Destruction of Idolatry in Tannaitic Literature
This chapter shows that the biblical imperative to destroy idols is not entirely absent from the Mishnah but can be found between the lines. A careful reading of these clues will help reconstruct a wide-ranging polemic over this imperative, grounded in the Tannaitic midrashim and reflected in the Mishnah. The first part of the chapter exposes a central polemic between the Tannaitic schools of Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Ishmael regarding the obligation to destroy idolatry, as reflected in the parallel homilies of Sifre and Mekhilta Deuteronomy to Deuteronomy 12:1–3. The second part focuses on the verses cited in Mishnah Avodah Zarah, which have not been until now part of the scholarly discourse about the tractate. It argues that Mishnah Avodah Zarah is an attempt to offer a systematic alternative to the Deuteronomic commandment to destroy idols which was accepted in the school of R. Ishmael at face value.
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