1) UTTERING THE NAMES OF FALSE GODS
QUESTION: The Gemara has a lengthy discussion about the stones of Beis Kulis. Throughout Maseches Avodah Zarah, the Gemara frequently mentions various names of Avodah Zarah. TOSFOS (DH Avnei Beis Kulis) quotes RABEINU TAM who asks why the Gemara is permitted to mention those names. The verse states, "The names of other gods you may not mention; it should not be heard on your lips" (Shemos 23:13; see Insights to Shabbos 129b). Although the Gemara in Sanhedrin (63b) states that if the name of the Avodah Zarah is mentioned in the Torah, one is permitted to say its name, many of the names mentioned in the Gemara here, such as Kulis, are not mentioned in the Torah.
(a) TOSFOS quotes RABEINU TAM who answers that the original name of the Avodah Zarah was "Kilus" -- "praise," and the Chachamim changed it to "Kulis" -- "scorn." The term "Mar" which the Chachamim inserted before the word "Kulis" also means "in exchange," signifying the exchange of the name "Kulis" for the name "Kilus." (See AVODAH BERURAH at length as to why the Chachamim did not leave the Kilus part and put "Mar" in front of it, signifying "the opposite of praise.")
(b) The ME'IRI in Sanhedrin (63b) writes that in the framework of learning Torah, one is permitted to mention the names of Avodah Zarah if doing so will facilitate his Torah learning. (Accordingly, mentioning the names certainly is permitted when one learns Maseches Avodah Zarah and needs to clarify the specific idols and forms of Avodos done for each.)
There is an obvious Halachic difference between these two opinions. According to Tosfos, even when learning Torah, a person must alter the name of the Avodah Zarah. According to the Me'iri, one need not alter the name of the Avodah Zarah when he is learning Torah.
HALACHAH: Does this dispute also apply to mentioning the name of the Nazarene? Many people have the custom not to mention his name, but to alter it in some degrading manner. Is there a basis for that custom?
The CHAVOS YA'IR (#1:11) had an argument with a certain sage. The sage wrote to the Chavos Ya'ir, "I see that you are not careful in Halachah, as you wrote the name of the mother of Oso ha'Ish as it is said by the Nochrim." The Chavos Ya'ir responded that although the custom is to be stringent not to pronounce the name of Oso ha'Ish and his mother and one should not change the custom, the Halachah permits one to say his name, and certainly to write it, for a number of reasons:
1. The Nazarene religion is not actual Avodah Zarah. (This is a subject of great debate among the Poskim. Most Poskim rule stringently, and some differentiate between the different sects.) He adds that this certainly is true about the mother of the Nazarene.
2. A name of an Avodah Zarah cannot become forbidden if it is the name of a person.
3. The prohibition against saying the name of an Avodah Zarah applies only when the Avodah Zarah was given its name when it was made an Avodah Zarah. For example, if a house was called "Kulis House" before it became a house of Avodah Zarah, and the name was adopted by the Kulis House worshippers, one is permitted to continue calling it the Kulis House. This is because the name was already permitted and can no longer be forbidden. Similarly, the Chavos Ya'ir asserts, people mention the names of the planets, such as Saturn, even though they were also worshipped. The BI'UR HA'GRA (YD 147:8) quotes this reason in the name of the YERE'IM and the HAGAHOS MAIMONIYOS.
The Chavos Ya'ir adds another leniency (which does not necessarily apply in the case of the mother of the Nazarene) and says that the prohibition applies only when the Avodah Zarah still has some followers. If it is no longer worshipped by anyone, one is permitted to say its name.
These reasons apply only to the given name of the Nazarene, but not to the Greek modifying word added to it which means "Messiah." Adding that word indeed may be prohibited. In any event, the custom is not to mention his name. It is noteworthy that even when the Chavos Ya'ir and Bi'ur ha'Gra discuss this Halachah and the reasons for leniency, they do not mention his name. (Y. MONTROSE)
2) THE AVODAH ZARAH THAT IS SERVED WITH A STICK
OPINIONS: Rav Yehudah in the name of Rav teaches two Halachos about an Avodah Zarah that is normally served with a stick. When one breaks a stick in front of the Avodah Zarah, he is Chayav for serving Avodah Zarah. If he throws a stick in front of it, he is Patur. Abaye asks Rava, why is breaking a stick in front of Avodah Zarah called serving Avodah Zarah? It is because breaking a stick resembles the act of Shechitah, one of the Avodos performed in the Beis ha'Mikdash. If one performs an Avodah for Avodah Zarah similarly to the way that the Avodah is performed in the Beis ha'Mikdash, then he is Chayav. Why then is one not Chayav when he throws a stick to an Avodah Zarah? Throwing a stick resembles the Avodah of Zerikas ha'Dam (sprinkling of blood) that was done in the Beis ha'Mikdash! Rava answers that to be similar to the Avodah of the Beis ha'Mikdash, it must be a Zerikah ha'Mishtaberes, a Zerikah which breaks up, just as the blood sprinkled by the Kohanim breaks up on its way to the Mizbe'ach.
Why does Rav say this Halachah only with regard to an Avodah Zarah which is normally served with a stick? To understand the answer to this question, it is necessary to review the sources for the statement of Rav.
(a) RASHI (DH Shavar Makel) explains that when one performs, for an Avodah Zarah, any Avodah which is done in the Beis ha'Mikdash, he is Chayav, whether or not the Avodah Zarah is normally served in this manner. The Gemara in Sanhedrin (60b) derives this from the verse, "Zove'ach l'Elohim Yecheram, Bilti la'Hashem Levado" -- "One who sacrifices to a god will be destroyed, only to Hash-m alone" (Shemos 22:19). This verse teaches that the Avodos done for Hash-m constitute Avodah Zarah when done for foreign gods. If the Avodah bears no resemblance to an Avodah of the Beis ha'Mikdash, the person is Patur, unless it is the normal manner to serve the Avodah Zarah. This is derived from the verse, "u'Pen Tidrosh l'Eloheihem..." -- "And lest you seek out their gods saying: 'How do these nations serve their gods, and I will do the same" (Devarim 12:30). This verse teaches that any manner in which the nations serve a particular idol constitutes Avodah Zarah for that idol.
What is the law in a case where the act is similar to something done in the Beis ha'Mikdash, but it is not exactly the same? This is the case of breaking a stick which is only similar to slaughtering. Rashi explains that this is why Rav states his law in the case of an Avodah Zarah which is normally served with a stick. Rashi explains that the case is where they serve this particular Avodah Zarah by waving a stick around. The combination of being similar to an Avodah of the Beis ha'Mikdash and breaking an object which is relevant to the service of this Avodah Zarah renders the person who does this type of Avodah for Avodah Zarah Chayav.
In summary, Rashi maintains:
1. One who performs an Avodah for Avodah Zarah is Chayav when that Avodah is one of the Avodos done in the Beis ha'Mikdash, whether or not it is normally done for that Avodah Zarah.
2. If the service bears no resemblance to any Avodah done in the Beis ha'Mikdash, a person who does it for Avodah Zarah is Chayav only if the Avodah is normally done for that particular Avodah Zarah.
3. If a service is similar to the Avodah done in the Beis ha'Mikdash, and it is done by using something which is normally used in the service of that particular Avodah Zarah, the person who does it is Chayav.
(b) The RAMBAN disagrees with Rashi and maintains that according to Rav, there are only two rules:
1. One is Chayav for doing the type of Avodah done in the Beis ha'Mikdash, and any act that closely resembles that Avodah, when done for Avodah Zarah, whether or not it is normally done for that Avodah Zarah.
2. If the service bears no resemblance to that done in the Beis ha'Mikdash, a person who does it for Avodah Zarah is Chayav only if the Avodah is normally done for that particular Avodah Zarah.
According to the Ramban, the original question remains: Why does Rav teach his law only with regard to an Avodah Zarah which is normally served with a stick? Even if the Avodah Zarah is not normally served with a stick, such an Avodah still constitutes an full-fledged act of idolatry since it resembles the Avodah of Shechitah done in the Beis ha'Mikdash! The Ramban explains Rav says his law with regard to an Avodah Zarah which is normally served with a stick because of what he teaches in the end of his statement: if one throws a stick, he is Patur. One may have thought that one who throws a stick in front of an Avodah Zarah is Chayav, especially if that Avodah Zarah is normally served by waving around a stick. Rav teaches that even though the Avodah Zarah is normally served this way, as long as it does not resemble the Avodah in the Beis ha'Mikdash, the person who does it is not Chayav. (Y. MONTROSE)