Is the Talmudic section of Avoda Zara really about "idolatry" or is it just a euphemism for gentiles, christians, and jewish apostates and jewish heretics?

For example, if we look near the beginning of the tractate. page 2a. At the Soncino Avoda Zara 2a http://come-and-hear.com/zarah/zarah_2.html#PARTb it says "MISHNAH. ON THE THREE DAYS PRECEDING THE FESTIVITIES OF IDOLATERS, IT IS FORBIDDEN TO TRANSACT BUSINESS WITH THEM"

Looking on Sefaria it says "MISHNA: On the three days before the festivals of gentiles the following actions are prohibited,"

And the Hebrew on Sefaria has Oved Kochavim which we know is probably censored hebrew. I'm not sure if Avodah Zara uncensored has oved kochavim written anywhere.

and according to http://www.talmudology.com/jeremybrownmdgmailcom/2018/1/16/avodah-zarah-2-which-version-do-you-use That page, 2, it says Notzrim/Christians..

Regarding whether Christianity is idolatry - according to many opinions, yes..(and that's widely known), and according to many other opinions (The Rema, Shach, and many other later opinions).. no https://jewishweek.timesofisrael.com/rabbi-shlomo-riskin-christianity-has-changed-drastically-in-the-20th-century-2/

And sometimes when it says in the censored, oved kochavim, it's not about notzrim/christians, but just gentiles generally. e.g. the censored version has oved kochavim(worshippers of stars), and the uncensored has gentiles. What is the phrase in the Munich talmud, that is used in sanhedrin 59a, for what became oved kochavim?

I was looking at Mishneh Torah Laws of Murder, 4:10 and 4:11. 4:10 is mentioned here How are we supposed to understand Rambam's Rotzeach uShmirat Nefesh 4:10? And I have heard that's based on Avodah Zara 26a and 26b, where it says ovdei kochavim(gentiles? notzrim?), should not be raised from a pit and should not be lowered into a pit, and apostates should be lowered and not raised.

Since it seems that every time it says Ovdei Kochavim it seems to be an insertion from censors.. Then it makes me wonder if the tractate is about idolatry at all.. or is it actually about Notzrim and jewish apostates.. Or gentiles and jewish apostates?


I recommend studying the entire tractate. The majority of it does, in fact, discuss actual idolatry. For example:

MISHNA: And these are the festivals of gentiles: Kalenda, Saturnalia, and Kratesis, and the day of the festival of their kings, and the birthday of the king, and the anniversary of the day of the death of the king. (Avodah Zara 8a)

This mishnah speaks about pagan Roman holidays, the most famous being the Saturnalia.

The Gemara asks: From where do we derive the prohibition with regard to an offering itself? It is derived from a verse, as it is written: “They joined themselves also unto Baal of Peor, and ate the offerings to the dead” (Psalms 106:28). This verse teaches that just as deriving benefit from a corpse is prohibited, so too, deriving benefit from an offering of idolatry is prohibited. (Avodah Zara 29b)

This section (and before) speaks about various prohibitions that are related to idols.

Rabbi Yoḥanan raised another objection to the opinion of Reish Lakish from a baraita: Rabbi Yosei ben Yasian says: If one found an object in the figure of a dragon [derakon] with its head severed, but it is uncertain whether a gentile severed it and it is uncertain whether a Jew severed it, the object is permitted. But if it is certain that a Jew severed it, it is forbidden. Rabbi Yoḥanan asked: According to Reish Lakish, why is it forbidden? Let it be treated like an object of idol worship that broke on its own. (Avodah Zara 42a)

This sections speaks about what to do if you find a specific kind of idol, a dragon idol (for more on dragon cults, see here).

These are all just completely random examples, but I think the gist is clear, that Avodah Zara, does, in fact, talk about idolatry (setting aside the halachic disagreement of whether or not Christianity constitutes idolatry in itself). Of course, throughout all of the Talmud, there are sections that discuss the minim (various cults) or even the Christians specifically, so there may be such portions in Avodah Zara, but those aren't the main subject.

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