The only reason to teach the prohibition of putting one’s face up to the face of a statue from which water flows is to teach the last clause, which prohibits one from putting one’s mouth on water pipe. This prohibition is for another reason altogether, unrelated to idolatry. Putting one’s mouth up to the water pipe could lead to swallowing a leech (yuck!).
The Talmud continues to discuss the issue of healthy drinking water. While their science clearly differs from ours, access to safe drinking water remains one of the primary health issues to this day.
Drinking straight from a source of water is dangerous due to leeches.
Swallowing leeches is so dangerous that it is permitted to heat water to remove the leech on Shabbat. Note that if this was not dangerous, we heating water on Shabbat is prohibited.
Well, there you have it. Be careful not to swallow a wasp. Although I did once know a woman who swallowed a fly.
This section continues to deal with the issue of healthy drinking water. Trigger warning—this sugya refers to demons. If they frighten you, you’ve been warned.
Shabriri is a demon that causes blindness in anyone who drinks from uncovered water at night. The name seems to mean something like “breaker of light.”
If he is thirsty at night he has two options. First of all, he could wake up another person and have them come with him to get water. Evidently, Shabriri is afraid of two people. The other possibility is to use a magical incantation taught to him by his mother. This incantation involves reducing the demon’s name until the name is gone. This is symbolic means of reducing the demon himself and seems to be a common way of warding off demons.
Today’s daf begins with a new mishnah.
This mishnah is addressed to the Jew who is already located in the non-Jewish city on the day of their celebration. We might have thought that he is not to distinguish at all between non-Jews and that it is forbidden to conduct business with any of them. In this section we learn that the prohibition is limited to those actually demonstrating that they are celebrating the holiday. A storekeeper who does not decorate his store is evidently not celebrating, and therefore it is permitted to conduct business with him. We should note that in this case the Rabbis are lenient even though it is not totally clear that this non-Jew will not celebrate later on. In other words, although there is a chance that later the non-Jew will offer sacrifices to his god for the transaction with the Jew, since this is unlikely it is permitted.
Resh Lakish offers a startling limitation of the prohibition in the mishnah. It is prohibited to enter the store only if he will directly benefit from the decorations by smelling them. But if he goes into a store where he will not smell the idolatrous decorations he may purchase items, even though the storekeepers will use the proceeds for idolatrous purposes. I should note that this is a radical reinterpretation of the mishnah, one that does not easily accord with tannaitic literature. It is a topic I will address at greater length in a forthcoming book.