Masechet Avodah Zarah 62a-68b

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13 Oct 2010

The Coming Week’s Daf Yomi by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim (original ideas) of Talmudic scholar Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, as published in the Hebrew version of the Steinsaltz Edition of the Talmud.

Avodah Zarah 62a-b: Different types of non-Jewish wine

We have already learned that yayin nesech – wine that was poured out to honor a pagan deity – is forbidden to a Jew, and that furthermore, it is forbidden to derive any benefit from such wine and contact with the wine creates a situation of severe ritual impurity. Ordinary non-Jewish wine that has not been poured out to honor avodah zarah is called stam yeinam. It, too, is forbidden, although the level of ritual defilement attached to it is lower.

The Mishnah on today’s daf, which is the first Mishnah in the fifth perek of Masechet Avodah Zarah, discusses the situation of a worker who is hired to move around barrels of yayin nesech. According to the Mishnah, someone who is hired as a day laborer and in the course of the day does many different tasks, and is also asked to move the barrels of wine, can benefit from his wages without concern. If, however, he was hired specifically to move the barrels of wine, his wages are forbidden.

The Gemara asks whether the same rules apply to stam yeinam, which is forbidden in a manner similar to yayin nesech, or, perhaps, since the laws of ritual defilement are different, the rules of stam yeinam will differ here. In response the Gemara relates the story of an individual who leased his boat for the purpose of transporting stam yeinam, and was paid in wheat. When he asked Rav Chisda whether the wheat could be used, Rav Chisda required that he burn the wheat and bury its ashes, lest someone else inadvertently make use of it, even for fertilizer. Clearly, benefiting from stam yeinam is also viewed as a serious prohibition.

The Rashba points out that even with regard to prohibition, there are differences between stam yeinam and yayin nesech. One clear example is the fact that although stam yeinam can become batel – it can be viewed as nullified when mixed with a majority of kosher wine – yayin nesech will remain forbidden, even in a mixture. Nevertheless, since while it is in its pure state, stam yeinam is equivalent to yayin nesech, the Gemara’s comparison is a reasonable one.

Avodah Zarah 63a-b: Tainted money in the Temple

The Torah teaches that tainted money cannot be used in the Temple. Thus, neither an animal given as payment to a prostitute for her services (etnan zonah), nor money paid for purchase of a dog (mechir kelev) can be used to bring a sacrifice in the Temple (see Sefer Devarim 23:19).

The Gemara brings a baraita that teaches that if payment was made to the prostitute but he did not make use of her services, or if they engaged in relations but he did not pay her – in both of these cases the money could be used in the Temple. Since this teaching is difficult to understand, the Gemara restates the law – if there was a time lapse between when the money was given and when the act of prostitution took place, e.g., if payment was made beforehand, then the money can be used, assuming that she immediately consecrated it (for otherwise when the act of prostitution takes place, the payment would be forbidden retroactively).

One problem with this explanation is that a person can only donate a sacrifice to the Temple if he owns it. If payment is given to the prostitute before anything happened between them, then it is not an etnan zonah – it is simply a present – and would be permitted, but if payment was made on the condition that the prostitute take possession only at the moment that relations take place, how could the sacrifice be set aside beforehand?

The Rashba argues that the animal given to the prostitute should belong to her immediately, since when a purchaser takes possession of an object, halakhah considers it as belonging to him even if the money has not yet been paid.

The Ritva suggests that the law that allows the purchaser to take possession of the object even though he has yet to pay for it, is based on the fact that the original owner chooses to transfer ownership knowing that he can demand payment in court. Since the man cannot demand that the prostitute supply “payment” this law would not apply. According to the Me’iri, the Rashba’s question is based on a misunderstanding. In fact, the act of prostitution is the service that is purchased and the animal is payment for those services, which the “seller” cannot take possession of before services are performed.

Avodah Zarah 64a-b: Selling idols

The Gemara describes a number of conversations that took place between Rav Nahman, Ulla and Avimi bar Papi together with Rabbi Chiya bar Ami on the topic of avodah zarah. For example, avodah zarah is ordinarily forbidden, and when sold, its proceeds are forbidden, as well. What if the avodah zarah was sold while in the hands of a non-Jew?

Rav Nachman suggests that this question can be answered by examining the ruling made by Rabbah bar Avuha who recommended to a group of potential converts that they should sell their avodah zarah prior to converting. Clearly he believed that the money that they would make from such a sale would be permitted.

The Gemara objects, arguing that perhaps in that case the reason that the money was permitted was not because the idols had been sold, but because the people were about to convert so they must have nullified them prior to selling them.

The idea behind the Gemara’s argument is that since these people planned to convert they certainly did not believe in the idols, and since a non-Jew can nullify avodah zarah we can assume that they did so, so that when they sold them the money that they received was not in exchange for avodah zarah. In his Torat Chaim, Rabbi Avraham Chaim Shorr asks why Rabbah bar Avuha recommended that the avodah zarah be sold before the people converted; if they nullified the idols then they could be sold even after the conversion took place. He answers that it was simply a matter of marit ayin – a concern lest it appear as though the newly converted Jews were benefitting from the sale of avodah zarah.

The Ritva explains that our Gemara does not mean that nullification took place before the sale, rather that the sale itself served as an act of nullification, which is why the money was permitted.

Avodah Zarah 65a-b: Defining pleasure in this world and the next

Although we have learned that it is forbidden to give presents to pagans on the holidays that honor their gods, Rav Yehuda and Rava both taught that such gifts can be given if it is known that the non-Jew is not an idol worshipper.

Our Gemara relates the following story, illustrating this point:

Rava once sent a present to the local governor, Bar-Sheshak, on a pagan feast-day, saying, “I know that he does not worship idols,” but upon paying him a visit, he found him sitting up to his neck in a bath of rosewater while naked harlots were standing before him. Bar-Sheshak said to him, “Have you Jews anything this pleasurable in the World to Come?” Rava replied that the Jewish religion has even finer than this. Bar-Sheshak asked, “What can possibly be finer than this?” In response Rava answered that in the World to Come there will be no fear of the ruling power for Jews, while he still lives in fear of the ruling power. Bar-Sheshak argued that in his position as governor he has no fear of the ruling power.

While they were sitting together, the king’s courier arrived with the message, “Arise, the king requires your presence.” As he was about to depart – and recognizing how prescient Rava’s words had turned out to be – Bar-Sheshak said to Rava: “May the eye burst that wishes to see evil of you!'” To this Rava responded, “Amen,” and Bar-Sheshak’s eye burst.

The Gemara continues with Rav Papi saying: Rava should have answered him by quoting the passage in Sefer Tehillim (45:10) that princesses would serve the Jewish People in the next world. Rav Nachman bar Yitzhak said: Rava should have answered him by quoting the passage in Sefer Yeshayahu (64:3) that indicates that the reward of the next world is beyond what any human being can possibly imagine.

The political system in Persia was similar to a feudal system, which gave the local governor free reign and independence in the areas under his control, which is why Bar-Sheshak’s immediate response was that he feared no man.

Avodah Zarah 66a-b: Mixing kosher and non-kosher

When there is a mixture of permitted and forbidden foods, halacha recognizes a concept called bitul – nullification – that allows the mixture to be eaten under certain circumstances. The Gemara on today’s daf offers a number of examples of this where we find disagreements between Abayye and Rava.

When forbidden aged wine is mixed with fresh grapes, both Abayye and Rava agree that nullification will take place if you cannot taste the wine.

When forbidden “fresh wine” (i.e. grape juice) is mixed with fresh grapes, Abayye says that no nullification can take place, since the taste of the grape juice and the taste of the grapes are the same, so the taste cannot be nullified. Rava argues, claiming that nullification will take place if there are 60 times more permitted grapes than forbidden “fresh wine.” This ruling is based on the fact that grapes and “fresh wine” are known by different names, so they are perceived as separate entities, and nullification will take place when the forbidden product cannot be tasted – or, in our case, where the tastes are the same, when the volume of permitted product is 60 times the forbidden product.

When forbidden vinegar is poured into wine, both Abayye and Rava agree that nullification will take place if you cannot taste the vinegar.

When forbidden wine is poured into vinegar, Abayye says that no nullification will take place since anything that smells like vinegar is considered vinegar even if it still tastes like wine. As soon as the wine is poured into the barrel of vinegar its smell changes and it therefore cannot be nullified. Rava argues, claiming that nullification will take if there is 60 times more permitted vinegar than forbidden wine since the wine retains its designation as wine even if its smell changes to that of vinegar, so nullification can take place when the volume of permitted product is 60 times the forbidden product.

Some point out that there appears to be a contradiction in Abayye’s two positions. In the first case he seems concerned only with taste, while in this last case he seems concerned with the name of the product (is it considered “wine” or is it “vinegar”?). The Ri”d makes a number of suggestions to answer this question. First he points out that smell is very similar to taste, and since it now smells like vinegar, its taste is considered to be vinegar, as well. Furthermore, once its smell has changed, it is just a matter of time before the taste will change, as well.

Avodah Zarah 67a-b: Unrecognizable forbidden mixtures

When will a mixture of non-kosher food be forbidden and when will it be permitted?

Rabbi Abahu quotes Rabbi Yochanan as teaching that when the mixture contains non-kosher food and the taste of the non-kosher food is noticeable, then the mixture is forbidden and the person who eats it will be liable to receive lashes as punishment. If the taste of the non-kosher food is noticeable, but there is no actual food in the mixture – e.g. the non-kosher food melted and cannot be found or it was recognizable and was removed – then it is forbidden, but there is no punishment for eating it. If the taste of the forbidden food is an unpleasant taste – notein ta’am lifgam – then it is permitted entirely.

According to Rashi, there is no punishment in the case where the taste of the non-kosher food was noticeable but there was no actual forbidden food in the mixture because there is no biblical prohibition in such a case. Other rishonim, however, believe that there are sources in the Torah that forbid such a mixture, but the prohibition is not severe enough to require punishment. One explanation is that every case where there is taste but no actual forbidden food it is impossible to eat a sufficient amount – a kezayit b’kdei achilat peras (an olive-size amount eaten in the time that it takes to eat half a loaf of bread) – to become liable for punishment. This is based on the rule that it is prohibited to eat a chatzi shiur – a partial measure – of forbidden food, but there will be no punishment until a full measure is eaten within the specified amount of time.

It is a halacha le-Moshe mi-Sinai – a tradition given to Moses on Mount Sinai – that a person is responsible for eating forbidden food not only if he eats it all immediately, but even if a minimum amount was eaten within a prescribed time limit – kezayit b’kdei achilat peras. If he extended his eating over a longer period of time, then it is considered to be two separate “eatings” and he would not be held liable.

Avodah Zarah 68a-b: Do we need to forbid eating a mouse?

Our Gemara has been discussing the case of noten ta’am lifgam – when a forbidden mixture that is inadvertently added to a food imparts a worsened flavor to it. Although we ordinarily require that a significant amount of permissible food (in many cases 60 times the amount of forbidden food) be mevatel – nullify – the forbidden food that was mixed in, many of the Sages believe that if the additive is noten ta’am le-fegam – if it imparts a worsened flavor to the food – we consider it to be nullified on its own.

The Gemara relates a story in an attempt to clarify this law.

A mouse fell into a cask of beer and Rav prohibited the beer. Some Rabbis mentioned this in the presence of Rav Sheshet and remarked that Rav evidently was of the opinion that even when it is noten ta’am lifgam – when it imparts a worsened flavor – nevertheless it is prohibited. Rav Sheshet said to them: Rav certainly maintains elsewhere that when it imparts a worsened flavor it is permitted. Here, however, we have an anomaly since a mouse is something repugnant and people naturally find it impossible to eat. Since the Torah teaches that in such a case it is forbidden, it must come to teach that although it imparts a worsened flavor it is nevertheless prohibited.

Rashi explains that according to Rav Sheshet, there was no need for the Torah to prohibit eating mice, since no one would do it in any case. We therefore infer that the Torah is prohibiting this case even if it is a mixture that is noten ta’am lifgam. Tosafot argue that there is certainly a need for the Torah to teach this law, since otherwise it would not be clear that eating a creature like a mouse is truly forbidden by the Torah. They explain that there was no need for the Torah to forbid eating a mouse. The fact that the Torah chose to prohibit something that was disgusting is the chiddush – the novel concept – which teaches that even in a mixture it will be forbidden.

In addition to his monumental translation and commentary on the Talmud, Rabbi Steinsaltz has authored dozens of books and hundreds of articles on a variety of topics, both Jewish and secular. For more information about Rabbi Steinsaltz’s groundbreaking work in Jewish education, visit or contact the Aleph Society at 212-840-1166.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.