This link quotes the Gemara as the source for my question: https://www.sefaria.org/Avodah_Zarah.17a.8?lang=bi&with=all&lang2=he

So how is it that Yisro a World-Class-Idolator went on so long?

  • Personally, I'm assuming the answer lies somewhere in the realm of the differences between Idolatry for Gentiles and Jews, though I don't know of any path in delineating a specific difference. Besides, this answer would be assuming the Gemara above was speaking only for Jews which is a bit of a chiddush. Feb 10, 2023 at 18:50

2 Answers 2


Ein Yaakov (Glick) says that "It means, therefore, that they who repent and return from heresy, die that they may not return to heresy again."

Remember that the desire to commit idol worship in previous generations was much stronger (Sanhedrin 102b ; Sanhedrin 64a), and much harder to resist, nowadays where it is much easier to stay away from idol worship, it is hard for us to understand the reasoning of the Ein Yaakov, that someone would fall back into idol worship even after sincere teshuva, perhaps it can be thought of as akin to modern day desires for forbidden relations.

Also the Chidushei Agadot says here (my translation): The text states: "So it is said, 'And if they return, they will not reach [Him], etc.' And the explanation of the verse, 'All those who come will not return,' is that they will not return easily, as it is difficult to distance oneself from heresy. Rashi explains in his commentary on Proverbs that this is not the case with other sins, which are not as difficult to depart from. And regarding the phrase, 'And if they return, they will not reach [Him],' Rashi explains that this is a decree from the King. However, it can be interpreted as an act of divine mercy, since the individual has genuinely returned with a whole heart, as the verse continues, 'Lest he [later return to idolatry] and depart [from God], God forbid, if he does not die, for it is close for a person to be drawn after heresy and to return to his previous ways, God forbid.' And from this reason, one can also conclude that in a sin one indulges in feverently, it is similar to heresy, in that it is also easy for the individual to return to his previous ways."

In other words, God takes the person so that they do not have a chance to return to their sin, which it is highly likely they could return to with idol worship and sins they are accustomed to (God forbid). God does this so they die righteous.

It is possible that if the reason Hashem causes them to die is so they won't return to their misdeeds, perhaps if Hashem sees that they are steadfast and reasonably strong as far as not going back, he allows them to live longer before taking them out of the world.

You could also follow the idea that while Yitro did acknowledge God as the greatest of gods, perhaps it is possible he did not renounce other gods' existence, in which case the logic in Avodah Zarah 17a would lead us to believe, that he would not be killed (if his teshuva is not full). (Yalkut Shemoni 269 seems to state that at the time that Yitro said "Hashem is greater than all gods," he did not deny the existence of other gods, only recognized Hashem as the most powerful, and through his belief in other gods, continued to be guilty of idol worship. That being said, he certainly could have grown later and renounced belief in other gods, and converted as many commentators indicate).

  • 1
    Thank you. While your first answer is a possibility, you're second answer would seemingly work quite well, and also fits with the words of the Pasuk "Now I know that Hashem is greater than "all other Gods"". However, according to Rashi who says that he became a full-fledged Ger, it doesn't really seem plausible to say he believed in other Gods at all. Feb 12, 2023 at 0:26
  • 1
    The answer here judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/14190/… states that Rashi, Ibn Ezra, Ramban, and Abarbanel all state that Yitro converted, although they debate about when. However I have a hard time with hebrewbooks.org which is where all the citations are from, so I haven't checked them.
    – BID
    Feb 12, 2023 at 5:10
  • 1
    @AYALTAAROG Rabbenu Bachya here: sefaria.org/Rabbeinu_Bahya%2C_Shemot.18.12?lang=bi Ramban here: sefaria.org/… Sforno here:sefaria.org/… Indicate that Yitro did convert. See my edits to the very bottom of my answer for a possible conflation of these two ideas.
    – BID
    Feb 12, 2023 at 5:27
  • 1
    I see. Not bad my friend, however, please see Mosef Rashi on Divrei Hayamim 1- 29:10 on the words "Me'olam v'ad olam". There Rashi implies that Yisro was already a Ger when he said the words "Now I know that Hashem..." Feb 12, 2023 at 6:53

It is not known how much longer Yisro lived after abandoning idolatry.

It is not clear that Yisro did abandon idolatry.

It is not clear that the premise your link brings that ex heretics will die of regret is meant to be an absolute.

  • According to the classical understanding of the topic, it IS clear that Yisro both abandoned idolatry and also lived a decent while after doing so. Regarding your third objection, did you learn the entire Gemara? The Gemara asks a Kashya from a story where one did not die after serving Avodah Zara. This proves that the Gemara is speaking absolutely, otherwise how can one outlying story be asked as a question?! Feb 10, 2023 at 18:46
  • it's very clear that Yisro abandoned idolatry. See parshas yisro, 1st aliya, pasukim 11 and 12
    – Dude
    Feb 10, 2023 at 19:54
  • I read it. It gave a "no true scotsman" fallacy. Feb 12, 2023 at 2:52
  • Can you expound please? Feb 12, 2023 at 6:54

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .