Avodah Zarah, Chapter Three, Mishnah Seven
This mishnah discusses houses, stones and tree which were used in idolatrous ways and divides each of them into three different types.
1) There are three types of shrines:
a) A shrine originally built for idolatrous worship behold this is prohibited.
b) If one plastered and tiled [an ordinary house] for idolatry and renovated it, one may remove the renovations.
c) If he had only brought an idol into it and taken it out again, [the house] is permitted.
2) There are three kinds of [idolatrous] stones:
a) A stone which a man hewed originally to serve as a pedestal [for an idol] behold this is prohibited.
b) If one plastered and tiled [a stone] for idolatry, one may remove the plaster and tile, and it is then permitted.
c) If he set an idol upon it and took it off, behold [the stone] is permitted.
3) There are three kinds of asherah:
a) a tree which has originally been planted for idolatry behold this is prohibited.
b) If he chopped and trimmed [a tree] for idolatry, and its sprouted afresh, he removes the new growth.
c) If he only set [an idol] under it and took it away, behold the tree is permitted.
4) What is an asherah? Any [tree] beneath which there is an idol.
a) Rabbi Shimon says: any [tree] which is worshipped.
b) It happened at Sidon that there was a tree which was worshipped and they found a heap of stones beneath it. Rabbi Shimon said to them, examine this heap. They examined it and discovered an image in it. He said to them, since it is the image that they worship, we permit the tree for you.
Sections 1-3: All three of these sections teach the same rule with regards to three different potentially idolatrous items: shrines, stones and trees. If any of these was created from the beginning to be idolatrous, it is totally prohibited from Jewish usage. If one of these things originally existed not for idolatrous purposes, and then was somehow modified to be idolatrous, the Jew needs to remove the renovations before it is permitted to use the object. In other words, the basic object is permitted and only the new parts that were created for idolatry are forbidden. If one of these objects was not changed at all, but had idols put inside it (house) or on top of it (stone) or underneath it (the tree), all that needs to be done is for the idol to be removed and the object is permitted to the Jew. In this case the object itself was never truly idolatrous, but rather it was used to facilitate idol worship. Therefore this is an easy situation to rectify and make the object permissible to Jews.
Section four: This section teaches the definition of the asherah, the idolatrous tree mentioned on several occasions in the Torah. According to the first opinion in the mishnah an asherah has idols underneath it, but it itself is not worshipped. According to Rabbi Shimon the tree itself is an idolatrous object. The mishnah now tells a story that happened in Sidon, where there was a suspicion that idolaters were worshipping a certain tree. Underneath the tree was a heap of stones. Rabbi Shimon instructed the other rabbis to examine the heap of stones and when they did they found an image. From here Rabbi Shimon concluded that the tree itself was not worshipped, but rather the image underneath the tree. Therefore the tree was permitted for Jews to use.
Questions For Further Thought:
· Does section three match Rabbi Shimons opinion?
· What is the relationship of the story at the end of the mishnah to Rabbi Shimons statement that precedes it?