15464 Feb 17 at 23:07

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