Today’s section contains the thrilling story of the conversion of a man named Onkelos and the attempts of the Roman Emperor to bring him back into the fold of paganism. While later tradition attributed to him the Aramaic targum of the Torah, there is little historical evidence as to the truth of this story.
This is the first attempt of the Roman emperor to convert Onkelos. Onkelos recites verses to the soldiers sent to bring him back to paganism and they too convert.
Here we see how Onkelos convinces the second cohort to convert. They are enticed by the positive comparison of God to regular, secular leaders. God leads the people himself, carrying his light before them.
Again, Onkelos succeeds in converting the regiment sent after him. Again, he convinces the people that God is a better ruler than the flesh and blood Roman king to whom they are subservient.
But this time someone learns his lesson. The Roman emperor stops sending regiments to bring Onkelos back into the fold.
This short section returns briefly to the wonderful relationship between Rabbi and Antoninus.
Rabbi and Antoninus are descendants of Jacob and Esau, the two “lords” in Rebecca’s womb. Plus they digested their food really well!
There seems to be some dispute about the digestibility of cucumbers. But in the end, the Talmud resolves the problem by saying that large cucumbers are hard to digest, while small ones are easier. Good to know.
This sugya begins to deal with the dispute in the Mishnah on daf 8a over whether a death of a foreign king is considered idolatry even if they do not burn the belongings of the king, a common practice in the ancient world and in Revenge of the Jedi. We should note that it is unclear whether this refers to burning the king’s body or just his belongings. Both customs seemed to have existed, although the latter seems to have dominated.
The Talmud attempts to figure out the underlying reasoning behind the dispute between R. Meir and the sages. The issue seems to be whether burning the articles of a deceased ruler is an idolatrous ritual practice and therefore one cannot engage in business with pagans on that day. To R. Meir it is—therefore, only if the death is accompanied by burning of the articles is it prohibited to engage in business with them. But to the rabbis, it is not an idolatrous practice.
According to the rabbis, Jews are allowed to burn things at a king’s funeral. It is not “the way of the Amorite” activities that are performed by idolaters and therefore are off limits to Jews. So how could the rabbis in the Mishnah hold that it is the “way of the Amorites”?
The Talmud now reframes the dispute. The issue is whether burning the articles of the deceased king is a necessary sign of respect for the dead. Rabbi Meir says it is not—the pagans worship at the funeral whether they burn the king’s stuff or not. In contrast, the other rabbis hold that only if there is burning does worship take place.
This section returns to the topic of burning the king’s things (or perhaps the king himself). However, when it comes burning Jews, they are referring to burning things, and not the dead Jew himself.
Just as Jews were allowed to burn for kings, so too Jews were allowed to burn at the funerals of “princes.” As we shall see, this refers to the funerals of prominent Jews.
There is contradictory testimony here as to what they burned when the king/prince died. Was it his stuff or money? The answer is that they burned his things. And when Rabban Gamaliel died, Onkelos burned 70 manehs worth of his belongings, not seventy maneh of coinage.
We hear here of another practice done at funerals—the mutilation of the king or prince’s horse. This mutilation, according to Rashi, was cutting through the leg tendon so that the horse could no longer ride.
When R. Papa said that they would mutilate the horse, the implication seemed to be that they could not mutilate clean animals, such as oxen. But another baraita implies that as long as the mutilation does not render the animal a “trefa” an animal that may not be eaten according to Jewish law, the mutilation is permitted.
Therefore R. Papa translates the baraita as referring to a calf that pulls the royal coach. Such a calf could be mutilated, as long as it was done in such a way that did not render it trefa.