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Tosfos in AZ 3a (DH Shelo Histachavu L'Tzelem) brings several proofs that Nevuchadnetzar's statue could not have been Avodah Zarah, and bowing to it would have been considered merely showing honor:

  1. In the list of goyim who would testify to the Jews' observance of mitzvos, Nimrod would testify that Avraham didn't serve Avodah Zarah, while Nevuchadnetzar would testify that Chananiah, Mishael, and Azariah didn't bow to his tzelem (AZ 3a). Clearly his tzelem and Avodah Zarah are two different things, or else it would have used the same lashon.
  2. The Gemara says that were they to have been tortured, they would have bowed (Kesubos 33b). Could it be that they would have bowed in spite of the rule that even death is no excuse?! It must be that it was technically permissible to bow, and they wanted to be mekadeish HaShem.
  3. "What did they see that they threw themselves into the fire?" (Pesachim 53b). V'chai bahem doesn't apply in public (Sanhedrin 74a), so why would they need a sevara? It must be that they were not violating any issurim by bowing.
  4. They were sentenced to misah for bowing to Nevuchadnetzar's statue. Why, then, did HaShem not strike them down immediately? Because they didn't really serve it; they were just pretending. So, too, HaShem didn't really sentence them to death, but rather wanted them to do teshuvah (Megillah 12a with Rashi). If it were really Avodah Zarah, they would not have been able to serve it even for pretend!
  5. The passuk (Daniel 3:18), which says they would not bow to "his god" or "his statue," implies that they are two separate things.

I would like to emphasize the word used for a statue - אנדרטי.

Now, take a look at the Targum to Esther 3:4:

די להמן לא הוה סגיד על דהוה עבדיה דאזדבן ליה בטולמת לחם ולאנדרטא די הקים בחדייה לא הוה גחין על דהוה יהודי ויהודאי לא פלחין ולא גחנין ליה.

To Haman he did not bow because [Haman] was [Mordechai's] slave that he bought for a piece of bread, and to the statue that he hung around his neck he would not bow because he was Jewish, and Jews do not serve nor bow to it.

Excuse me? Did Tosfos not just prove conclusively that it's technically mutar to bow to statues, since they're not idolatrous and therefore not under "die not do"?

Now, it occurred to me recently that Tosfos are of the opinion that one is allowed to give up his life even when not required to do so. On Avodah Zarah 27b DH Yachol, they write:

ואם רצה להחמיר על עצמו אפי' בשאר מצות רשאי

If one wants to be stringent on himself, even by other Mitzvos it is permitted.

However, if he was allowed to bow, why would he refuse, thereby endangering the entire Jewish people? If the Targum argues on this premise of Tosfos' and instead holds like Rambam's opinion that one may not give up his life where permissible (Yesodei HaTorah 5:4), the original question returns much stronger: not only is bowing permissible, it's obligatory!

Now, I don't know who the Targum is, and it may be that he is able to argue on Tosfos and indeed holds that bowing to a statue is idolatry. In that case, how does he explain the various proofs that Tosfos bring?

  • Maybe אנדרטא means "statue" or the like and in תוספות it's a non-ע״ז statue and in the תרגום it's an ע״ז statue? – msh210 Mar 8 '17 at 23:37
  • @msh210 Take a look at AZ 40b-41a. There are VERY limited cases in which statues are Avodah Zarah. – DonielF Mar 9 '17 at 0:25
  • I always thought it was a midas hassidus that Mordechai didn't bow. So the Targum is saying it's halacha? So everyone else shouldn't have, and only Mordechai followed the law? – robev Oct 23 '17 at 18:24
  • @robev According to the Targum, yes, that is correct. – DonielF Oct 23 '17 at 19:26
  • Beside all the arguments that Mordechai didn’t bow because of the idolatry, I’ve found a great teaching which teaches about another possibility alephbeta.org/playlist/mordechais-hidden-story – Levi Mar 5 at 22:01
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The text of the relevant Gemara Avodah Zarah 3b:

אמר להם הקב"ה מכם יבאו ויעידו בהן בישראל שקיימו את התורה כולה יבא נמרוד ויעיד באברהם שלא עבד עבודת כוכבים יבא לבן ויעיד ביעקב שלא נחשד על הגזל תבא אשת פוטיפרע ותעיד ביוסף שלא נחשד על העבירה

Instead, the Holy One, Blessed be He, says to the nations: Let the witnesses come from among you and testify that the Jewish people fulfilled the Torah in its entirety. Let Nimrod come and testify about Abraham that he did not engage in idol worship. Let Laban come and testify about Jacob that he is not suspect with regard to robbery (see Genesis 31:36–42). Let the wife of Potiphar come and testify about Joseph that he is not suspect with regard to the sin of adultery (see Genesis 39:7–12).

יבא נבוכד נצר ויעיד בחנניה מישאל ועזריה שלא השתחוו לצלם יבא דריוש ויעיד בדניאל שלא ביטל את התפלה יבא בלדד השוחי וצופר הנעמתי ואליפז התימני ואליהו בן ברכאל הבוזי ויעידו בהם בישראל שקיימו את כל התורה כולה שנאמר (ישעיהו מג, ט) יתנו עידיהם ויצדקו

Let Nebuchadnezzar come and testify about Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah that they did not prostrate themselves before a graven image

It's basically saying that Hashem is saying that the nations of the world themselves can testify that the Jewish people kept the entire Torah. It's not at all implying that its premitted to bow down to a graven image; in fact, the very fact that Hashem is saying how "Let Nebuchadnezzar come and testify about Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah that they did not prostrate themselves before a graven image", seems to prove that it is indeed prohibited to bow down to it according to the Torah. Now, what exactly is the scope of the prohibition? Comes along Tosafos:

שלא השתחוו לצלם - אומר ר"ת דצלם דנבוכדנצר לאו עבודת כוכבים הוא אלא אנדרטי עשוי לכבוד המלך ובהכי ניחא דנקט גבי אברהם שלא עבד עבודת כוכבים ובחנניה מישאל ועזריה שלא השתחוו לצלם וניחא נמי הא דאמרינן בפרק אלו נערות (כתובות דף לג:) אלמלי נגדו לחנניה מישאל ועזריה פלחו לצלמא ואילו היה עבודת כוכבים ממש חס ושלום כי מדאגת שום יסורין שבעולם לא היו משתחוים לצלם כר' חנינא בן תרדיון (לקמן עבודה זרה יח.) ששמו ספוגין על לבו ליסרו ור"ע (ברכות סא:) שסרקו בשרו במסרקות פיות והיינו הא דפריך פרק מקום שנהגו (פסחים דף נג:) מה ראו חנניה מישאל ועזריה שמסרו עצמן לתוך כבשן האש פירוש היה להם להשתחוות לצלם כיון שלא היה עבודת כוכבים ממש ועוד ראיה מפ"ק דמגילה (דף יב.) מפני מה נתחייבו שונאיהם של ישראל כלייה מפני שהשתחוו לצלם וכו' הם לא עשו אלא לפנים ואם היתה עבודת כוכבים היה להם למסור עצמן על קידוש השם ולישנא דקרא נמי משמע הכי דכתיב לאלהיך לית אנן פלחין ולצלמך לית אנן סגדין משמע דתרי מילי הוו:

So indeed Tosafos does say that there are two things, but he doesn't say that it's permitted to bow down to a statue, just that it's not "literally" avodas kochavim. Even though Tosafos says that "thye could have bowed to the statue since it wasn't literal Avodas Kochavim", but they had a reason not to, and it was still forbidden, like the Gemara that Tosafos himself brings before that proof (Pesachim 53b):

תא שמע עוד זו דרש תודוס איש רומי מה ראו חנניה מישאל ועזריה שמסרו [עצמן] על קדושת השם לכבשן האש

Come and hear: This was also taught by Theodosius of Rome: What did Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah see that led them to deliver themselves to the fiery furnace for sanctification of the name of God during the rule of Nebuchadnezzar rather than worship idols under duress?

נשאו קל וחומר בעצמן מצפרדעים ומה צפרדעים שאין מצווין על קדושת השם כתיב בהו ובאו [ועלו] בביתך [וגו׳] ובתנוריך ובמשארותיך אימתי משארות מצויות אצל תנור הוי אומר בשעה שהתנור חם אנו שמצווין על קדושת השם על אחת כמה וכמה

They drew an a fortiori inference on their own from the plague of frogs in Egypt. With regard to frogs, which are not commanded concerning the sanctification of the name of God, it is written: “And the river shall swarm with frogs, which shall go up and come into your house, and into your bedchamber, and onto your bed, and into the houses of your servants, and upon your people, and into their ovens and kneading bowls” (Exodus 7:28). When are kneading bowls found near the oven? You must say that it is when the oven is hot. If in fulfilling the command to harass the Egyptians, the frogs entered burning ovens, all the more so, we, who are commanded concerning the sanctification of the name of God, should deliver ourselves to be killed in the fiery furnace for that purpose.

So true that even according to Rashi, the simple meaning, the statue wasn't an "Avodas Kochavim" mamash, let's look at Rashi:

מה ראו - שלא דרשו וחי בהן ולא שימות בהן:

So seemingly, it's not automatically included in the prohibited to give one's life over, as Tosafos there says, and goes according to his opinion in Avodah Zarah, he says in Pesachim (and he seems to say here that it's barely even a tecnical Mitvah Kalah, which one would be obligated to give ones life over in public):

מה ראו חנניה מישאל ועזריה - פ"ה מה ראו שלא דרשו וחי בהם ולא שימות בהן וקשה דהא בפרהסיא הוה ומסקינן בסנהדרין (דף עד.) דלכולי עלמא בפרהסיא חייב למסור עצמו אפילו אמצוה קלה ומפר"ת דצלם זה שעשה נבוכדנצר לאו ע"ז הוה אלא אינדרטא שעשה לכבוד עצמו ולכך קאמר מה ראו וכן משמע מדכתיב לאלהך לית אנחנא פלחין ולצלם דדהבא לא נסגוד משמע דאלהא דידיה וצלמא תרי מילי נינהו ואתי נמי שפיר הא דאמרינן באלו נערות (כתובות לג:) אלמלי נגדו לחנניה מישאל ועזריה פלחו לצלמא ואי ע"ז הוה ח"ו שהיו משתחוים לו ומיהו לשון פלחו לא אתי שפיר ור"י מפרש מה ראו שלא ברחו שהרי קודם המעשה היו יכולים לברוח כמו שעשה דניאל כדאמר בחלק ( סנהדרין צג.) ג' היו

but still the Gemara in Pesachim clearly says that even though we might not be tecnically commanded to not bow down to a "Tzelem" (which is why the Gemara asks the question of why did they do it), but we still have the kal vachomer from the frogs that nevertheless we still should give our lives for the sake of Hashem, so for sure in Mordechai's case, he had every right to not bow. It's not that they "should have bowed" since they were permitted to, Chas Veshalom; that's not what Tosafos is saying, he's simply answering a question: why does the Gemara ask why they should have done it, with which the Gemara itself answered, and especially according to the last opinion mentioned in the Tosafos in Pesachim...

But anyway, all of that was only regarding the incident of Nevuchadetzar, where Tosafos clearly says that it "only a statue made for the kings honor"; however, regarding Haman's idol, it seems that it was an Avodah Zarah according to all opinions, even though the Targum calls it a "אַנְדְרָטָא" (see later), and even besides the fact that maybe it could be debatable what the status of the statue of Haman was, it seems that Haman himself was considered an Avodah Zarah, it says in Ester Rabbah 7:8

מָה אָמַר לָהֶם מָרְדֳּכַי לְמִי שֶׁאוֹמֵר לוֹ: מַדּוּעַ אַתָּה עוֹבֵר אֵת מִצְוַת הַמֶּלֶךְ, רַבִּי לֵוִי אָמַר, אָמַר לָהֶם מָרְדֳּכַי, משֶׁה רַבֵּנוּ הִזְהִיר לָנוּ בַּתּוֹרָה (דברים כז, טו): אָרוּר הָאִישׁ אֲשֶׁר יַעֲשֶׂה פֶסֶל וּמַסֵּכָה, וְרָשָׁע זֶה עוֹשֶׂה עַצְמוֹ עֲבוֹדַת כּוֹכָבִים.

So according to this Haman made himself a literal "Avodas Kochavim" in addition to the statue around his neck, let's just quote the relevant Tosafos from Pesachim again:

דצלם זה שעשה נבוכדנצר לאו ע"ז הוה אלא אינדרטא שעשה לכבוד עצמו

Now, let's look at the words of the Targum on Ester 3:4:

וַהֲוָה בְּמַלָלוּתְהוֹן לְוָתֵיהּ יוֹמָא וְיוֹמָא וְלָא קַבֵּל מִנְהוֹן וְחַוִיאוּ לְהָמָן לְמֶחֱזֵי הֲיִתְקַיְמוּן פִּתְגָמֵי מָרְדְכַי כָּל קֳבֵיל פִּתְגָמֵי דְהָמָן אֲרוּם חֲוֵי לְהוֹן דִי לְהָמָן לָא הֲוָה סְגִיד עַל דַהֲוָה עַבְדֵיהּ דְאִזְדַבֵּן לֵיהּ בְּטוּלְמַת לְחֵם וּלְאַנְדְרָטָא דִי הֵקִים בַּהֲדֵיהּ לָא הֲוָה גָחִין עַל דַהֲוָה יְהוּדִי וִיהוּדָאֵי לָא פַּלְחִין וְלָא גָחַנִין לֵיהּ:

He says that people told Haman that Morechai wouldn't bow to him because 1) Haman sold himself as a slave to Mordechai, and 2) because of the "אַנְדְרָטָא" that he had by him, and he wouldn't bow because "He's a Yehudi and Yehudim don't serve and don't bow to "it" (seemingly referring to the tzelem)"

Now, what exactly does "אַנְדְרָטָא" mean? Tosafos says that the "Tzelem" of Nevuchadnetzar was (only) a type of אַנְדְרָטָא that he made for his own honor, seemingly אַנְדְרָטָא just means "statue", I don't see any indication that the word אַנְדְרָטָא on its own implies something that's not Avodah arah; many Avodah Zarah's are statues. In fact, in the Jastrow dictionary, this word (in a different form) is simply translated as "statue":

enter image description here

Tosafos is just saying that Nevuchadnetzar's "image" wasn't an Avodah Zarah, it was just a "statue" that he made for his own honor, the stress isn't on the word "statue"; rather, on the point that it was only for his own honor, and it happened to be a statue, but that doesn't imply or mean that the word "statue" always excludes Avodah Zarah, especially since Haman would worship this "statue" as a literal Avodah Zarah according to the Midrash (see the end), and it seems pretty unlikely that the Targum would be arguing with this point of the Midrash... But basically, "statue" doesn't imply not Avodah Zarah, many Avodah Zarah's are, in fact, statues; the Avodah Zarah just means something that is worshipped as a "god", see Rambam hilchos Avodah Zarah (from the Gemara) where he says that even if people bow down to animals, plants or rocks (in some cases), they become Avodah Zarah with regard to certain laws.

So even if one might say that for some reason the word "אַנְדְרָטָא" does exclude Avodah Zarah, but certainly at least Haman himself was considered an Avodah Zarah since he made many people bow for him, and apparently consider him a god, like the Midrash Rabbah said above (that Mordechai told them the "he's making himself an Avodas Kochavim")...

And that itself is also another reason why the אַנְדְרָטָא of Haman should be considered an Avodah Zarah, not simply because it was a statue and all statues are not necessarily Avodah Zarah, but Haman wanted people to bow to the idol that he worshipped, and that itself gave it the status of Avodah Zarah, not the fact that it's a statue, but the fact that [he wanted that] people would worship it as a god (as the Targum himself says, that "...Yehudim don't worship it", implying that Haman wanted people to actually worship the "statue" as a god. In fact, let's look at the end of the Targum again:

וִיהוּדָאֵי לָא פַּלְחִין וְלָא גָחַנִין לֵיהּ

"And Yehudim 1) don't worship and 2) don't bow down to it", it seems clear that according to the Targum, there are in fact 2 different things going on here, bowing down and worshipping it.).

so according to all opinions Mordechai was forbidden to bow to the Avodah Zarah "statue" that Haman (who was also an Avodah Zarah) had with him. And not only was this considered bonafide idol worship which anyone should rather be killed than transgress, and the Tosafos himself says that even if they would have tortured Chananyal Mishayel and Zecharya to worship a literal Avodah Zarah, they would have taken all the pain in the world; not only that, but it was in public, which Tosafos said in Pesachim that even a "Mitzvah Kalah", one is obligated to give ones life and not transgress.

Besides that, not only was he prohibited to bow down to it for his own sake, but even for the sake of the rest of the Jewish people [although I'm pretty sure that even for the sake of other people one is forbidden to transgress one of the 3 Mitzvos, and even a Mitvah Kalah in public, but perhaps there could have been a "Horas Sha'h", although I'm not so sure about that since I don't know if Mordechai had the authority to do so, but maybe it could be argued that for the sake of the entire Jewish people, it might be different (although I dont think there's any basis for that), but still:), he had good reason to like it says in Me'am Lo'az (I have one here right now) page 82 (at the end of verse 3:6) it says:

"Mordechai had an important reason for stubbornly refusing to bow, even if it meant endangering the entire Jewish people. He knew that the Jews had committed a terrible sin by bowing to Nebuchadnezzar's statue. By his personal sacrifice, Mordechai was attempting to expiate this sin"

SO maybe he though that through saving their sin, they would automatically be saved and there was nothing to worry about, since once they're forgiven (through his self sacrifice), then nothing could harm them.

Another point from me-am loa'z page 78, which shows how the "statue" Haman had was indeed an actual idol that he worshipped:

"Haman held the idol that he worshipped in his bosom as he paraded through the town. He trusted in this idol, feeling that it had helped him overcome Vashti and gain his present high position. He held a representation of this idol, so that when people prostrated themselves to him, they would also be kneeling to the idol [Yad HaMelech]."

  • 1. I ask according to Tosfos who clearly say that it’s permissible to bow to a statue which is not made for idolatry. 2. I’m having trouble finding this Rambam. However, I believe the Gemara you’re referring to is Gittin 57b, regarding the woman commonly named Chanah and her seven sons. The last son refused to bend down to pick up the king’s ring since it would look like he’s bowing to an idol. The Gemara makes very clear that it’s an idol, not just a statue. So I’m having trouble believing that you’re accurately citing this Rambam. – DonielF Feb 20 at 14:37
  • 3. Re the decree was for Nevuchadnerzar’s idol: I cite this Gemara in the OP, as it’s Tosfos’ proof #4. It wasn’t an idol, it was a statue. Read that bullet point again and you’ll see what’s wrong with your argument. 4. Re Chananiah et. al.: That’s Tosfos’s proof...everything but #4. 5. That Me’am Lo’ez is the only thing that even remotely comes close to answering the question. I recommend deleting everything else, as it’s just wrong. – DonielF Feb 20 at 14:42
  • 6. If you don’t like Tosfos, that’s fine; if you’re citing the Rambam correctly then you have a Rishon to hold like. But I’m asking according to Tosfos, so you’ll have to demonstrate that the Targum actually disagrees before you can disregard Tosfos. – DonielF Feb 20 at 14:43
  • @DonielF look in the me-am lo-az yourself, the "statue" Haman wore was an IDOL that he WORSHIPED and thought that it was responsible for him rising to power, look at the edit – bluejayke Feb 20 at 23:22
  • 1
    bluejayke Youve persuaded me that andarta just means statue which in diferrent situations can be either idol or simply a figure. So haman had a real idol even according to targum yerushalmi. well done for all your research + – user15464 Feb 22 at 1:43

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