Sunday, 4 March 2018

Avodah Zara 48: Use of an Ashera, Three Types of Trees

We begin with a new mishna.  It teaches that there are three different types of ashrim, trees that are used for idolatrous practice.  Each of these is permitted (to benefit from this tree in some way) or forbidden in different ways:
  • a tree initially planted to be worshipped - forbidden
  • a tree where parts were cut off to be worshipped - those parts that have regrown from those spots are burned and disposed of, at which point the remainder of the tree is permitted
  • a tree that held an idol beneath it - permitted once the idol has been removed
The Gemara wonders about whether or not new growth from a tree with branches removed for worship is permitted.  The rabbis question whether we might benefit from trees planted without intention of idolatry, but where one bowed to it.  Is this tree permitted?  What about a tree where the branches bow or break on their own?  Are there cases where only the trunk remains and where that is permitted?  They determine that as long as the act of worship was not presented to the entire tree, parts of the tree may be used at some point.

Three more mishnayot in today's daf!  

1) Trees with idols beneath them are forbidden.  Rabbis found piles of rocks beneath on particular tree.  They looked carefully and found the image of an idol on the rocks.  They determined that the rocks were worshipped, not the tree, and they disposed of the rocks leaving the tree available for use.

2) We should not sit in the shade of an ashera.  If we do, we are still ritually impure.  However, one who walks under the branches of an ashore is ritually impure.  But one who walks under the branches of an ashore when those branches reach out into the public domain are still ritually impure, even if s/he knowingly takes this action.

The Gemara wonders whether we are permitted to sit in the shade of the shade of an ashera.  We learn that shade refers to the shadow produced up to the height of the object itself.  Any shade beyond that is called the shade of the shade.  Then the Gemara questions the notion of imparting ritual impurity.  The answer is that one who walks under a tent carrying a corpse contracts ritual impurity.  An ashera is assumed to have idols beneath it and its branches serve as a tent.

Finally, we are reminded of class differences.  Rabbi Shmuel was permitted to pass under an ashera very quickly and without consequence because he walked quickly to ensure that people would not think that they were permitted to do so.

3) The rabbis assert that we may plant vegetables under an ashera only in the winter season, for the shade of the tree will not benefit the plants.  But in the summer, we cannot plant vegetables under the tree because they will benefit from the shade.  Further, we are not to plant lettuce under an ashore in any season, for lettuce will always benefit from shade.  Rabbi Yosei adds that we can never plant vegetables, because in the rainy season the water will fertilize and thus benefit the vegetables after it runs down the tree.

Interesting learning today about asherim, something we know very little about in old times.  They are connected to spirituality and worship and usefulness.  Today, asherim do not exist... or do they?  Beyond idolatry in religious contexts, which is significant, and a number of cultural practices.  For example, if there was good wifi reception beneath a tree,  and checking one's phone is considered to be a form of self-worship, is the tree/that spot tainted?  Should we do all that we can to blot out that spot where the tree stands?

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