Rava answers with a kal vehomer type of argument. The Torah prohibits using the wages of a harlot to offer a sacrifice and it does not matter whether the wages were paid with something attached to the ground or detached. However, the wages of a harlot, if detached from the ground may be used for secular purposes. But an idolatrous object is prohibited even for secular use when it is detached. This makes it more stringent. Therefore, we should also be stringent when it is attached to the ground and not allow it to be used in divine worship. The rocks should be prohibited.
R. Huna son of R. Joshua says that we could turn Rava’s argument on its head and use it to permit the wages of a harlot for use in divine worship when they are in the form of something attached to the ground. A worshipped object maybe used in the divine worship if it is attached. Attached objects are not prohibited, neither for secular nor for holy purpose. The wages of a harlot are more lenient for even when detached, they are only prohibited for holy use, not for secular use. Therefore they should also be more lenient and permitted for holy use when attached.
One might have thought that the words “into the house of the Lord” which follows “do not bring the hire of a harlot or the wages of a dog” imply that under no circumstance should the hire of a harlot be used to buy a sacrifice, even if the wages are attached to the ground. But this reading is wrong because that verse has another use. It does not come to prohibit buying sacrifices with the hire of a harlot when those wages came in the form of attached property. Rather it either exclude the red heifer from the prohibition or includes beaten plates of gold. So R. Huna is arguing that not only can the stones be used to build the altar, the wages of a harlot could also be used in divine worship, if they are attached to the ground. The discussion will continue in tomorrow’s section.
Yesterday’s section began a discussion between Rava and R. Huna concerning using the case of the hire of a harlot to answer a question with regard to stones that were detached from a mountain that was worshipped. Can such stones be used to build the altar? Rava used a “kal vehomer” argument as grounds for a stringency, whereas R. Huna used them as grounds for a leniency. This is where our sugya picks up.
Rava states here a rule of thumb. When arguments can be made in both ways, one leading to a stringency and one to a leniency, the argument should be made towards stringency.
R. Papa locates a case in Mishnah Pesachim 6:2 where R. Eliezer and R. Akiva argue and still R. Akiva uses logic to arrive at a lenient view. The issue is whether one is allowed to sprinkle the ashes of the red heifer on someone on Shabbat in order to purify him so that he may bring the pesah sacrifice. R. Eliezer is strict (in a sense) and allows the sprinkling and thereby makes him liable to bring the pesah. R. Akiva is lenient and exempts him, and offers an inference to back up his leniency. For a full interpretation of this mishnah see my commentary in Mishnah Yomit on Pesahim 6:2.
The Talmud says that R. Akiva did not really come to this leniency by a midrashic inference. Rather, it was a tradition that R. Eliezer had taught him, but R. Eliezer forgot the teaching. His midrash was merely meant to remind R. Eliezer of his tradition. It was not formative.
Today’s section contains another question from Rami b. Hama concerning the use in the Temple service of something that had been worshipped as an idol. Like yesterday’s section, one can get the sense that these questions are highly theoretical. They take halakhic categories from other fields of halakhah (yesterday the issue was the difference between an object attached and detached from the ground) and see if and how they’re applicable to the laws of idolatry.
When it comes to certain laws, if an object has been modified in some ways, it loses its original status. For instance, if a thief steals a piece of wood and then modifies it into something else, he need not return the wood. He must only return the value of the wood. The question here is whether when he harvests the grain and eventually grinds it into flour it loses its status as a worshipped thing.
Mar Zutra tries to derive the answer from a mishnah which refers to animals that cannot be offered on the altar since they engaged in bestiality.
The flour is, in a sense, the offspring of the wheat. Thus if R. Eliezer and the sages argue whether the offspring of an animal prohibited to be offered on the altar can be offered, so too would they argue about whether the flour can be used for a minhah.
The problem with Mar Zutra is that he assumes that the dispute occurs when the animal first became pregnant and then was subject to bestiality. But R. Nahman says there is no dispute in this case, for in this case the offspring was conceived when the animal was already prohibited. So too in the case of the standing-grain it was prohibited before the flour was “born.” Thus all should agree that it is prohibited for use on the altar.