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Back in the day when I was campus rabbi at Cambridge, I taught a series of classes on Talmud tractate Avodah Zarah. When we got to page 18b, the Gemara’s discussion caused some consternation among my students: “The rabbis taught: one who goes to a stadium or a fortress and sees there the enchanters and the clowns Bukion, Mukion, Mulion and Lulion... this is a moshav laitzim” — literally, a dwelling place of scoffers. The main reason given is that these activities were bittul Torah, neglect of Torah.
According to Jastow’s dictionary, Bukion et al seem to have been forms of popular entertainers in Roman times, practitioners of the mass culture of the day. What unsettled my students was the contemporary implication of the Gemara. The forms of mass entertainment and amusement in most societies are usually a waste of time. If you’re serious about spiritual growth, avoid them.
The term moshav laitzim comes from Psalms 1:1. “Happy is the man that has not walked in the counsel of the wicked, nor stood in the way of sinners, nor sat in a place of scoffers.” The Gemara picks up on the progression of verbs in the verse and sees in it a clue as to the nature of the problem. “If you walk in such places, you’ll end up standing. If you stand, you’ll end up sitting.” What can be wrong with going to a bar every now and then or watching an inane TV show (just to marvel, of course, at how inane it is)? The problem is the seductive “everyone’s doing it “ allure of mass culture. The Gemara’s advice: stay away.