Monday, 19 March 2018

Avodah Zara 62: Leniencies and Stringencies in Comparable Cases

A new Mishna frames Perek IV, our new perek.  It teaches that a Jew is prohibited from benefiting from labour done with wine for the libations of an idolatrous Gentile.  If the Jew was hired to do other work for this Gentile and the Jew was asked to move a barrel of wine – even if it is intended for idol worship – as one of many duties, then payment is allowed.  Similarly, if a Gentile rents a Jew’s donkey to carry wine that is to be used for libations, payment is forbidden.  However, if the Gentile rented the donkey just to transport himself and he happens to be carrying a jug of wine, the rental payment is permitted.

The rabbis analyze this Mishna according to other cases where the halacha is sometimes lenient regarding benefiting from payment.  The first case is that of orla, the forbidden first three years of a tree’s produce, produce being accepted as a symbol of betrothal.  The betrothal proves that one may benefit from the otherwise forbidden use of orla (Kidushin 56b).  The second case involves transferring the status of forbidden Sabbatical Year produce to the money with which it might have been exchanged.  If an owner offers a labourer a fee for collecting shemita, then payment is made for the labour itself and not for the Sabbatical produce. 

The Gemara stays with this second example for some time.  The rabbis debate how one might gather or otherwise use Sabbatical produce without transgressing the halacha of not using it for commerce.  They also note that the stringency regarding wine used for libations is extremely high; quite different from other circumstances. 

The obligations regarding idolatry are compared with those regarding capital punishment.  The rock that is used to stone a person, the tree that is used to hang a person, the sword used to kill a person, and the scarf that is used to strangle a person – all of these things are buried along with the person.  This is done to ensure that we do not benefit from those items.

The last example is particularly interesting.  The rabbis discuss whether or not we might benefit from direct or indirect payment made to a prostitute.  Mostly the rabbis discuss time in relation to payment.  If a man pays a woman for sex but does not actually have intercourse with her – yet- how do we understand his payment?  What if he has intercourse with her but delays payment?   This learning leads to questions about who was visiting prostitutes, who became prostitutes, how secret or known was the practice, how much stigma existed regarding this practice, and much more.  The example is used to help elucidate our understandings of what should be associated with idol worship and thus what is forbidden to us.  In its discussion, we are reminded about other parts of life that were regulated by our rabbis.

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