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Avodah Zarah, Daf Samech Het, Part 5
Reading for Thursday, October 4
Avodah Zarah 68-5
Today’s section contains a story where the principle of “imparts a bad flavor” has a practical implication.
ההוא עכברא דנפל לחביתא דשיכרא אסריה רב לההוא שיכרא
אמרוה רבנן קמיה דרב ששת נימא קסבר נט”ל אסור
A mouse fell into a cask of beer and Rav prohibited the beer.
The rabbis related this in the presence of R. Sheshet and said: Shall we say that Rav holds that when it imparts a bad flavor it is prohibited.
We can assume that the mouse did not improve the flavor of the beer (don’t try this at home to see how it tastes). Nevertheless he prohibited the beer. From here the rabbis assume that Rav holds that even when the prohibited substance imparts a bad flavor, the mixture is prohibited.
אמר להו רב ששת בעלמא סבר רב נט”ל מותר והכא חידוש הוא דהא מימאס מאיס ובדילי אינשי מיניה ואפילו הכי אסריה רחמנא הלכך נט”ל נמי אסור
[R. Sheshet] said to them: Rav generally holds that when it imparts a bad flavor it is permitted. Here, however, we have an anomaly since it is something repugnant and people recoil from it; and even so the Torah prohibited it. Therefore, although it imparts a bad flavor it is nevertheless prohibited.
There is something innovative about the kashrut of a mouse. Mice are disgusting—people do not want to eat them. Nevertheless, the Torah prohibits them. Why, asks R. Sheshet, would the Torah need to prohibit something people would not eat? The answer is to teach that in this case, even though it imparts a bad taste, the mixture is still prohibited.
אמרו ליה רבנן לרב ששת אלא מעתה ליטמא לח ויבש אלמה תנן מטמאין לחים ואין מטמאין יבשים
ולטעמיך שכבת זרע תטמא לח ויבש אלמה תנן מטמאין לחין ואין מטמאין יבשין
The rabbis said to R. Sheshet: According to your argument [a creeping thing] should defile whether moist or dry; why then have we learned: They defile when moist but not when dry!
And according to your reasoning semen should defile whether moist or dry; why then have we learned: It defiles when moist but not when dry!
The rabbis raise a difficulty on R. Sheshet. If creeping things such as a mouse are disgusting and the only reason the Torah had to prohibit eating them was to teach that even if they impart a bad taste the mixture is prohibited, then why should a dead creeping thing defile only when moist. When moist the dead mouse is disgusting and obviously it should be impure. If R. Sheshet’s reasoning is correct, then it should defile even when moist. And the same goes for semen—since it is disgusting when moist, it should defile even when dry.
אלא מאי אית לך למימר שכבת זרע אמר רחמנא בראויה להזריע ה”נ במותם אמר רחמנא כעין מותם
Rather, what can you say? The Torah said “seed from lying” this refers to seed capable of fertilizing. Here too [in connection with creeping things] the Torah said “in their death,” i.e., when they are in a state similar to when they died.
The Talmud resorts to a midrash, a close reading of the text, to teach that semen and creeping things defile only when moist. The Torah calls semen “seed from lying” which here is read as implying that the semen defiles only when it is capable of acting like seed. Similarly, creeping things defile only “in their death.” This is read as meaning they must be similar to the way they were when they died—still moist. I know, this is a bit yucky.
מתקיף לה רב שימי מנהרדעא ומי מאיס והלא עולה על שלחן של מלכים
אמר רב שימי מנהרדעא לא קשיא הא בדדברא הא בדמתא
Shimiof Nehardea objected: Is [the mouse really] repugnant. Is it not brought upon the table of kings!
Shimiof Nehardea said: There is no contradiction, for [what is served at meals] is the field mouse and [what fell into the beer] was the domestic mouse.
Shimiraises a difficulty and then answers it (this is a bit odd). Evidently, mice are a delicacy, and are even eaten by kings. So how can they be called disgusting?
The answer is field mice are delicacies. But the domestic mouse is not.