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Babylonian Talmud: Tractate ‘Abodah Zarah

Folio 13a

but to confer enjoyment [or profit] is permitted. But R. Johanan said: Even if they are decorated with fruit they are also forbidden, by an induction from the minor to the major, thus: if it is forbidden to enjoy [the odour of idolatrous articles] how much more so should it be forbidden to confer a benefit [which will be applied to such purpose]!

The following question was then asked: R. Nathan says: On the day when remission is made of the usual tax towards idolatrous purpose, the proclamation is made: 'Whosoever will take a wreath and put it on his head and on the head of his ass in honour of the idols, his tax will be remitted; otherwise his tax will not be remitted!' How should the Jew act who is present there? Shall he put it on? That means that he is enjoying [the odour of idolatrous articles]! Shall he not put it on? Then he confers a benefit [of paying tax towards idolatry]! Hence it was said: If one buys aught in a market of idolaters, if it be cattle it should be disabled, if fruit, clothes or utensils, they should be allowed to rot, if money or metal vessels he should carry them to the Salt Sea.1  What is meant by disabling? the cutting the tendons of the hoofs beneath the ankle.2  Here, then, we are taught: 'Shall he put it on? That means he is enjoying! Shall he not put it on? Then he confers a benefit!'3  Said R. Mesharsheya the son of R. Idi: R. Simeon b. Lakish is of opinion that the Rabbis disagree with R. Nathan, so that [he can reply:] 'I give the opinion of the Rabbis who held the opposite view; whereas R. Johanan4  is of opinion that the Rabbis do not disagree [with R. Nathan]'.5  But [how could R. Johanan think that] the Rabbis do not disagree? Was it not taught:6  One may attend a fair of idolaters and buy of them cattle, menservants, maidservants, houses, fields and vineyards; one may even write the necessary documents and deposit them at their courts7  because thereby he, as it were, rescues [his property] from their hands.8  If he be a priest9  he may incur the risk of defilement by going without the [Holy] Land for the purpose of arguing the matter with them and have it tried in court. And just as he may defile himself [by going] without the Land, so he may become defiled by walking on a burial ground ('A burial ground'! How can that enter your mind? this is a defilement forbidden by Scripture! — What is meant is an Unclean Field10  which is only a Rabbinic prohibition.) Likewise, one may incur similar defilement for the sake of studying the Torah or taking a wife. Said R. Judah: This only applies when he cannot find [a place elsewhere] for studying, but when one can manage to learn [elsewhere] one must not defile oneself; but R. Jose said: Even when one can manage to study [elsewhere] he may defile himself, for no man is so meritorious as to learn from any teacher. Said R. Jose: There is the case of Joseph the Priest who followed his master to Zidon.11  Whereupon R. Johanan [himself] said: The halachah is according to R. Jose. Hence the Sages do disagree!12  R. Johanan may answer you thus: The Rabbis do not indeed disagree [with R. Nathan], yet there is no difficulty here: The one case13  refers to purchasing from a dealer, from whom the tax is exacted, the other case refers to purchasing from a private man14  from whom the tax is not exacted.

The master stated: 'Cattle should be disabled.' But is there not the prohibition of causing suffering to a living being?15  — Said Abaye: The Divine Law says, Their horses thou shalt hough.16

The Master stated: 'What is meant by disabling [cattle]? The cutting of the tendons beneath the ankle.' The following is cited as contradicting it: One should not declare anything as sanctified, or as devoted, or as set value upon17  at the present time;18  and if one did declare aught as sanctified or devoted or set value upon, then if it be cattle it should be disabled, if fruit clothes or utensils

Original footnotes renumbered. See Structure of the Talmud Files
  1. In the Talmud this refers to the (Mediterranean) Ocean, though it is generally identified with the Dead Sea. They should be disposed of so that no benefit whatsoever is derived from them by anybody.
  2. So as not to affect the vitality of the animal, which is forbidden in all circumstances.
  3. Which is forbidden. Why then does R.S.b.L. say that to confer benefit on idols is permitted?
  4. Who opposes R.S.b.L.
  5. He therefore shares R. Nathan's view.
  6. M.K. 11a, 'Er. 47a.
  7. Regardless of the fact that this recognition of the idolaters' court may be made the subject of praise to the idols.
  8. By arming himself with evidence which will establish his ownership.
  9. Who must not come in contact with any ritual uncleanliness.
  10. Beth ha-Peras [H] (lit., 'an area of a square peras'; peras=half length of a furrow) a field which has been ploughed together with a grave it contained, which is to be regarded as unclean, on account of the crushed bones carried over it (v. M. K. 5b).
  11. In Phoenicia, which, being, outside Palestine, is declared by the Rabbis unclean, like a Beth ha-Peras.
  12. With the view of R. Nathan who stated above that it is forbidden to make any purchase at a market of idolaters; nor could R. Johanan have been unaware of this teaching, as he is reported to express an opinion on it.
  13. Where purchase is forbidden.
  14. [H] lit., 'master of the house', an ordinary, private, man.
  15. [H] Causing of suffering to any living being, or leaving a suffering animal unrelieved, is a Scriptural prohibition (v. Shab. 128b).
  16. Josh. XI, 6; hence in exceptional cases this biblical command may be waived (Tosaf s.v. [H]).
  17. The article, or in the case of a person his value, as set forth in Lev. XXVII, thereby becoming the property of the Sanctuary.
  18. After the destruction of the Temple.

‘Abodah Zarah 13b

they should be allowed to rot, if money or metal vessels, he should carry them to the Salt Sea. What is meant by disabling? The door is locked in front of it, so that it dies of itself!1  — Said Abaye: That case is treated differently, so as [to avoid] despising sanctified things.2  Then by all means let it be slaughtered! — That may lead to transgression.3  Then let him cut it in twain!4  — Said Abaye: Scripture says, And ye shall break down their altars … and ye shall hew down the graven images of their gods … Ye shall not do so unto the Lord your God.5  Raba said: [Houghing is here avoided] because it seem like inflicting a blemish upon sanctified things.6  'Seems!' This is surely a real blemish! — This could only be so termed while the Temple was in existence, so that the animal is fit for being offered up; but at the present time, since it cannot in any case be offered, the scriptural injunction does not apply.7  But let it be regarded as inflicting a blemish upon a blemished animal which, even though such animal was not fit for a sacrificial purpose, is forbidden by Scripture!8  — Granted; an animal which had been blemished cannot itself be used for sacrifice, yet the money obtained for it may be so used;9  but our case10  is unlike it, in that neither its equivalent in money nor the animal itself is capable of being used for a sacrificial purpose.11


Dilling discussion of highlighted text
    R. Jonah found R. Elai as he was standing at the gate of Tyre; he said to him: It is stated, cattle [bought at a heathen fair] should be invalidated; what about a slave? I am not asking about a Jewish slave; what I am asking about is a heathen slave — what is one to do? — The other replied: Why do you ask at all? It has been taught;12  As to idolaters and [Jewish] shepherds of small cattle,13  even though one is not bound to get them out [of a pit], one must not throw them in [to a pit to endanger their lives].14

Said R. Jeremiah to R. Zera: It was taught, 'We may buy of them cattle, menservants and maidservants,'15  — Is this to be applied to a Jewish servant or to a heathen servant also? — Said he in reply: According to common sense, a Jewish servant [is meant]; for were it to apply to a heathen servant, what [meritorious] use could he make of him?16  When Rabin came,17  he said in the name of R. Simeon b. Lakish: It may even apply to a heathen servant; because he brings him under the wings of the Shechinah.18  Said R. Ashi: How then could the bringing under the wings of the Shechinah be applied to cattle?19  — It is only because of diminishing [the possessions of the idolaters]20  that those are permitted; this also is permitted because of its diminishing effect.

R. Jacob once bought sandals, while R. Jeremiah bought bread.21  Said the one to the other: 'Ignoramus!22  would your master act thus?' The other rejoined: 'Ignoramus, would your master act thus?' Both in fact had bought of private men,23  but each one thought that the other had bought of a dealer; for R. Abba the son of R. Hiyya b. Abba said: The prohibition was only taught in the case of buying of a dealer of whom tax is exacted, but the buying of a private person of whom no tax is exacted is permitted.

Said R. Abba the son of R. Hiyya b. Abba: 'Had R. Johanan been present at the time in that place where taxes were exacted even from private persons he would have forbidden [even such purchase].' How is it then that they made the purchase? — They bought of a private person who was not a permanent resident of the place.24 


Original footnotes renumbered. See Structure of the Talmud Files
  1. Shek. 13b. Hence the mode of 'disabling' is different from the one here described!
  2. It would be derogatory to an animal which was declared as sacred to be seen in its disabled state, hence a quicker means than hocking is resorted to.
  3. Lit. 'stumbling block'. Its flesh might be eaten, which, being sanctified, is forbidden.
  4. [H]. From the Aramaic [H] two sides, or parts. The animal killed thus, not according to ritual, would not be used for food.
  5. Deut. XII, 3, 4.
  6. Which is contrary to the scriptural injunction: Whosoever bringeth a sacrifice … it shall be perfect to be accepted; there shall be no blemish therein. (Lev. XXII, 21).
  7. The prohibition is thus only a Rabbinic one, and is therefore referred to as 'seeming'.
  8. According to one opinion given in Bek. 33. Why then does Raba describe this case as a 'seeming' prohibition?
  9. For purchasing another animal for an offering, so that the scriptural words … to be accepted, there shall be no blemish therein are still applicable to it.
  10. Of an animal declared as sacred, while there is no temple for offering any sacrifices.
  11. The houghing of such animal is therefore only a Rabbinic prohibition, justly described by Raba as the 'seeming' infliction of a blemish upon sanctified things.
  12. Infra 26a. San. 57b.
  13. Whether Jews or heathen. Most shepherds were known to practise robbery and theft; hence they were disqualified as witnesses.
  14. It is therefore plain that to invalidate a heathen servant is forbidden.
  15. Supra 13a.
  16. Which should justify the opinion of the Rabbis who, in opposition to R. Nathan, permit such purchase.
  17. From Palestine.
  18. The Divine Presence. The meritorious feature of buying such a servant is his being introduced to the tenets of true religion.
  19. The purchase of which is likewise permitted by these Rabbis.
  20. I.e., the withdrawal of the animal from their idolatrous service.
  21. Of idolaters at one of their fairs.
  22. [H], lit., 'orphan', 'untutored'. The remark is obviously to be taken as a friendly reproof. R. Jacob and his younger contemporary R. Jeremiah (b. Abba) were both friends who came from Babylon to study at the Academies in Palestine; both sat at the feet of R. Johanan who (infra 13a) forbids all kinds of purchase from which any benefit may accrue to idolatry.
  23. Which is permissible, as private persons are not liable to pay part of their profits towards idolatrous purposes (supra 13a).
  24. As such a person would in no case be liable to pay the tax.
  25. Explanation follows in the Gemara.
  26. White animals were offered to heavenly deities; the white cock was a regular offering for a poor man to make (v. Elmslie, p. 9 note).
  27. Heb. Dekel Tab, a variety of dates.