This week’s daf begins with a baraita.
This baraita distinguishes between mountains and vegetation. The mountains are not prohibited, but the vegetation is. In both cases, the idolaters who worship them must, at least theoretically, be executed by sword. This accords with the teaching in Sanhedrin, that Noahides are prohibited from worshipping idols, and that their punishment is death by sword. We should note that nowhere do we find the rabbis advocating that anyone actually go out and kill idolaters. These laws were clearly theoretical.
R. Sheshet argues that the analogy the baraita draws between the mountains and the vegetation seems to imply that just as the mountain was not created to be worshipped, so too the vegetation was not created to be worshipped. Since the baraita states that the vegetation is prohibited, it must follow the opinion of R. Yose son of R. Yehudah who holds that trees that were not planted for idolatry but were then worshipped are prohibited. This view was the topic of some intense discussion in last week’s sugya.
Today’s sugya begins a long discussion concerning boulders that are separated from a mountain which had been worshipped. While we know that while attached to the mountain such boulders are not prohibited, the issue is whether they become prohibited if they become detached from the mountain.
The way I see it, the rabbis interest in this issue is not a result of some realistic issue. It is probably not the case that boulders were actually worshipped. Rather the Talmud is asking, in its talmudic manner, what makes something susceptible to becoming prohibited. Does it have to have been changed from its natural form, and if so, how much?
Later the Talmud will try to figure out which party holds which opinion. The first project is to figure out the reasoning for each side.
The opinion that permits compares the boulders to the mountain. Neither is something that a human has produced through his own labor. Therefore, just as the mountain is permitted, so too are the boulders that become detached from it. For something to be an idol, a person has to have made it, or at least shaped it. [We might note that the same is true for impurity. Raw material is not susceptible to impurity. There is some but not total overlap between the rules governing idolatry and those governing impurity].
The problem with comparing it to the mountain is that the mountain is attached to the ground, whereas boulders are not.
Therefore, they Talmud tries another comparison. Let’s compare it with an animal. If an idolater worships an animal, the animal is not prohibited. So too the boulder should not be prohibited.
Neither a mountain nor an animal are the products of human labor, and both are permitted if worshipped. So too anything that is not the product of human labor is permitted. Even boulders attached from mountains.
The problem is that both the mountain and the animal are in their natural form, and the boulder is not. So we cannot learn about boulders from the joined precedent of the mountain and the animal.
The Talmud now tweaks the analogy. Instead of comparing simply with a mountain and an animal, we can make the comparison with a blemished animal or a dried up tree. Neither are considered to be in their original state and yet both remain permitted even if worshipped. So too the boulder, even though it has been changed by being detached from the mountain, it still remains permitted.
The Talmud now returns to the one who prohibits the boulders. He seems to read this out of the double command in the verse. As if it says detest it once it has been separated from its natural source.
Yesterday we learned that there is a dispute whether boulders that have become separate from a mountain are prohibited when worshipped. Today the Talmud tries to determine who holds what opinion. To do so they compare it to a situation where someone erected an egg in order to worship it.
Hizkiyah is one of R. Hiyya’s sons. He asks a question concerning a person who set up an egg to worship it. The question is whether the setting up of the egg in an upright position is an integral part of his action in order for it to be prohibited. At first we think it is and that for a natural object like an egg to become prohibited it must first have had some manual labor performed with it. Hizkiyah’s question was whether setting up the egg counts as manual labor. Clearly if he had not erected it, it would not be prohibited.
By implication, Hizkiyah would say that boulders that became separate on their own from the mountain are permitted because no manual labor has been performed.
The Talmud changes the assumption as to what Hizkiyah was asking. Hizkiyah would hold that if the person worshipped the egg it is forbidden even if he did not perform any labor with it. The circumstance was one in which he did not worship the egg. The question is whether the very act of setting it up makes it prohibited.
There is a dispute over whether an idol made by an Israelite becomes prohibited immediately or only after it has been worshipped. But for either party, Hizkiyah’s question should be obvious. If it becomes prohibited immediately, then setting it up should make it prohibited. If it does not become prohibited until it is worshipped then there is no question that the egg is permitted. So, Hizkiyah, what are you asking about?
The case that Hizkiyah asked is similar to the case of the brick that was discussed by R. Judah. A Jew set up a brick to worship it but a non-Jew worshipped it. This is sufficient for it to be prohibited. Even though the non-Jew does not own the brick, since the Jew set it up to be worshipped, the non-Jew’s worship of it causes it to be considered an idol. This is certainly true of a brick which is noticeable when set-up. The Jew demonstratively showed that he wanted the brick to be worshipped. But when it comes to the egg, setting it up is not so noticeable, so maybe it does not become prohibited when the non-Jew worships it. Hizkiyah’s question is not answered.
For the record, I thought about changing this translation, but decided not to.
Today’s sugya (a difficult one) discusses stones that come from a mountain that was worshipped—can they be used to build the altar? As a precedent, the amoraim will cite the biblical verse prohibiting the use of the wages of a harlot as funds to buy sacrifices (or other holy use). The question may have a larger implication, one still relevant today. Can funds garnered through illicit means be put to holy use?
Objects that have been worshipped as idols may not be offered on the altar. So there are two parts to the question of whether these rocks can be used to make the altar. 1) Does this rule apply to things attached to the ground, like rocks that are part of a mountain? 2) Does this rule apply to the things needed to offer sacrifices, like the altar, or just to sacrifices themselves?