Masechet Avodah Zarah 69a-75b

hero image
Keilim Mikvah
20 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 69a-b: Must we be concerned about non-Jews touching Jewish wine?

The Mishnah on today’s daf describes a number of cases where barrels of wine are left in a place where a non-Jew has access to them and the Jew who is in charge of the wine leaves. For example:

in all such cases, the Tanna Kamma believes that under ordinary circumstances the wine would be permitted, but if the Jewish person indicated that he would be going away then the wine will be forbidden if there was time to puncture the stopper (the megufah) and to close the hole so that the filling would dry and be unnoticeable. Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel says that the wine would be forbidden only if there had been enough time to remove the stopper entirely and then replace it with a new stopper that could dry and be unnoticeable.

Rashi and the Rambam explain that the Jew did not specify where he was going, so we must measure the time that he was away and determine whether the non-Jew could have tampered with the stopper. The Ra’avad understands the case to be when the Jew tells the non-Jew where he will be going, and if the distance is long enough to allow tampering with the stopper, the wine is forbidden. According to this view, if the non-Jew had no idea how long the Jew would be away, the wine would remain permitted.

The megufah, or stopper, on a barrel was a piece of clay used to cover the narrow opening from where the wine was poured. This megufah was essentially a utensil in its own right, but when the barrel was being moved, or when it was going to be put into storage for an extended period of time, then the megufah would be secured with mud in order to close the barrel entirely. When the wine barrel was opened, the mud covering would be broken and the megufah would be removed.

Avodah Zarah 70a-b: Soldiers and Jewish wine

According to the Mishnah on today’s daf, when a boleshet – an army unit – entered the city, during peacetime we are concerned about open barrels of wine but not about closed barrels of wine. During wartime we rule that all barrels of wine are permitted – whether open or closed – since we assume that the soldiers will not have time for libations to their gods, since they are occupied with their fighting.

The term boleshet is related to the Hebrew balash (a detective in modern Hebrew), indicating a close, careful search. A boleshet therefore refers to a group of soldiers or policemen who have come to engage in a search – for people to arrest, smuggled or stolen goods, etc. This mission allows the group to enter anywhere they choose and open whatever they want, even during peacetime.

The Ra’avad explains that even during peacetime, the boleshet has blanket permission to eat and drink from the possessions of the local populace, so we must assume that they have taken wine. If the barrels were closed, however, there is no concern that the boleshet opened them and then closed them, since they have nothing to fear if they just left them open.

According to the Mishnah, during wartime, the soldiers do not have time to offer libations so even open barrels are permitted. Nevertheless, shouldn’t we be concerned that the non-Jewish soldiers touched the wine when they took some to drink? Rabbeinu Yonah argues that the Rabbinic injunction forbidding wine that was touched by a non-Jew is limited to situations where there is at least a possibility that an idolatrous libation may be offered. Therefore, in a case where the concern about libation is removed entirely – like a situation where the soldiers are engaged in battle – no Rabbinic injunction would be in force.

Avodah Zarah 71a-b: Selling wine to a non-Jew

As we have learned, whenever a non-Jew touches wine and has the opportunity to pour a libation to a pagan god, the wine becomes forbidden as stam yeinam – ordinary non-Jewish wine. The Mishnah on today’s daf discusses how one can sell wine to a non-Jew, since the wine will become stam yeinam as soon as it is poured into his container. The Mishnah teaches that if the non-Jewish buyer and the Jewish seller came to an agreement regarding the price of the wine before it was measured out into the non-Jew’s container, then the money is permitted. If, however, the wine was first measured out and only afterwards the price was discussed, then the Jew cannot make use of the money since the wine had already become stam yeinam before the sale took place.

The Gemara connects this ruling with a general discussion of how Jewish law relates to business dealings between Jews and non-Jews. Ameimar rules that a kinyan meshichah – an act of ownership performed by pulling or drawing an object towards you – is effective when done by a non-Jew, even if no money was exchanged. Rav Ashi disagrees, arguing that only if money is exchanged will ownership change hands. As proof he brings a case similar to the one in our Mishnah, where Rav instructed wine-sellers to collect payment before selling wine to non-Jews, or at least arrange a loan so that the non-Jews will be obligated to pay a loan rather than pay for the wine. The explanation that Rav gave was that if the wine was still owned by the Jew when it was placed in the hands of the non-Jew, no benefit can be derived from it, since it is considered yayin nesech – wine libated to the gods.

Avodah Zarah 72a-b: Are all liquids connected?

The Mishnah on today’s daf is concerned whether when wine is poured into a barrel containing forbidden wine, perhaps the connection between the liquids will cause the permitted wine to become prohibited, as well. This theme leads to a number of warnings made to Jews who dealt with wine, as described by the Gemara.

Rav Chisda instructed the Jewish wine-dealers: When you measure wine for non-Jews, either cut off the flow or pour it in with a splash. Rava told Jews whose occupation was to pour wine: When you pour wine, let no non-Jew come near to help you, lest you forget yourselves and rest the barrel on his hands and the wine will be poured as a result of his actions and the wine be prohibited.

The Gemara relates that a man was drawing wine through a siphon consisting of a large and small tube (the Gemara refers to these as a gishta and a bat gishta). A non-Jew came and put his hand on the large tube, and Rava disqualified all the wine. Rav Papa said to Rava (some say it was Rav Adda bar Mattena or Ravina who said to Rava), was it on account of the outflow, from where we can learn that the outflow is a connecting link? Rava answered that it is different in this case, since all the wine is drawn through the siphon.

Mar Zutra the son of Rav Nachman taught that it is permitted to drink wine from a vessel containing several tubes, provided the Jewish person stops first but not when the non-Jew stopped first, since the wine from his mouth will return to the vessel. Rabbah bar Rav Huna visited the house of the Reish Galuta and allowed the company — which included non-Jews — to drink from a vessel containing several tubes.

We find many pictures from the ancient world that show groups of people drinking from a single vessel by means of tubes and siphons. Some suggest that the words used in the Gemara to describe this — gishta and bat gishta — are related to the Persian word “to suckle” although the philological evidence is not clear.

Avodah Zarah 73a-b: Bitul – Nullifying forbidden foods

When we have mixtures of foods that are forbidden with foods that are permitted, can the forbidden food ever be perceived as so insignificant that it is nullified so that the mixture can be eaten?

The Mishnah on today’s daf teaches that yayin nesech – wine that has been poured off as a libation to pagan gods – that is mixed with other wine – can never be nullified. Similarly, water that has been sacrificed in that way that has been mixed with other water can never be nullified. Water mixed with wine or wine mixed with water, however, will become nullified if the volume of the permitted liquid overwhelms the forbidden liquid to the extent that it can no longer be tasted. The general principle is that min b’mino – in a mixture where the two things are similar – one cannot nullify the other; min b’she’eno mino – when the mixture is two dissimilar things – one can nullify the other.

The Gemara teaches that there is a disagreement about this ruling, and that Rav and Shmuel accept the teaching of the Mishnah. Rabbi Yochanan and Reish Lakish, however, basing themselves on a baraita, rule that under all circumstances the smaller part of the mixture can become nullified if there is so much of the other ingredient that the smaller one can no longer be tasted (an amount that the Sages concluded was 60 times the smaller ingredient). Only in cases like yayin nesech, where the severity of idol worship is so great, will this rule not apply and the mixture will remain forbidden.

Although the Gemara does not distinguish between yayin nesech and stam yeinam – ordinary non-Jewish wine that has not been poured out as a sacrifice – Rabbeinu Tam does suggest that stam yeinam should be treated like any other forbidden substance and that it can be nullified. The R”i argues that in the time of the Mishnah there may have been no reason to distinguish between them, but in societies where idol worship – and libations to pagan gods – are uncommon, it makes sense to treat stam yeinam like any other prohibited substance and allow it to be nullified.

Avodah Zarah 74a-b: Tarring a kosher wine-press

When preparing a wine-press where the grapes would be placed and trodden upon, usually hot tar would be poured on the ground so that the juice would not soak into the earth and be lost. It was common practice to pour wine on the tar – either before or after it was set (Rashi suggests that it was done when the tar was still hot) – in order to help remove the bad smell and taste of the tar.

The Mishnah on today’s daf describes that if a non-Jew poured this wine it must be dried up and removed before the wine-press can be used for kosher wine. As the Gemara explains, drying up the wine should be understood to mean that it is washed off with water and detergent in order to completely remove the non-Jewish wine that may have been absorbed in the tar or mar have congealed on it. The Ra’avad explains that the purpose of washing off the tarred area was not to remove the wine, which does not really become absorbed in the tar – and if it does become absorbed, in any case it is no longer considered wine. Rather, the concern in this case is that there are spots where the tar may not have reached, where the forbidden wine may collect. Those places must be washed well before using the press for kosher wine.

The Ramban points out that even though utensils that hold wine for only a short period of time ordinarily do not need more than simple rinsing in order to be used, in the case of the wine-press, since non-Jewish wine is often left for several days in order to remove the taste of the tar – and occasionally the wine is changed two or three times – the requirement is that a more thorough cleaning take place.

Avodah Zarah 75a-b: Converting utensils for use in a kosher kitchen

Utensils that are made by non-Jews and purchased by Jews must be dipped in a kosher mikvah prior to their use.

The source for this halacha is the passage in Sefer Bamidbar (31:23) that describes how after the war with the Midianites, all metal vessels that were taken as booty in the war needed to be washed be-mei niddah – in a kosher mikvah containing 40 se’ah of water. This is not a requirement connected to the laws of kashrut; the Torah requires this even if the utensil had been made kosher by means of heat in fire beforehand.

Rav Nachman quotes Rabbah bar Avuha as teaching that this applies not only to used utensils, but to new ones as well, assuming that they are actually purchased and owned by the Jew, but not if they were simply borrowed. Rav Sheshet challenges this teaching by suggesting that all utensils should require this dipping in a mikveh – even a sarbela – a scissors. Rav Nachman responded that the case in the Torah dealt specifically with utensils used for food and food preparation, so this law is limited to those situations.

The Talmud Yerushalmi teaches that the reason for this law is because the utensil is moving from an ordinary existence to the higher level holiness of Judaism; the Ritva compares this dipping in the mikvah to a case of a ger – a convert – whose change of status to a Jew is confirmed by dipping in the mikvah. Limiting the requirement to food utensils indicates that kosher food preparation must concern itself not only with the technical kashrut of the food, but to a higher spiritual level of the food, as well.

The sarbela mentioned by Rav Sheshet is a scissors, although the source of the word in Greek means “a pair.” Later the term came to encompass various things that always come in pairs – and scissors in particular.

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.