Avodah Zarah, Chapter Three, Mishnah Nine

 

Introduction

Mishnah nine discusses the prohibition from deriving benefit from the wood of an asherah tree.

 

Mishnah Nine

1)                     If one took pieces of wood from it [the asherah tree], they are forbidden to be used.

a)                                 If he heated an oven with them—

i)                                                       if it was new it must be broken to pieces; 

ii)                                                      if it was old, it must be allowed to cool. 

2)                     If he baked bread [in an oven heated with wood from an asherah], it is forbidden to be used,

a)                                 and if [the loaf] became mixed with other loaves, they are all prohibited. 

i)                                                       Rabbi Eliezer says: let him cast the advantage [he derives] into the Dead Sea. 

ii)                                                      They said to him: there is no process of redemption for an idol.

3)                     If one took [a piece of wood] from it [to use as] a shuttle, it is forbidden to be used.

a)                                 If he wove a garment with it, it is forbidden to be used.

b)                                 If [the garment) became mixed with others, and these with others, they are all forbidden to be used.

i)                                                       Rabbi Eliezer says: let him cast the advantage [he derives] into the Dead Sea. 

ii)                                                       They said to him: there is no process of redemption for an idol.

 

Explanation

Section one:  It is forbidden to use pieces of wood that come from an asherah tree.  This mishnah teaches that the forbidden status of the tree remains in the pieces of the tree that are separated from it. 

If one used this wood to heat a new oven, the oven must be destroyed.  Since the first heating of an oven helps shape and finish the oven, the oven itself was built through the aid of an idolatrous object, and it itself is therefore forbidden.  However, if the oven was old, one merely needs to let the oven cool before using it again.  In such a case the heat produced by the burning of the asherah wood is forbidden but not the oven itself. 

Section two:  If he baked bread in an oven heated by the wood from an asherah, the bread is forbidden.  Furthermore, if that loaf should be mixed in with other loaves, they are all forbidden, since each one may be the loaf which was made in the oven heated by the asherah wood.  We should note that in some other cases mixtures of prohibited and permissible goods can be fixed.  For instance if one pound of terumah flour should be mixed in with 100 pounds of terumah flour, one may take out one pound of terumah and give it to the kohen, even though that one pound is not the same pound that fell in.  Through this process the remainder becomes permitted to anyone to eat.  Our mishnah is especially stringent with idolatrous items. 

Rabbi Eliezer does make an attempt to remedy the situation without causing the loss of the bread.  If he baked a loaf using asherah wood to heat his oven, he may throw the value of the wood into the Dead Sea, thereby nullifying any benefit he received from that wood.  Afterwards the loaf may be eaten by a Jew.  The Sages disagree.  According to their opinion there is no way to redeem something that was made by using an idolatrous item.

Section three:  This section teaches the same thing that was learned in the previous section, only it uses a different example.  Here the wood was used to make a shuttle, a piece of wood used on a loom to weave cloth.  Rabbi Eliezer and the Sages have the same dispute on this section of the mishnah as they did in the previous one.

 

Questions for Further Thought:

·                      Why might the mishnah have taught both sections two and three even though they both teach the same principles? 

 

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