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In the beginning of the Amidah, we identify "avoteinu" our forefathers and we list them as Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov. But in the Haggadah, we begin by saying "Mitchilah, ovdei avodah zara hayu avoteinu" and this is expanded on by citing a pasuk from Yehoshua 24:2-4 which reads (from the chabad site)

And Joshua said to the whole nation, "Thus said the Lord God of Israel, 'Your fathers dwelt on the other side of the river from earliest time, Terah, the father of Abraham, and the father of Nahor; and they served other gods.

The fathers here (avoteichem) are Terach, Avraham and Nachor. Haran is not listed (dealt with in part here).

While I know that Terach is Avraham's father so, strictly speaking, he is an ancestor, I never thought of him as one of the avot. Nachor and Avraham took Haran's daughters as wives, so Haran is also an ancestor as is Nachor.

If the verse is talking about the well known three avot (Avraham, Yitzchak, Yaakov) then they weren't idol worshippers. If it is talking about Terach and Nachor, while they worshipped idols, they weren't "avot" in the sense I understand. If Haran isn't included because he might not have been clearly an idol worshipper, why is Avraham listed?

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    Avra[ha]m was an idol worshiper mechon-mamre.org/i/1401.htm . responsa.co.il/searchg/… – Double AA Apr 25 '16 at 2:40
  • In that case, is there a view that Haran wasn't one at all, or only that he didn't side with Avraham against idolatry until he saw that Avraham survived (as per the rashi on Ber 11:8)? Shouldn't he then be listed as one of the avot? – rosends Apr 25 '16 at 2:50
  • @Danno Technically he was not one of the Avot because he was not in the line that started with Avraham. As Avraham's brother, he was the father of Sarah which is different. – sabbahillel Apr 25 '16 at 2:53
  • @sabbahillel but according to that verse, the line of Avot started with Terach. – rosends Apr 25 '16 at 2:56
  • @Danno That is the point I was trying to make. The verse from Yehoshua refers to ancestors in general. We refer to Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov as the three avot, to differentiate them from the general avot (ancestors) who came before them. The pasuk means that the ancestral line (Terach and before) lived on the other side of the river and worshipped other "gods" until Avraham arose and followed hashem. – sabbahillel Apr 25 '16 at 3:01
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I heard from a relative of R' Yaakov Kaminetzky that R' Yaakov pointed out that we don't say "מתחילה אבותיהו היו עובדי עבודה זרה / at first our forefathers were idolaters," but rather "מתחילה עובדי עבודה זרה היו אבותינו / at first idolaters were our forefathers." Originally, idolaters were at the top of our family tree. But then, Hashem spiritually disconnected us from them, and they are no longer our forefathers. When Hashem brought us to Him at Har Sinai, He removed our connection to our idolatrous ancestors and defined our roots, our avos, as Avraham, Yitzchok, and Yaakov.

So, yes, they were "avoseinu" but they are no longer.

  • +1 Does this really make sense in biblical Hebrew? The order of the subject/verb/object means different things in different languages. I think this is a pshat only an English speaker would understand. For instance, you wouldn't say אַנְשֵׁי מִקְנֶה הָיוּ עֲבָדֶיךָ means "the shepherds were his servants" as there were definitely shepherds who weren't his servants, and their goal is to describe their own profession. – Double AA Apr 25 '16 at 22:57
  • Chidush ! I like the style of this formulation. Yeshivish. – kouty Apr 25 '16 at 22:59
  • @DoubleAA I think you're more qualified to comment on that than I am. But of course R' Yaakov was no slouch when it came to dikduk, so unless he meant it as a cute drash, I'd take his word for it. – Y     e     z Apr 25 '16 at 23:03
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The use of the term "avoseinu" is not the same as the avot. It is used as a generic term for ancestors in general. An example can be found in the phrease minhag avoseinu beyadeinu which refers to our following the customs of our ancestors (for example two days Yom Tov). Thus, we see as @DoubleAA cited that everyone from Avraham and earlier made the mistake until (the Rambam says) Avraham figured out that there was only one "god" at age 40. We than refer to Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov as the avot to differentiate them from those who came before them as well as those who learned from them and followed in their footsteps.

Rambam Hilchos Avodas Zarah Perek 1 Halacha 10 & 11

ואביו ואימו וכל העם עובדים עבודה זרה, והוא היה עובד עימהן. וליבו משוטט ומבין, עד שהשיג דרך האמת, והבין קו הצדק, מדעתו הנכונה; וידע שיש שם אלוה אחד, והוא מנהיג הגלגל, והוא ברא הכול, ואין בכל הנמצא אלוה חוץ ממנו.

יא וידע שכל העם טועים, ודבר שגרם להם לטעות, זה שעובדים את הכוכבים ואת הצורות, עד שאבד האמת מדעתם; ובן ארבעים שנה, הכיר אברהם את בוראו.

  • how does one show the difference between "avot" and "the avot"? In Yehoshua 22:28 he sees to be speaking of "the" but doesn't say "ha-avot" – rosends Apr 25 '16 at 3:13
  • @Danno In Yehoshua he says "your forefathers" that is why I say it means generic. – sabbahillel Apr 25 '16 at 3:20
  • and in 18:3 he uses "your forefathers" as well (and in 24:5, 16 and 14) – rosends Apr 25 '16 at 3:39
  • also, interesting thing about the Rambam -- he says Avraham was 40 years old (I don't know his source) while above, halacha 3, he says כיון שנגמל איתן זה, התחיל לשוטט בדעתו והוא קטן, ולחשוב ביום ובלילה, והיה תמיה: היאך אפשר שיהיה הגלגל הזה נוהג תמיד, ולא יהיה לו מנהיג; ומי יסבב אותו, לפי שאי אפשר שיסבב את עצמו which would make him 3, introducing a 37 year gap during which he knew that idols had no power but he still worshipped them. – rosends Apr 25 '16 at 13:15
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Terah avi Abraham and avi Nachor but Abraham is not in the count according to the Ritba quoted bellow. Because Avraham leaves idolatry. Charan does not adhere completely to idolatry and follows Avraham, so he is skipped too.

The general idea

Our beginning is not special, the point is not "avot" as Prototype of the nation. But an exhortation to humility entails to remember the low level of beginning. Humility first make possible Hakarat Hatov laShem. The presentation is that Hashem brought Abraham. This enhances the need of humility.
The mention of Nachor is an allusion to the "natural continuum of Terach". Terach was not the inspirator of Abraham.
To illustrate this let's look the Perush of the Ritba on the Hagada. It is the source of my answer, perhaps I do not understand it enough, so, see here if this snippet can answer to your question.

‏ויעבדו אלקים אחרים ‏ חוזר על אבותינו הנזכרים ‏תרח ונחור, לא לאברהם‏ כי מקטנותו הכיר את בוראו ומאס בעבודה זרה לגמרי כמו שאמרו חז"ל, ומעצמו עשה, לא מתרבות אביו (not from the paternal culture )‏. ומאב ואם אחד יצאו הוא ונחור, וזה הלך לעבודה זרה וזה הלך לעבוד את ה', ומאס בכל זרע אביו וקרא היחוד. וכשם שנבדל הוא מכל האומות לקרוא בשם ה', אחר כך הבדילו ה' ולקחו הוא וזרעו להיות לו לגוי אחד בארץ מידה כנגד מידה. ‏
  • so why not mention Haran? – rosends Apr 25 '16 at 12:03
  • The point is Terach Avi Avraham. to say Do not think that the beginning is after avraham. the begining is VaEkach et avichim et Avraham. Hashem take et Abraham for the begining of a new story. the "natural story" was not this. the point is that before this there was no difference between the branch of Abraham and other branches. – kouty Apr 25 '16 at 12:24
  • so why mention Nachor? – rosends Apr 25 '16 at 12:44
  • This relieve the message, from a historic-genetic-cultural point of view Terach is not the begining of Abraham, the proof, his "natural-conventional" son is Nachor, we call Terach Avi A & a. N. because this message, the "Avi Nachor" go to tell Terach not more linked to Abraham than to Nachor – kouty Apr 25 '16 at 12:48
  • so the choice of mentioning Nachor or Haran was arbitrary? The text just needed "one who wasn't Avraham" to make its point? – rosends Apr 25 '16 at 12:53

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