Avodah Zarah, Chapter Two, Mishnah Five



This mishnah contains a discussion between Rabbi Ishmael and Rabbi Joshua concerning the prohibition of non-Jewish cheese. 


Mishnah Five

1)                     Rabbi Judah said: Rabbi Ishmael put this question to Rabbi Joshua as they were walking on the way, “Why have they forbidden the cheese of non-Jews?”

a)                                 He replied, because they curdle it with the rennet of a nevelah (an animal that was not properly slaughtered.”  

2)                     He (Rabbi Ishmael) said: “but is not the rennet of a burnt-offering more strictly forbidden than the rennet of a nevelah? [and yet] it was said that a priest who is not fastidious may suck it out raw.”

a)                                 (Though the Sages disagreed with this opinion, and they said that no benefit may be derived from it, although one who consumed it did not trespass [temple property).

3)                     Rabbi Joshua responded:  “The reason then is because they curdle it with the rennet from calves sacrificed to idols.”

4)                     He (Rabbi Ishmael) said to him: “if that be so, why do they not extend the prohibition to any benefit derived from it?”

5)                     He (Rabbi Joshua) diverted him to another matter, saying: “Ishmael, how do you read — for your [masc.] love is more delightful than wine” or “your [fem.] love etc. (Song of Songs 1:2”  

a)                                 He replied: “your [fem.] love is better . . .”

b)                                 He said to him: this is not so, as it is proved by its fellow [-verse]: your ointments [masc.] have a goodly fragrance … [therefore do the maidens love you] (Song of Songs 1:3).” 



Section one:  Rabbi Ishmael asks Rabbi Joshua why the Sages forbid cheese made by non-Jews.  This prohibition is perplexing to Rabbi Ishmael because even the non-Jews make their cheese from kosher animals such as cows and goats.  Since the milk used to make the cheese comes from kosher animals, it should be permitted.

Rabbi Joshua responds that non-Jews use rennet to curdle the cheese.  This rennet comes from the stomachs of animals that were not properly slaughtered and therefore the cheese is prohibited.

Section two:  Rabbi Ishmael responds that a priest who sees rennet in the stomach of a whole burnt offering may drink this rennet (I know this sounds a little gross.).  Since a whole burnt offering is forbidden to be eaten, this law proves that the rennet is not considered part of the animal.  If it were considered to be an integral part of the animal, it would have been prohibited.  Since it is not forbidden in this case then by comparison the rennet used to make cheese should not make the cheese forbidden to Jews, even though it comes from an animal that was improperly slaughtered. 

At this point the mishnah offers an aside. The statement that the rennet of a whole burnt offering may be consumed by a priest was only Rabbi Ishmael’s opinion.  The Rabbis did not agree with him.  They stated that it is forbidden to derive benefit from this rennet and yet one who does so is not considered to have taken (trespassed) Temple property.  [If he had taken from Temple property he would have to bring a sacrifice to atone for the sin, as well as pay back the value of that which he took.]  This section is not an integral part of the mishnah and was added in at a later time. 

Section three:  Rabbi Joshua now provides another reason why non-Jewish cheese is forbidden.  Non-Jews use rennet that comes from calves that were used in idol worship.  Since any item that was used in idol worship is forbidden to a Jew, non-Jewish cheese is forbidden to a Jew.

Section four:  Rabbi Ishmael responds that if non-Jewish cheese is forbidden since it may contain rennet that comes from an animal used in idol worship, then it should not only be forbidden to eat, it should also be forbidden to derive any benefit from it.  From the example in the previous mishnah concerning Bithynian cheese, we learned that the Sages said it was only forbidden for consumption and it was not forbidden to derive benefit from non-Jewish cheese.

Section five:  Rabbi Joshua does not seem to have an answer to this response of Rabbi Ishmael’s and therefore he distracts him to a different topic, this dealing with the gender of  the speaker in the second verse of Song of Songs.  The verse states “for your love is more delightful than wine”.  “Your love” can either be masculine or feminine.  The only difference in the Hebrew is the vocalization;  the consonants are exactly the same.  Rabbi Ishmael responds that he vocalizes it to be a masculine pronoun.  In other words the speaker is feminine and she is speaking to a male.  Rabbi Joshua points out that this is surely wrong for the word “your ointments” is masculine.  Although this word too can be vocalized to be feminine, the fact that the end of the verse refers to maidens loving him proves that the one being spoken to is male.