A friend and I have decided to start learning Mas. 'Avodah Zarah. Our goal, however, is not to just pick a random Masechta of Gemara and learn it with the commentaries on the Daf. Our actual goal is to learn a Masechta that neither of us has studied in all our years of Yeshivah, and learn it Be'Iyun - we want to come out at the end with a strong understanding of not only the Shakla VeTarya, but the underlying themes and the applicable laws.

Besides Rashi/Tosafoth and presumably RaMBa"M Hil. 'Avodah Zarah, what other Meforashim and Poskim should we study? Someone suggested 'Ein Ya'akov to us.

If we wanted to create a curriculum for ourselves, how should we go about it?

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    Behatzlacha with your learning!
    – Isaac Moses
    Commented Jan 8, 2013 at 15:48
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    This could be a useful guide for many sugyas of interest. (Also, this page has mareh mekomos sheets for several sugyas in maseches AZ).
    – Fred
    Commented Jan 8, 2013 at 17:07
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    From the chavrusah of the original poster: Are there any particular topic essays by later achronim that are "must see" for the mesechta?
    – user2263
    Commented Jan 8, 2013 at 18:48
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    daniel, welcome to Mi Yodeya, and hatzlacha rabba in your learning a new masechta with someone who I can tell must be an excellent chavrusa! It seems that you want to add more detail to the question. For that purpose, instead of adding an "answer," I recommend that you edit your addition into the question. Also, please consider registering your account, which will give you access to more of the site's features.
    – Isaac Moses
    Commented Jan 8, 2013 at 18:53
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    @daniel there seems to be a recent sefer called: Sefer 'Avodah berurah' on Maseches Avodah Zarah, it is put out by a: Yitzchok Mitnick
    – pzkd
    Commented Jan 8, 2013 at 19:02

6 Answers 6


Firstly, I want to wish you Hatzlacha in your learning, learning new Masechtos are always exciting and Avodah Zarah is no different.

This answer focuses more on the 'Themes' that the Masechta has, as well as some practical learning advice.

Here are the major themes the Masechta has (please forgive me if the list is missing something, as this is being writtem from memory)

Dealing with people who serve Avodah Zarah

  • When can one do business with them
  • What we can/cannot sell to them
  • General attitudes towards them (e.g. trust issues etc)
  • When can we receive help from them, and when is it prohibited

Avoda Zarah (itself)

  • What is considered Avodah Zarah
  • Differences between Avodah Zarah of a Jew vs non-Jew
  • What we can/cannot do with something that is an Avodah Zarah
  • When can an Avodah Zarah lose its status

Yayin Nesech

  • What is considered Yayin Nesech
  • What benefits are allowed from Yayin Nesech
  • What point in the 'wining' process is the wine susceptible

Pas Akum, Cholov Akum, Bishul Akum

  • What they are, and why they were enacted
  • What benefits can be had from them

There are lots of interesting stories on each of the above themes.

Concerning how to go about learning this Masechta:

I feel that it is very important for one to learn the practical side of something, for this enables one to properly internalize the ideas found in the Masechta (this is a personal approach, as each person learns differently).

Here are some ideas on learning the practical side of these themes:

  • Avodah Zarah - Speak with a rabbi who lives in a country where Avodah Zarah is common (for example: India), and find out what Shailos come up to him on a frequent basis.
  • Yayin Nesech - Find a friend who works in Hashgacha, and ask him if he could take you (and your Chavrusa) for a tour of a Kosher wine plant, this will allow you to see the process better, and see the daily issues that it entails.
  • Pas Akum, Cholov Akum, Bishul Akum - There are some great Tshuvos from R' Moshe Feinstein on this (don't remember off hand exact locations). Additionally a trip to a milking farm would be very beneficial.

Hatzlacha with your learning!


I emailed a couple of guys who were involved with leading a class and an in-depth chabura on Avoda Zara in the past few years. Here are their recommendations (mostly verbatim, but lightly edited and be-linked):

  • For Avoda Zara, there is a wonderful set, recently published, called Avoda Berurah, which I found to be very comprehensive. For the sugyos on Takroves Avoda Zara (51b), there's great material on the whole Indian hair shaitel controversy.

  • We focused on the Ritva and the Mosad Harav Kook footnotes, which should keep him busy for a while.

  • Then the Shulchan Aruch and commentaries provide a lot of insight into each topic-section along with practical halacha.


Check out the Gemara put out by The Halacha Brura and Birur Halacha Institute. This Gemara is a great way to learn a Masechta Be'Iyun. I described it at length in this answer.

Also, as mentioned in this answer, The Mittler Rebbe (Second Chabad Rebbe) describes several different ways to learn Halacha Be'Iyun. The most involved way (see here) involves:

  1. Learning the Gemara
  2. With the Tosafot that have halachic discussions
  3. And the Rosh, going over the Piskei Dinim of the Rosh inside
  4. Then learn the Tur without the Beit Yosef several times
  5. Then learn the Beit Yosef several times
  6. Then learn right away the Shulchan Aruch and Ramah
  7. Then learn the Shulchan Aruch HaRav several times

Also, I've been learning Gemara Berachot and the Commentaries printed with the Vilna Ein Yaakov have been very helpful in understanding the Agadata. One nice thing is that the Chidushei Aggadot of the Maharsha is printed right on the page, which means I don't have to flip back and forth.

  • Great advice generally, but practically this might prove too much. I want to accept this, though.
    – Seth J
    Commented Feb 8, 2013 at 4:32
  • @SethJ: I would at least check out the Birur Halacha. They bring the relevant halachic opinions in a short, essay form, and then you can choose which ones you want to learn in depth.
    – Menachem
    Commented Feb 10, 2013 at 18:10

To mention something that nobody else here appears to have mentioned, I would strongly recommend starting with the Mishna, rather than simply launching into Mishna + Gemara. Familiarise yourself with the five mishnaic peraqim (and, ideally, with the nine toseftan peraqim as well). That will give you a really solid basis in the underlying legislation before you even open the Bavli - especially if you learn the Mishna with a good peirush. Personally, I think Kehati is excellent, but if you want something a little more "classical", the Rambam's peirush is strongly in line with what you will be seeing in the Bavli when you've finished it.

After that, my feeling is that it's the same whether you were learning Avodah Zarah or any other masekhta, and I think that other people have outlined already (more or less) what you could look at. Ultimately, obviously, your choice will reflect whether you want to be learning k'hilkhata or not, but I think Mishna (+ Tosefta) is the best place to start no matter what your intentions.


If you want to learn it well and follow it through to the halacha, Ein Ya'akov won't help you much. Ein Ya'akov is useful if your primary focus is on the aggadeta. In my opinion (based in part on personal experience) your best bet would be to first complete the Gemara, Rashi, and Tosafos on each sugya, then the Rif on the entire sugya, and then the Rosh and the Ran. After that you would do the Tur with the Beis Yosef and Darkei Moshe, and finally the Shulchan Aruch with the Taz and Shach.

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    You could improve this answer by editing in the basis for your opinion. Have you learned/taught this masechta following the program you describe? Other masechtot? What are the benefits of this program?
    – Isaac Moses
    Commented Jan 8, 2013 at 17:13
  • I have studied this and other masechtos in this fashion, and know others who have as well.
    – Dov F
    Commented Jan 8, 2013 at 17:15
  • @DovF, would 'Ein Ya'akov help to understand the material better, though?
    – Seth J
    Commented Jan 8, 2013 at 17:18
  • @SethJ Ein Ya'akov is simply a collection of aggadeta Gemaros. It is helpful because it is surrounded by commentaries. It's primary purpose is for people who want to learn straight aggadeta; for that it is perfect. It won't be much help to someone interested in learning a masechta be'iyun.
    – Dov F
    Commented Jan 8, 2013 at 17:21
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    The ones unique to Ein Ya'akov HaBoneh, HaKosev, Rif on Ein Ya'akov (not the author of Halachos), Iyun Ya'akov, I think. They also print Rashi, Tosfos, and Maharsha. Some editions include more. This is the Vilna (Romm) edition, opened to a random page: hebrewbooks.org/…
    – b a
    Commented Jan 9, 2013 at 1:41

As far as a work focusing on halcha, Shearim Mitzuyanim Bihalacha is a very place to start.

I would highly suggest Sedder Yaakov as well. This modern day work is quoted extensively in the English edition Artscroll on the masechta.

Thirdly I would recommend the Dibros Moshe. This edition has been edited by Reb Moshe's family members. Their editing work has not been met with a wholly positive outlook on the later editions of the Igros Moshe, but I think most people who avoid learning the Dibros due to it's wordiness will appreciate the work put into this and at least be able to see what was going through Reb Moshe's mind on a given sugya, albeit not as in depth as a regular Dibros. I know I appreciated it:) There are also a few pieces quoted from other works related to a given sugya.

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