Avodah Zarah, Chapter Three, Mishnah Six

 

Introduction

Mishnah six deals with two subjects: 1)  a person who lives adjacent to an idolatrous shrine; 2) the ritual impurity of idolatrous objects. 

 

Mishnah Six

1)                     If [a Jew] has a house next to an idolatrous shrine and it collapsed, he is forbidden to rebuild it.  

a)                                 What should he do?

b)                                 He withdraws a distance of four cubits into his own ground and build there.

2)                     [If the wall] belonged both to him and the shrine, it is judged as being half and half.

3)                     Its stones, timber and rubbish defile like a creeping thing, as it says, “you shall utterly detest it” (Deut. 7:26).  ]

a)                                 Rabbi Akiba says: [it defiles] like a menstruous woman, as it says, “[and you will treat as unclean the silver overlay of your images and the golden plating of your idols].  You will cast them away like a menstruous woman.  Out, you will call to them” (Isaiah 30:22), just as a menstruous woman impurifies [an object] by carrying it, so also an idolatrous object defiles by its being carried.

 

Explanation

Section one:  If one shared a wall with an idolatrous shrine, meaning his house was next to this shrine, he need not tear down his house and move somewhere else.  Since he lived there before the shrine was built he does not need to move.  However, if the house should fall down he may not rebuild the wall that will be shared with the shrine.  What he may do is withdraw four cubits and build his own wall, one which will not be shared with the shrine. 

Section two:  The wall that is shared by the Jewish homeowner and the idolatrous shrine is considered to be jointly owned.  The half that is next to the shrine is forbidden for Jews to use and the half that is next to the Jewish house is permitted.

Section three:  According to Deut. 7:26 a Jew must abhor idolatrous objects.  The word for “abhor” is “sheketz”, which is the same word used for an impure creeping thing in Leviticus 11:31.  From here the mishnah learns that just as creeping things transmit impurity, so too do idolatrous objects.  The type of impurity that a creeping thing imparts is contact impurity.  It does not impart impurity to one who carries it (without touching it).  Contact impurity is a lesser type of impurity than carrying impurity.

Rabbi Akiva learns the impurity of idolatrous objects from Isaiah 30:22, which explicitly compares idolatrous objects to menstruating women, both being impure and imparting impurity to others.  A menstruating woman imparts impurity both through contact and through carrying.  So too, according to Rabbi Akiva, do idolatrous objects.  In other words Rabbi Akiva holds that the impurity of idolatrous objects is more serious than that of the creeping thing. 

 

Questions for Further Thought:

·                      What is the problem with living next to an idolatrous shrine?

·                      Why doesn’t the opinion in the first part of the last section learn about the impurity of idolatrous objects from the verse in Isaiah, which seemingly explicitly compares idolatrous objects to a menstruating woman?  

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