Rabban Gamliel and Aphrodite: Negotiating Public Space in a Multi-cultural Society

Rome and Jerusalem: A Minority Culture Defines Its Space

Rabban Gamliel in Aphrodite's Bath House

שָׁאַל פְּרוֹקְלוֹס בֶּן פִלוֹסְפוֹס אֶת רַבָּן גַּמְלִיאֵל בְּעַכּוֹ, שֶׁהָיָה רוֹחֵץ בַּמֶּרְחָץ שֶׁל אַפְרוֹדִיטִי,

אָמַר לוֹ: כָּתוּב בְּתוֹרַתְכֶם, ״וְלֹא יִדְבַּק בְּיָדְךָ מְאוּמָה מִן הַחֵרֶם״. מִפְּנֵי מָה אַתָּה רוֹחֵץ בַּמֶּרְחָץ שֶׁל אַפְרוֹדִיטִי?

אָמַר לוֹ: אֵין מְשִׁיבִין בַּמֶּרְחָץ.

וּכְשֶׁיָּצָא אָמַר לוֹ: אֲנִי לֹא בָאתִי בִגְבוּלָהּ, הִיא בָאתָה בִגְבוּלִי.

אֵין אוֹמְרִים, נַעֲשֶׂה מֶרְחָץ לְאַפְרוֹדִיטִי נוֹי, אֶלָּא אוֹמְרִים, נַעֲשֶׂה אַפְרוֹדִיטִי נוֹי לַמֶּרְחָץ.

דָּבָר אַחֵר: אִם נוֹתְנִין לְךָ מָמוֹן הַרְבֵּה, אִי אַתָּה נִכְנָס לַעֲבוֹדָה זָרָה שֶׁלְּךָ עָרוֹם וּבַעַל קֶרִי וּמַשְׁתִּין בְּפָנֶיהָ, וְזוֹ עוֹמֶדֶת עַל פִּי הַבִּיב וְכָל הָעָם מַשְׁתִּינִין לְפָנֶיהָ.

לֹא נֶאֱמַר אֶלָּא ״אֱלֹהֵיהֶם״ - אֶת שֶׁנּוֹהֵג בּוֹ מִשּׁוּם אֱלוֹהַּ, אָסוּר. וְאֶת שֶׁאֵינוֹ נוֹהֵג בּוֹ מִשּׁוּם אֱלוֹהַּ, מֻתָּר:

Proklos son of Plosfos asked Rabban Gamliel [a question] in Akko, while he was bathing in the bathhouse of Aphrodite.

He said to him: "It is written in your Torah (Deuteronomy 13:18): 'And let none of the condemned cling to your hand;' why then are you bathing in the bathhouse of Aphrodite?

He said to him: one does not respond [to halakhic questions] in the bathhouse.

When he exited, [R Gamliel] said to him:

"I did not come into her territory; she came into my territory.

[Moreover,] they did not say [when they built this bathhouse]: 'Let us make a beautiful bathhouse for Aphrodite.'

Rather, they said: 'Let us make Aphrodite for the beauty of the bathhouse.'

Another reason: [even] if they gave you a lot of money, you would not enter before your idolatry naked and defiled and urinating in front of it. Yet she stands on the sewer pipe and the entire nation urinates in front of her.

The verse (Deuteronomy 12:3) only applies to "their gods;" that which he treats like a god is prohibited, and that which he does not treat like a god is permitted."

(יח) וְלֹֽא־יִדְבַּ֧ק בְּיָדְךָ֛ מְא֖וּמָה מִן־הַחֵ֑רֶם לְמַעַן֩ יָשׁ֨וּב יְהוָ֜ה מֵחֲר֣וֹן אַפּ֗וֹ וְנָֽתַן־לְךָ֤ רַחֲמִים֙ וְרִֽחַמְךָ֣ וְהִרְבֶּ֔ךָ כַּאֲשֶׁ֥ר נִשְׁבַּ֖ע לַאֲבֹתֶֽיךָ׃
(18) Let nothing that has been doomed stick to your hand, in order that the LORD may turn from His blazing anger and show you compassion, and in His compassion increase you as He promised your fathers on oath—

Guiding Questions:

  1. Read the story and divide it into scenes.

  2. Ask as many questions as possible about the story. For example: Why doesn't Rabban Gamliel answer Proklos, aside from his stated reason?

  3. How many answers does Rabban Gamliel respond to Proklos? What do you make of each answer? What do you think each one was not sufficient on its own?

  4. Consider the context of the verse - open the chapter in Deutoronomy and consider what the context might add to this story.

  5. Identify the important characters in this drama. How do you imagine each one of them?

  6. Imagine the story more fully - as a movie, short story or poem. What aspects would you add?

  7. What is this story trying to tell us? Why was this story told?