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Babylonian Talmud: Tractate ‘Abodah Zarah

Folio 14a

GEMARA. What is IZTROBLIN? — Pine-wood.1  But this is contradicted [by the following teaching]: 'To these2  have been added Alexandrian nuts, iztroblin, moxasin3  and bnoth-shuah.' Now were you to suggest that iztroblin is pine-wood, has pine-wood anything to do with the Sabbatical Year? Has it not been taught:4  This is the general rule: Everything which has a [perennial] root is subject to the laws of the Sabbatical Year5  but anything that has no such root is not subject to the law of the Sabbatical Year. R. Safra then said: It means fruit of the cedar. So also when Rabin came [from Palestine] he said in the name of R. Eleazar [It means] fruit of the cedar.6

BNOT-SHUAH. Said Raba b. Bar-Hana in the name of R. Johanan, White figs.7

STEMS. Said Raba b. Bar-Hana 'with their stems' is what the Mishnah intended to teach.8

FRANKINCENSE. Said R. Isaac in the name of R. Simeon b. Lakish, that is clear-frankincense. A Tanna taught:9  But of any of these a parcel may be sold.10  And how much is a parcel? — R. Judah b. Bathyra explained, A parcel is no less than three manehs.11

But we surely ought to fear lest he goes and sells it to others who will burn it [before idols]? — Said Abaye; We should be particular not to [place a stumbling-block] before [the blind]12  but we need not be so particular as to avoid placing it before one who may place it before the blind.

AND A WHITE COCK. Said R. Jonah in the name of R. Zera who said in the name of R. Zebid [Some report, 'Said R. Jonah in the name of R. Zera'): [If an idolater asks,] Who has a cock? it is permitted to sell him [even] a white cock, but if he asks, Who has a white cock? it is forbidden to sell him a white cock.

Our Mishnah states: R. JUDAH SAID: 'ONE MAY SELL HIM A WHITE COCK AMONGST [OTHER] COCKS.13  Now what are the circumstances? Shall we say that he was enquiring: Who hath a white cock, who hath a white cock? In that case it must not be sold to him even among others! It can only mean that he was enquiring: Who hath a cock, who hath a cock? and even then according to R. Judah a white one may be sold him only among others but not by itself, while according to the first Tanna it may not be sold even among others!14  — Said R. Nahman b. Isaac: The case dealt with in our Mishnah is of one asking for various kinds.15

It has been taught likewise:16  Said R. Judah: Only if he asks for 'this [white] cock' [it must not be sold to him], but if he asks for this and another one it is permitted [to sell both together]; and even when he asks for 'this [white] cock', if the idolater is giving a banquet for his son, or if he has a sick person in his house, [its sale] is permitted.17

But have we not learnt: 'If an idolater gives a banquet for his son the prohibition [of selling] applies to that day and that man alone', so that as regards that day and that man the prohibition does apply!18  Said R. Isaac son of R. Mesharsheya: Our statement refers to an ordinary party.19

We have learnt: AS FOR OTHER THINGS, IF THEY ARE NOT SPECIFIED THEIR SALE IS PERMITTED, BUT IF SPECIFIED IT IS FORBIDDEN. Now what is meant by 'specified' and by 'unspecified'? Shall we say that 'unspecified' means if he asks [for example] for white wheat, and 'specified' if he states that [he requires it] for idolatry?

Original footnotes renumbered. See Structure of the Talmud Files
  1. So Rashi. Tosaf. s.v. [H] renders it 'brimstone', hence 'Kohut, Aruch suggests the reading [H].
  2. I.e., to articles enumerated in connection with the laws relating to the Sabbatical Year.
  3. A species of figs.
  4. Shah. 90a; Nid. 62b.
  5. V. supra p. 45 n. 7[a].
  6. [Cones of pine or fir-trees ([G]) were burned before deities as sweet smelling gifts, v. Krauss, Talm. Arch. I, 686, and Elmslie, loc. cit.]
  7. The fruit of the fig-tree was closely associated with phallic worship (Elmslie, a.l.)
  8. The word 'stems' is not an additional item but refers to the 'cedar-fruit' and the 'white figs' which precede it. These were usually hanged by their stems as ornaments for idols.
  9. Tosef. A.Z. I.
  10. Because it is intended for sale and not for idolatrous worship.
  11. Weight equal to a hundred ordinary or 50 sacred shekels. V. Zuckermandel Talm. Mun., p. 7. seq.
  12. V. supra p. 26.
  13. Cf. the slight variations in our Mishnah.
  14. This refutes the ruling reported by R. Jonah.
  15. Hence R. Judah forbids its sale since it was specified by the idolator; his mentioning those of other colours may have been prompted by his knowledge that if he were to ask for a white one only, it would be withheld from him. It is however permitted to be sold among cocks of other colours, for we may assume that, as the others are not intended for idolatry, neither is this one. The other Rabbis however hold that, since it was specified by the idolater, it must not be sold even among others. When however the idolater asks for cocks without specifying any colour both R. Judah and the other Rabbis permit the sale of a white one. There is thus no difference between the opinion expressed in our Mishnah and that held by R. Zera.
  16. Tosef. A.Z. I, end; in Zuck. ed. the version is different from ours.
  17. For it is required to lend importance to the banquet, or as a remedy for the sick and not for idolatrous purposes.
  18. Supra 8a, which is contrary to the foregoing statement.
  19. [H] — picnic. (v. Pes. 49b) where no idolatry takes place, whereas the statement cited refers to a wedding.

‘Abodah Zarah 14b

In that case it is neither necessary to state that the unspecified may be sold,1  nor is it necessary to state that the specified must not be sold!2  We must then say that 'unspecified' means if he asks for [say], wheat, [which is permitted] and 'specified' when he asks for white wheat, [which is forbidden]; and this would imply that in the case of a cock it is forbidden even when unspecified!3  — [No.] We may say, indeed, that 'unspecified' is when he asks for white wheat, and 'specified' is when he states [that it is required] for idolatry; yet it is necessary to state that the 'specified' is forbidden: we might think that that man does not really require it for idolatry; only being very much attached to idolatry, he thinks that all people are likewise attached to it; [he therefore thinks to himself] let me say thus, so that they might readily give it to me; it is therefore necessary to state [that its sale is forbidden].

R. Ashi propounded: [If he asks,] 'Who has a mutilated white cock?' may one sell him a white cock without blemish? Do we say since he asks for a mutilated one, he does not require it for the idols, or perhaps he is merely acting cunningly? And if you should say that this one is acting cunningly, [what if one enquires,] 'Who has a white cock? Who has a white cock?' and when a black one is given to him he accepts it or when a red one is given to him he accepts it, may a white one be sold to him? Do we say, since when he was given a black one or a red one he accepted it, it is proved that he does not require one for idolatry, or perhaps he is merely acting cunningly? This stands undecided.

R. MEIR SAYS, ALSO A GOOD-PALM etc. Said R. Hisda to Abimi: There is a tradition that the [tractate] ‘Abodah Zarah of our father Abraham consisted of four hundred chapters; we have only learnt five, yet we do not know what we are saying. And what difficulty is there? The Mishnah states that R. MEIR SAYS: ALSO A GOODPALM', HAZAB AND NIKOLAUS ARE FORBIDDEN TO BE SOLD TO IDOLATERS [which implies that] it is only a 'good-palm' that we must not sell but a 'bad-palm' we may sell, yet we have learnt:4  One may not sell to them anything that is attached to the soil! He replied: What is meant by 'good-palm' is the fruit of a 'good-palm'. And so also said R. Huna: The fruit of a good-palm. HAZAB is the species of dates called Kishba. As to NIKOLAUS, when R. Dimi came5  he said in the name of R. Hama b. Joseph that it is kuirati.6  Said Abaye to R. Dimi: We learn 'nikolaus, and do not know what it is, so you tell us it is 'kuriati' which we do not know either, where then have you benefited us? — Said he: I have benefited you this much: were you to go to Palestine and say 'nikolaus'7  no one would know what it is; but if you say 'kuriati' they will know and will show it to you.


GEMARA. Are we to take it that there is no actual prohibition, but that it is only a matter of custom; so that where the usage is to prohibit, it is to be followed, and where the usage is to permit it is to be followed? But this is in conflict with the following [Mishnah]: One should not place cattle in inns kept by heathen, because they are suspected of immoral practices!12  — Said Rab: In places where it is permitted to sell, it is permitted to leave them together alone, but where leaving them together alone is forbidden [by usage] the sale is also forbidden.13

Original footnotes renumbered. See Structure of the Talmud Files
  1. As there is no ground for such prohibition, since it is only in the case of cocks that white ones are used for idolatry.
  2. Since no article required for idol-worship may be sold.
  3. Which is contrary to the ruling reported by R. Jonah above!
  4. Infra 19b.
  5. From Palestine.
  6. A species of dates. The date-palm was the most sacred of all trees to the Semitic peoples (Elmslie, p. 10).
  7. [The Nikolaus dates are named after the Greek philosopher, Nicholas of Damascus, who supplied his friend, the Emperor Augustus, with a variety of dates which grew in Palestine. The Emperors as a mark of appreciation called the dates by the philosopher's name (v.J.E. IX, 11, and Elmslie, p. 11). This name would naturally not be generally known to the people of Palestine.]
  8. In Pes. 53, where this Mishnah also occurs, the following words are inserted: let no one alter (local customs) in order to avoid controversy.
  9. The sale of big cattle to a heathen is forbidden out of consideration for the animal, as it will be deprived by its master of its rest on Sabbaths and Festivals (v. Ex. XX, 10).
  10. As it is sure to be killed for food.
  11. This is generally used for riding which is not to be termed as carrying a burden, on the principle that 'the living rider carries himself.' V. supra 7b.
  12. The Israelite is thus guilty of 'placing a stumbling-block before the blind'. V. infra 22a.
  13. The prohibition of placing cattle with a heathen in the other Mishnah cited here is also dependent on local usage.