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Babylonian Talmud: Tractate ‘Abodah Zarah
We have ascertained R. Ishmael's reason for the view that the idol of an idolater is not prohibited until it is worshipped; but whence does he derive that the idol of an Israelite is prohibited forthwith? — It is common sense that if when it belongs to an idolater [it is not prohibited] until it is worshipped, when it belongs to an Israelite it should be prohibited forthwith — But draw the conclusion that when it belongs to an Israelite [it is prohibited] not at all! — Since it has to be removed out of sight,5 shall it not be prohibited at all! But why not say [that when it belongs to an Israelite it is to be treated in the same way as when it belongs to] an idolater! — Scripture stated, And I took your sin, the calf which ye had made6 — from the moment it was made it came within the category of 'sin'. [But again] conclude from these words that a man is guilty of sin [when he makes an idol] but not that it is prohibited! — Scripture stated, Cursed be the man that maketh a graven or molten image7 — from the moment it is made he comes under the curse. Conclude from these words that a man becomes involved in a curse [when he makes an idol] but not that it is prohibited! — It is written, An abomination unto the Lord.8
How does R. Akiba [explain this phrase]?9 — [The idol] is a thing that leads to an abomination.10 Whence does R. Akiba derive his view that the idol of an idolater is prohibited forthwith? — 'Ulla said: Scripture stated, The graven images of their gods shall ye burn with fire11 — as soon as they have been made into graven images they become deities. And how does the other12 [explain this verse]? — He requires it in accordance with the teaching of Rab Joseph who learned: Whence is it that an idolater can annul his deity? — As it is stated, The graven images of their gods shall ye burn with fire.13 And whence does the other [i.e., R. Akiba, derive this regulation]? — He deduces it from the statement of Samuel who asked: It is written, Thou shalt not covet the silver or the gold that is on them, and it continues, Thou shalt take it unto thee14 — so how is this to be understood? When [the idolater] fashions it into a god do not covet it, but when he has annulled15 it so that it is no longer a god you may take it for yourself.
We have ascertained R. Akiba's reason for the view that the idol of an idolater is prohibited forthwith, but whence does he derive that if it belonged to an Israelite [it is not prohibited] until it is worshipped? — Rab Judah said: Scripture stated, And setteth it up in secret,16 i.e., [he is not involved in the curse] until he performs towards it things which are done in secret.17 And how does the other [i.e., R. Ishmael, explain this phrase]? — He requires it in accordance with the teaching of R. Isaac who said: Whence is it that an idol belonging to an Israelite must be removed out of sight?18 As it is stated, And setteth it up in secret. And from where does the other [i.e., R. Akiba, derive this regulation]? — He deduces it from what R. Hisda said in the name of Rab: Whence is it that an idol belonging to an Israelite must be removed out of sight? As it is stated, Thou shalt not plant thee an Asherah of any kind of tree beside the altar19 — as an altar must be removed out of sight,20 so an Asherah [belonging to an Israelite] must be removed out of sight. And what does the other [i.e., R. Ishmael, make of this verse]? — He requires it in accordance with the teaching of R. Simeon b. Lakish who said: Whoever appoints an unworthy judge is as though he plants an Asherah in Israel, as it is stated, Judges and officers shalt thou make thee in all thy gates,21 and near it [is stated], 'Thou shalt not plant thee an Asherah of any kind of tree'; and R. Ashi said: [Should he have appointed such a judge] in a place where there are disciples of the Sages, it is as though he had planted an Asherah by the side of the altar, as it is stated, 'Beside the altar.'22
R. Hamnuna asked: How is it if one rivetted a vessel [which has been broken] for an idol? Whose idol? If I answer the idol of an idolater, then both according to R. Ishmael and R. Akiba they are appurtenances of idolatry, and appurtenances of idolatry are not prohibited until they are used. It must therefore be the idol belonging to an Israelite; so according to whom [is the question to be decided?] If I say it is according to R. Akiba, since the idol itself is not prohibited until it is worshipped obviously its appurtenances [must first be used before they are prohibited]! If on the other hand, according to R. Ishmael who said that [the idol of an Israelite] is prohibited forthwith [the question will then be]: do we draw a deduction about the appurtenances [of an Israelite's] idol from the appurtenances [of a heathen's idol]? Just as with the latter [they are not prohibited] until they are used, so with the former [they are not prohibited] until they are used. Or do we draw the deduction from the idol itself, that as [an Israelite's idol] is prohibited forthwith also its appurtenances are prohibited forthwith? [But if this is what R. Hamnuna meant to ask,] why does he specify 'one rivetted a vessel' in his question? Let him ask about one who made a vessel!23 — R. Hamnuna put the question in that form because of the problem of the former defilement; for we have learnt: Of metal utensils those which are flat and those which are formed as receptacles contract defilement; if they are broken they lose their defilement, but if repaired they return to their former defilement.24 So thus did [R. Hamnuna ask]: When its defilement returns, does it mean to the Biblical defilement or to the Rabbinical defilement, or perhaps there is no difference?25 But if that were his intention, let him put his question with reference to the other Rabbinical defilements!26 — His purpose was that one question should embrace another, viz., Does Rabbinical defilement return or not? And if you decide that it does not return, do the Rabbis make defilement caused by idolatry, on account of its severity, equal to Biblical defilement or not?27 — The question remains unanswered.
R. Johanan asked R. Jannai: How is it with foodstuffs offered to an idol?28 Does the annulment [of the idol] avail to purify them of their defilement or not? But he should have framed his question with reference to utensils!29 — There is no question about utensils, because for them there is purification [by immersion] in a ritual bath,30 so the defilement [by idolatry] can likewise be annulled.31 What he does ask is about foodstuffs [offered to an idol].32 But let him frame his question with reference [to foodstuffs] which are themselves the object of idolatrous worship!33 — He does not frame his question with reference [to foodstuffs] which are themselves the object of idolatrous worship,
‘Abodah Zarah 52bbecause when its prohibited character is annulled its defilement is likewise annulled. What he does ask is with reference to foodstuffs offered to an idol: How [are we to decide]? [Shall we say] since its prohibited character cannot be annulled according to R. Giddal,1 it follows that its defilement can likewise never be annulled; or perhaps, though what is prohibited by the Torah cannot be annulled its defilement, which is a Rabbinical ordinance, can be annulled? — The question remains unanswered.
R. Jose b. Saul asked Rabbi: May utensils which were used in the Temple of Onias2 be used in the Sanctuary? This question follows on the view of him who said that the Temple of Onias was not an idolatrous shrine; for we have learnt: Priests who served in the Temple of Onias may not serve in the Sanctuary which is in Jerusalem, and it is unnecessary to state that [priests who served] an idol3 [are disqualified].4 Were the priests penalised by the Rabbis because they were rational beings but [they did not penalise] the utensils, or perhaps there is no difference [and the utensils are also disqualified]? — [Rabbi] replied to him: They are prohibited and I had a Scriptural text [upon which to support this decision] but I have forgotten it. [R. Jose b. Saul] quoted against him: Moreover all the vessels, which king Ahaz in his reign did cast away when he trespassed, have we prepared and sanctified5 — does not 'have we prepared' mean that we immersed them [in a ritual bath to purify them], and 'sanctified' that we have made them holy again!6 He said to him: May the blessing of Heaven be upon you for having restored my loss to me!7 'Have we prepared' means we have stored them away, and sanctified that we have substituted others for them. Is this to say that [Rabbi] has support [from this Mishnah]: In the north-east8 the Hasmoneans stored away the altar-stones which the Greeks had made abominable;9 and R. Shesheth remarked thereon: They had made them abominable through idolatry?10 — R. Papa said: There [in the case of the Hasmoneans] they found a verse and expounded it [to support their action], for it is written, And robbers shall enter into it and protect it.11 [When the Hasmoneans recaptured the Temple] they said, How shall we act? If we have them broken,12 the All-merciful declared that they were to be whole stones;13 if we saw them,14 the All-merciful declared, Thou shalt lift up no iron tool upon them!15 But why did they not have them broken16 and take them for their own private use? Has not R. Oshaia said: [The Rabbis] wished to store away all the silver and gold in the world on account of the silver and gold [plundered from the Sanctuary] of Jerusalem!17 And to this it was objected: Is Jerusalem the greater part of the world!18 But, said Abaye: What the Rabbis aimed at doing was to store away every Hadrianic and Trajanic denarius19 which had become worn by use20 because it was coined from [metal captured from] Jerusalem;21 until they discovered a verse of the Torah according to which it was permitted. viz., And robbers shall enter into it and profane it! — There [in the case of the coins] they had not been used in the Divine Service;22 but here [in the case of the altar-stones], since they had been used in the Divine Service it would not be respectful to put them to a secular use.
MISHNAH. AN IDOLATER CAN ANNUL AN IDOL BELONGING TO HIMSELF OR TO ANOTHER IDOLATER, BUT AN ISRAELITE CANNOT ANNUL THE IDOL OF AN IDOLATER. HE WHO ANNULS AN IDOL ANNULS ITS APPURTENANCES. IF HE ONLY ANNULLED THE APPURTENANCES THESE ARE PERMITTED BUT THE IDOL IS PROHIBITED.
GEMARA. Rabbi taught his son R. Simeon: AN IDOLATER CAN ANNUL AN IDOL BELONGING TO HIMSELF OR TO ANOTHER [HEATHEN]. The latter said to him, 'My Master, in your youth you taught us that an idolater can annul an idol belonging to himself or to an Israelite!' But can the idol of an Israelite be annulled; for behold it is written. And setteth it up in secret!23 R. Hillel the son of R. Wallas said: No, [Rabbi's teaching] is necessary for the circumstance where there was joint-ownership of the idol [by an Israelite and a heathen]. On this point what view did Rabbi hold in his youth and what view in his old age? — In his youth he held that the Israelite worshipped the idol on account of the heathen, so that when the latter annulled it for himself he annulled it also for the Israelite. In his old age, however, he held that the Israelite worshipped it on his own account, so that when the heathen annulled it he did so for himself but not for the Israelite.
There are some who apply [the statement of R. Hillel] to the next clause in our Mishnah: AN ISRAELITE CANNOT ANNUL THE IDOL OF AN IDOLATER. This is obvious! — R. Hillel the son of
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