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Babylonian Talmud: Tractate ‘Abodah Zarah
The Master said [above]: 'When it is certain that they dropped from the idol, all agree that they are prohibited.' Against this statement I cite the following: When stones dropped from a Mercurius, if they are seen to be connected with it they are prohibited, and if they do not appear to be connected with it they are permitted; and R. Ishmael says: Three stones are prohibited but two are permitted! — Raba explained: Do not read in this extract 'dropped' but 'were found'.5 But is R. Ishmael's opinion that [if they are within four cubits] two stones are permitted? Behold it has been taught: R. Ishmael says: If two stones were found within the idol's reach6 they are prohibited and three are prohibited even at a greater distance! — Raba explained: There is no contradiction; here7 they were within one reach, and there within two reaches. How is this to be understood?8 — There is a mound between [the stones] and the Mercurius.
When they are lying in this manner9 [are they to be considered a Mercurius]? For behold it has been taught: The following are the stones of a Beth-Kulis10 — one here, a second next to it, and a third on the top of them!11 — Raba explained: This teaching refers to the basis of a Mercurius.12
The palace of King Jannaeus13 was destroyed. Idolaters came and set up a Mercurius there. Subsequently other idolaters came, who did not worship Mercurius, and removed the stones with which they paved the roads and streets. Some Rabbis abstained [from walking in them] while others did not. R. Johanan exclaimed, 'The son of the holy walks in them, so shall we abstain!' Who was 'the son of the holy'? — R. Menahem son of R. Simai. And why did they call him 'the son of the holy'? — Because he14 would not gaze even at the image on a zuz.15 What was the reason of him who abstained [from walking in these streets]? — He agreed with what R. Giddal said in the name of R. Hiyya b. Joseph: Whence is it that an idolatrous offering16 can never be annulled? As it is stated, They joined themselves also unto Baal-peor, and ate the sacrifices of the dead17 — as a dead body can never be annulled,18 similarly an idolatrous offering can never be annulled. As for him who did not abstain, he said: We require [such an offering] to resemble what was offered within the Temple.19 and we have not such here.20
R. Joseph b. Abba said: Rabbah b. Jeremiah once visited our town. When he came he brought with him this teaching: If an idolater took stones from a Mercurius and paved roads and streets with them,
‘Abodah Zarah 50bthey are permitted;1 if an Israelite took stones from a Mercurius and paved roads and streets with them, they are prohibited; [and he added that] there was no scholar2 or scholar's son3 who could elucidate this teaching.4 R. Shesheth said: I am neither a scholar nor a scholar's son, yet I can elucidate it. What is the difficulty? The statement of R. Giddal.5 [To this I make the reply given above:] 'We require [such an offering] to resemble what was offered within the Temple, and we have not such here.'
R. Joseph b. Abba said: Rabbah b. Jeremiah once visited our town. When he came he brought with him this teaching: We may remove worms [from a tree] and patch the bark with dung6 during the Sabbatical year,7 but we may not perform these operations during [the non-holy days of] a festival. On both these occasions we may not prune,8 but we may smear oil on the place of pruning9 either during [the non-holy days of] a festival or during the Sabbatical year; and he added that there was no scholar or scholar's son who could elucidate this teaching. Rabina said: I am neither a scholar nor a scholar's son, yet I can elucidate it. What is the difficulty in it? Shall I say that the difficulty lies [in the operations mentioned] in connection with [the non-holy days of] a festival and the Sabbatical year, viz., why is the latter occasion different that the work is permitted from the former occasion when it is prohibited? Is, then, the Sabbatical year analogous [to the non-holy days of a festival], since the Divine Law forbade labour then but permitted occupation, whereas on [the non-holy days of] a festival even occupation is also prohibited!
Perhaps the difficulty is in connection with patching the bark and smearing the place of pruning — what is the distinction that the former is permitted and the latter prohibited? But is patching the bark, the purpose of which is the preservation of the tree and is permitted, analogous to smearing the place of pruning, the purpose of which is to strengthen the tree and is prohibited!10
Perhaps the difficulty is in the contradiction about patching the bark, because the teaching was: 'We may remove worms [from a tree] and patch the bark with dung during the Sabbatical year'; and against this I quote: We may patch the bark of plants, enwrap them, cover them with powder, make supports for them, and water them up to the New Year11 — up to the New Year this is permissible but not in the Sabbatical year itself!12 — Perhaps [the contradiction might be solved] according to the view of R. 'Ukba b.Hama who said: There are two kinds of hoeing [olive trees]; one to strengthen the tree and this is prohibited [in the Sabbatical year] and the other to close up cracks13 and this is permitted. Similarly here there are two kinds of patching; one is to preserve the tree and is permitted and the other to strengthen the tree and is prohibited!
Perhaps the difficulty is in the contradiction about smearing the place of pruning, because the teaching was: 'We may smear oil on the place of pruning either during [the non-holy days of] a festival or during the Sabbatical year'; and against this I quote: We may smear figs and perforate them to fatten them [with oil] up to the New Year14 — up to the New Year this is permissible but not in the Sabbatical year itself! — But are the two cases analogous; in the former the purpose is to preserve the tree and is permitted, whereas in the latter it is to fatten the fruit and is prohibited!
R. Sama the son of R. Ashi said to Rabina: Rabbah b. Jeremiah's difficulty is in connection with smearing the place of pruning on [the non-holy days of] a festival15 and patching the bark on that occasion.16 Since the purpose of both is to preserve the tree, why the distinction that one is permitted and the other prohibited? That is why [Rabbah b. Jeremiah] remarked, 'There was no scholar or scholar's son who could elucidate it.'
Rab Judah said in the name of Rab: If an idol is worshipped [by tapping before it] with a stick and [an Israelite] broke a stick in its presence, he is liable;17 if he threw a stick in front of it he is free of penalty. Abaye said to Raba: Why is it different when he broke the stick? Because it resembles the slaughter [of an animal in the Temple].18 Then the act of throwing a stick resembles the rite of sprinkling [the blood in the Temple]!19 — He replied: We require a sprinkling which is broken up and that we have not here.20 Against [this explanation of Raba] is quoted: If he offered to the idol excrement or poured out before it a vessel of urine,
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