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Babylonian Talmud: Tractate ‘Abodah Zarah
R. Nahman reported that Rabbah b. Abbuha said in the name of Rab: If an idol is worshipped [by rapping before it] with a stick and [an Israelite] broke a stick in its presence, he is liable and [the stick] is prohibited.3 If he threw a stick in front of it, he is liable but [the stick] is not prohibited.4 Raba asked R. Nahman: Why the distinction — if he broke the stick it is regarded as an act of slaughter; if he threw the stick, it should likewise be regarded as an act of sprinkling! — He replied to him: We require a sprinkling which is broken up and that we have not here. [Raba retorted:] According to this reasoning, whereby should the stones [which are thrown before] a shrine of Mercurius be forbidden?5 — He answered him: I, too, had that difficulty and I put the question to Rabbah b. Abbuha who put it to Hiyya b. Rab and he put it to Rab who said to him: [The stone] becomes, as it were, an enlargement of the idol.6 This reply is satisfactory for him who maintains that the idol of an idolater is prohibited forthwith;7 but according to him who maintains that [the idol is not prohibited] until it has been worshipped [the stones] should be permitted since it has not been worshipped!8 — [R. Nahman] answered [Raba]: Each stone becomes an idolatrous object in itself and also an offering to the one next to it.9 [Raba asked]: If this is so, the last stone at least should be permitted!10 — [R. Nahman retorted]: If you know [which is the last stone], go and remove it!11 R. Ashi said: Each stone becomes an offering in itself and an offering to the one next to it.12
We learn: If he found on top [of a Mercurius] a garment or coins or utensils, behold these are permitted; but [if he found] grape-clusters, wreaths of corn, [gifts of] wine, oil or fine flour, or anything resembling what is offered upon the altar, it is prohibited.13 This is all right with [gifts of] wine, oil and fine flour, since they have a resemblance to what is within the Temple and also to the sprinkling which is broken up; but grape-clusters and wreaths of corn have no resemblance to what is within the Temple and to sprinkling which is broken up!14 — Raba said in the name of 'Ulla: [The prohibition applies when,] e.g., the man cut them at the outset for an idolatrous purpose.15
R. Abbahu said in the name of R. Johanan: Whence is it that he who sacrifices a blemished animal to an idol is free of liability? — As it is stated, He that sacrificeth onto any god, save unto the Lord alone, shall be utterly destroyed.16 — the Torah only prohibits what resembles that which is within the Temple. Raba objected: What [sort of blemish has R. Abbahu in mind]? Shall I say it is a cataract in the eye?17 Since, however, such an animal was qualified to be offered by the sons of Noah18 to God upon their altars, how much more so to an idol! Rather [must he be thinking of a blemish like] being defective in a limb, and it is in accord with R. Eleazar who said: Whence is it that an animal defective in a limb is prohibited [as an offering] to the sons of Noah? As it is stated, And of every living thing of all flesh, two of every sort19 — the Torah declares, Bring an animal which has all its limbs living.20 But the phrase of every living thing is required to indicate the exclusion of an animal which is trefa!21 — This is derived from the phrase to keep them alive with thee.22 This reply is satisfactory for him who maintains that an animal which is trefa cannot bring forth young; but for him who maintains that it can, what is there to say? — Scripture states with thee, i.e., animals like yourself.23 Perhaps, however, Noah was himself unsound of limb! It is written concerning him that he was perfect.24 Perhaps that means perfect in his ways! It is written concerning him that he was righteous!25 Perhaps the meaning is 'perfect' in his ways and 'righteous' in his actions! — It is impossible to say that Noah himself was unsound of limb, for if it entered your mind that he was, then the All-merciful said to him, Animals like yourself [which are defective] take [into the Ark] and exclude those which are unblemished! Since, now, [the thought that the animals were not defective] is derived from 'with thee', what is the purpose of 'to keep them alive'? — If [the Torah had only written] 'with thee,' I might have imagined that the reason was merely to provide him with company and [the animals could include] the old and even the castrated; therefore we are informed 'to keep them alive.'26
R. Eleazar said: Whence is it that if one slaughters an animal to Mercurius he is liable?27 As it is stated, And they shall no more sacrifice their sacrifices unto the satyrs.28 Since this text cannot apply to the subject [of worshipping idols] in their regular way — for it is written, How do these nations serve their gods!29 — apply it to the subject [of worshipping idols] in a way which is not regular to them. But is [the verse and they shall no more sacrifice etc.] to be used for this purpose? Surely it is required in accordance with the following teaching:
‘Abodah Zarah 51bUp to here1 it speaks of sacrificial animals which had been dedicated as offerings during the time that improvised altars were prohibited and were offered during the time such altars were prohibited, because the penalty is actually stated, viz., And hath not brought it unto the door of the tent of meeting etc.2 Here we learn the penalty; but whence is the prohibition? There is a text to state, Take heed to thyself lest thou offer thy burnt offerings in every place that thou seest;3 and it is as R. Abin said in the name of R. Elai: Wherever it is stated Take heed, or lest, or do not, it denotes a negative command. From [and they shall no more sacrifice] onwards it speaks of sacrificial animals which had been dedicated as offerings during the time that improvised altars were permitted and were offered during the time such altars were permitted, as it is stated, To the end that the children of Israel may bring their sacrifices, [which they sacrifice in the open field,]4 viz., which I previously permitted you [to offer upon improvised altars]; 'in the open field' — this teaches that whoever sacrifices upon an improvised altar at a time when such is prohibited, Scripture ascribes it to him as though he sacrifices in the open field. 'And bring them unto the Lord' — this is a positive command; but whence is the negative precept in this connection? There is a text to state, And they shall no more sacrifice their sacrifices. It is possible to think that the penalty [for transgressing the law about sacrificing to satyrs] is excision;5 therefore there is a text to state, This shall be a statute for ever unto them6 — i.e., this is for them but the other is not for them!7 — Raba said: Scripture reads, And they shall no more sacrifice.8
MISHNAH. IF HE FOUND ON TOP [OF A MERCURIUS] A GARMENT OR COINS OR UTENSILS BEHOLD THESE ARE PERMITTED;9 [BUT IF HE FOUND] GRAPE-CLUSTERS, WREATHS OF CORN, [GIFTS OF] WINE, OIL OR FINE FLOUR, OR ANYTHING RESEMBLING WHAT IS OFFERED UPON THE ALTAR, SUCH IS PROHIBITED.
GEMARA. Whence have we this? — R. Hiyya b. Joseph said in the name of R. Oshaia: One verse states, And ye have seen their abominations, and their idols, wood and stone, silver and gold, which were among them;10 and another verse states, Thou shalt not covet the silver or the gold that is on them.11 How is it, then? 'Among then,' is analogous to 'on them'; as with the things 'on them' what is ornamental12 is prohibited and what is not ornamental is permitted, so with the things 'among them' what is ornamental is prohibited and what is not ornamental is permitted. But reason [the other way about]: 'On them' is analogous to 'among them'; as 'among them' means that everything that is among them [is prohibited]13 so 'on them' means that everything that is upon them [is prohibited]! — In that case there would have been no need to mention 'on them'.14
COINS are surely an ornament!15 — The School of R. Jannai said: [The Mishnah deals with the circumstance] where they are tied in a bag and suspended from the idol.16 A GARMENT is surely an ornament! — The School of R. Jannai said: [The Mishnah deals with the circumstance] where it is folded and placed upon the head of the idol.17 A utensil is surely an ornament! R. Papa said: [The Mishnah deals with the circumstance] where a basin is inverted over its head. R. Assi b. Hiyya said: Whatever is within the veils,18 even water and salt, is prohibited;19 of the things outside the veils what is ornamental is prohibited and what is not ornamental is permitted.20 R. Jose b. Hanina said: We have a tradition that [this regulation concerning] veils applies neither to the idol Peor nor to a Mercurius. For what purpose [does he mention this]? If I answer that [non-ornamental] objects which are even within [the veils] are like those outside and are permitted, since people relieve themselves before it21 would they not the more bring water and salt as an offering to it! — Rather must the reason be that even what is outside is like what is within the veils and is prohibited.22
MISHNAH. IF AN IDOL HAS A GARDEN OR BATH-HOUSE, WE MAY USE EITHER SO LONG AS IT IS NOT TO THE ADVANTAGE [OF IDOLATRY],23 BUT WE MAY NOT USE EITHER IF IT IS TO ITS ADVANTAGE. IF THEY BELONGED JOINTLY TO IT AND TO OTHERS, USE MAY BE MADE OF THEM WHETHER IT BE TO THE ADVANTAGE [OF IDOLATRY] OR NOT. THE IDOL OF AN IDOLATER IS PROHIBITED FORTHWITH; BUT IF IT BELONGED TO AN ISRAELITE IT IS NOT PROHIBITED UNTIL IT IS WORSHIPPED.
GEMARA. Abaye said: The term ADVANTAGE means that payment is made to the heathen priests, and NOT TO ITS ADVANTAGE means that no payment is made to them, thus excluding the circumstance where payment is made to the idol-worshippers, which is permitted. There are some who apply this explanation to the second clause [of the Mishnah]: IF THEY BELONGED JOINTLY TO IT AND TO OTHERS, USE MAY BE MADE OF THEM WHETHER IT BE TO THE ADVANTAGE [OF IDOLATRY] OR NOT. Abaye said: The term ADVANTAGE means that the payment is made to the other joint-owners, and NOT TO THEIR ADVANTAGE means that no payment is made to the heathen priests. If one applies this explanation to the second clause, it clearly holds good all the more of the first clause;24 but if he applies it to the first clause, then it could not hold good of the second clause for the reason that there being others [sharing the ownership] with it, it would be right even to make payment to the heathen priests.25
THE IDOL OF AN IDOLATER IS PROHIBITED FORTHWITH. Whose is the teaching of our Mishnah? — It is R. Akiba's; for it has been taught: Ye shall destroy all the places wherein the nations served26 — the verse refers to the utensils which are used for idolatry. It is possible to think that if they were made but not completed, or completed but not brought [into the heathen shrine], or brought there but not yet used, they would still be prohibited; therefore the text states, 'Wherein the nations served', i.e., they are not prohibited until they have been used in the worship. Hence it is said: The idol of an idolater is not prohibited until it is worshipped; but if it belonged to an Israelite it is prohibited forthwith — Such is the statement of R. Ishmael; but R. Akiba says the opposite: The idol of an idolater is prohibited forthwith; but if it belonged to an Israelite it is not prohibited until it is worshipped.
The Master said [above]: 'The verse refers to the utensils which are used for idolatry.' But the verse speaks of 'places' [and not utensils]! — Since, however, It cannot refer to places, which are not prohibited — for it is written, Their gods upon the high mountains, not their mountains which are their gods27 —
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