Avodah Zarah, Chapter One, Mishnah Eight

 

Introduction

This mishnah continues to discuss things that should not be sold to non-Jews.  The first section lists things that shouldn’t be sold lest they be used for idolatrous purposes.  The remainder of the mishnah discusses land and things attached to the land.  These should not be sold to non-Jews lest they begin to dispossess the Jews of the land of Israel.

 

Mishnah Eight

1)                     One should not make jewelry for an idol [such as] necklaces, ear-rings, or finger-rings.

a)                                 Rabbi Eliezer says, for payment it is permitted.

2)                     One should not sell to idolaters a thing which is attached to the soil, but when cut down it may be sold.

a)                                 R. Judah says, one may sell it on condition that it be cut down.

3)                     One should not let houses to them in the land of Israel; and it is not necessary to mention fields.

i)                                              In Syria houses may be let to them, but not fields.

ii)                                             Outside of the land of Israel, houses may be sold and fields let to them, these are the words of Rabbi Meir.

b)                                 Rabbi Yose says: in the land of Israel, one may let to them houses but not fields;

i)                                              In Syria, we may sell them houses and let fields;

ii)                                             Outside of the land of Israel, both may be sold.

 

Explanation

Section one:  One should not make jewelry for idolaters lest they use them to decorate their idols.  Rabbi Eliezer says that one may sell jewelry to them but not give it for free.  This opinion is perplexing because usually if we are concerned that the actions of the Jew might encourage idolatry, the fact that he profits does not make it more permissible.  There are some versions of the mishnah that do not include this line.

Section two:  The mishnah now begins to discuss selling them land and things attached to the land.  One should not sell them things attached to the land, such as trees, since this might give them a stake in the land as well.  Once the item has been cut down, it is permitted.  Rabbi Judah is more lenient and allows something to be sold while it is attached, as long as it is stipulated that it will be cut down. 

Section three:  The first half of this section is Rabbi Meir’s opinion.  He holds that one should not even rent houses to non-Jews in the land of Israel, lest he come to sell them as well.  This is true of houses and even more true of fields, for with fields there is the added problem of tithes.  Once a Jew sells his field to a non-Jew the field’s produce is not liable for tithing.  In this way, the sale reduces the holiness of the field. 

In Syria, which is adjacent to Israel and was conquered by David but is not considered fully a part of Israel, we can be slightly more lenient.  Houses may be rented to non-Jews, but fields still may not, because the produce grown in Syria is still subject to tithes.  Outside of the land, a Jew may sell houses, but he still may not sell fields, lest by habit he come to sell fields in the land of Israel as well.

On all of these cases, Rabbi Yose is slightly more lenient. Inside of Israel he allows the renting of houses, but not fields.  In Syria he allows the sale of houses and the renting of fields and outside of the land, both may be sold.  Note that he is still consistent in that the rules are more strict with fields than with houses.  The major difference is that he does not rule more strictly in cases that should be permitted (such as selling fields outside of the land) but were forbidden by Rabbi Meir lest one come to sell something that really should not be sold.

 

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