The Talmud now tries to say that tannaim would disagree over the case of breaking a stick in front of an idol. R. Judah holds that for one to be liable for an act of idolatry it needs to be like an act of slaughter. Slaughtering a locust or breaking a stick is like slaughtering an animal and therefore one is liable. But the other rabbis hold that the act must be like an act done inside the Temple. Inside the Temple locusts are not slaughtered nor are sticks broken. Therefore one who does these acts is not liable for idolatry.
The Talmud rejects the comparison. No tannaim hold that it must be like the act of slaughter, and therefore they all agree with Rav that one is liable for breaking the stick in front of the idol. The argument about slaughtering the locust is whether this is similar enough to slaughtering an animal in the Temple. R. Judah holds that since the locust has a neck it is close enough to an animal that one who worships an idol by slaughtering a locust is liable. The other rabbis disagree.
At the end of last week’s daf we learned that if a Jew threw a stick at an idol he is not liable for idol worship since this is not similar to the sprinkling of the blood done in the Temple. Such sprinkling was “broken up,” not done all at once, whereas the stick is thrown all in one piece. In order to be liable for an act of idolatry, it must be similar to those acts done in the Temple. Our sugya asks how this is different from stones thrown at a Mercurius statue which become prohibited immediately.
The Mishnah prohibits Jews from using stones that are placed by a Mercurius idol. These seem to be like a stick thrown at an idol—that is how Mercurius is worshipped, by having stones thrown at it. But if so, why are the stones prohibited? The entire stone is thrown at once, and therefore it is not like the sprinkling of blood done on the altar.
The question was posed to many rabbis, and finally answered by Rav. The stone thrown at the idol becomes part of the idol. In other words, it is not an offering. It is an idol in and of itself.
The problem with Rav’s answer is that there are some sages who hold that an idol is not prohibited for a Jew to use until a non-Jew actually worships it. This stone thrown at the Mercurius should be permitted because it has not yet been worshipped.
Nahman answers that each stone is both an idol but is also an offering to the last stone. This way the stones are worshipped. Theoretically, the last stone thrown should be permitted since it has not yet been worshipped by having another . But since we do not know which stone was last, they must all be prohibited.
Ashi says that each stone is an offering to itself and to the next one. Thus the stone in a sense “worships itself.” Talented stone!
The mishnah lists objects which are prohibited if found on top of a Mercurius. The problem the Talmud has is with the wreaths of grain or grape-clusters. There are two problems here: 1) nothing like these two objects is put on the altar; 2) they are put all at one time. This is not “sprinkling that is broken up.”
Rava explains that for these wreaths of grain or grape-clusters to be prohibited, they must have been harvested for idolatrous purposes from the outset. The very fact that they were placed on the Mercurius is not sufficient to make them prohibited.
Today’s sugya discusses the issue of offering sacrifices with blemishes.
Inside the Temple one cannot sacrifice a blemished animal. Therefore, if one sacrifices a blemished animal to an idol, he is exempt. As we have seen earlier, for an act to be considered truly idolatrous, it must be similar to acts of worship performed in the Temple.
Rava determined that the defect of which R. Abahu was speaking was a missing limb. This is because he compares the prohibition of sacrificing for idolatry with the rules governing sacrifices for the sons of Noah. The sons of Noah is a term used to refer to non-Jews who observe (at least) seven main laws, one of which is the prohibition of idolatry. The rules of sacrifice governing them are not as strict as those for Jews, and they may sacrifice animals with blemishes in their eyes. But they may not sacrifice those with missing limbs. Therefore, for the person worshiping an idol to be exempt, the blemish must be of the more serious kind, it must be missing a limb.
Elazar used the phrase “of every living thing” to derive the law that a Noahide cannot sacrifice an animal missing a limb. We know that Noah sacrificed animals when he left the ark. Therefore we can assume that God told him to bring on the ark animals that could be sacrificed. But elsewhere those same words are used to exclude a “trefa,” a term used to refer to animal that has a wound that will cause it die in a defined period of time.
The Talmud then resolves the difficulty by saying that the exclusion of a trefa from being permitted for sacrifice comes from the words “to keep seed alive.” The animals that Noah brought on the ark had to be able to procreate, and the assumption here is that trefot cannot procreate.
Some rabbis hold that a trefa can bear offspring, and thus could not be excluded by the words “to keep seed alive.” So then we would need the verse “from every living thing” to exclude a trefa from being eligible for sacrifice, and we would not have a verse for excluding animals missing a limb.
The Talmud now suggests that the source for the exclusion of trefot is the words “with you”—the animal must be like Noah, who we suppose for now was “whole” and not a “trefa.”
So how do we know that Noah himself was not a trefa. At first the Talmud argues that we can learn that he was whole from one of the adjectives used to describe him, “without blemish” or “righteous.” The problem is that those adjectives may refer to his character qualities and not his bodily ones.
The Talmud resolves the difficulty by noting that if we assume that the phrase “with you” means “animals like you” it makes no sense for God to tell Noah to take only blemished animals onto the ark. Thus the phrase “like you” must mean that Noah was physically unblemished. We now have a source to exclude trefot, and the words “of every living thing” can be used to exclude animals missing a limb.
The word “with you” excludes the trefa. So then why does the Torah also have to use the phrase, “to keep seed alive.” This teaches that the animals must be able to procreate. They cannot be so old that they can no longer procreate nor can they be castrated. The purpose of bringing them on the ark was not so that they could keep Noah company (a cute thought, to be sure). The purpose was clearly for them to repopulate the world after the flood. Thus while the word does not mean that Noah could not bring a trefa, but it does mean that the animals he brought on board had to be fertile.
Earlier we learned that the Mercurius idol was worshipped by throwing stones at it. But what if someone sacrificed an animal to it? Is he liable even though this is not the normal way in which one worships a Mercurius?
Elazar rules that although Mercurius is usually worshipped by having stones thrown at it, if one slaughters an animal to it, he is still liable. This is because there is an “extra” verse that implies that one is liable for worshipping idols even if it is not in their “usual” way. Deuteronomy 12:30 is read as teaching that one is liable for worshipping idols by doing so in the way that the nations (the goyim) serve their God. This would be the idol’s “usual” way. So then what more do we learn from Leviticus 17:7? We learn that a Jew is liable even if he worships the idol in a way that is not usual to the idol.
The Talmud brings up the problem that Leviticus 17:7 is already used in a different midrash. To understand this midrash I think it is important to see the full verses:
(3) If anyone of the house of Israel slaughters an ox or sheep or goat in the camp, or does so outside the camp,
(4) And does not bring it to the entrance of the Tent of Meeting to present it as an offering to the LORD, before the LORD’s Tabernacle, bloodguilt shall be imputed to that man: he has shed blood; that man shall be cut off from among his people.
(5) This is in order that the Israelites may bring the sacrifices which they have been making in the open field—that they may bring them before the LORD, to the priest, at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting, and offer them as sacrifices of well-being to the LORD.”
There is some repetition here, particularly between verses four and five. To solve this, the midrash suggests that they refer to different historical settings. The first two verses deal with a period in Jewish history where private altars were prohibited, once the Tabernacle was set up. Thus verse four says that he must bring his offerings to the Tent of Meeting. The verse establishes the punishment for not doing so and a verse in Deuteronomy states the warning. These verses deal with a period in which the animal was dedicated and actually sacrificed when it was prohibited to offer outside of the central sanctuary, after the Tabernacle was erected.