Avodah Zarah, Chapter Two, Mishnah Four

 

Introduction

This mishnah contains three disputes between Rabbi Meir and the Sages with regards to the prohibitions of certain foods once owned by non-Jews.  In each case Rabbi Meir is more strict. 

 

Mishnah Four

1)                     Skin-bottles or flasks of non-Jews in which wine of a Jew is kept are forbidden and the prohibition extends to any benefit that may be derived from them, this is the opinion of Rabbi Meir.

a)                                 But the Sages say that the prohibition does not extend to deriving benefit.

2)                     Grape seeds and grape-skins of non-Jews are forbidden, the prohibition extending to any benefit that may be derived from them, this is the opinion of Rabbi Meir.

a)                                 But the Sages say, when fresh they are forbidden but when dry they are permitted.

3)                     Fish brine and Bithynian cheese of the non-Jews are forbidden, the prohibition extending to any benefit that may be derived from them, this is the opinion of Rabbi Meir.

a)                                 But the Sages say that the prohibition does not extend to deriving benefit.

 

Explanation

Section one:  If a Jew stores his wine in skin-bottles or ceramic flasks in which non-Jews previously stored their wine the Jewish wine becomes forbidden.  Since the skin-bottles and flasks contained absorbed wine in their walls, that non-Jewish wine would mix with the Jewish wine.  According to Rabbi Meir, it is forbidden to even derive any benefit from this wine.  According to the Sages it is only forbidden for the Jew to drink the wine.  If he wants he could sell the wine to a non-Jew and thereby derive benefit.  The Sages rule that the only type of non-Jewish wine from which it is actually prohibited to derive benefit is wine that one can see.  Wine that has been absorbed in a vessel is only forbidden to be drunk.

Section two:   According to Rabbi Meir, both dry and moist grape skins and seeds that belonged to non-Jews are forbidden to Jews and the prohibition extends even to deriving any benefit from them.  The Sages rule that dry seeds and skins are permitted even to eat and only moist ones are prohibited. 

Section three:  The concern with regards to fish brine is that there may be small amounts of wine in it.  Bithynian cheese is cheese that comes from a place called Bithynia, which is in Asia Minor.  According to the Talmud most of the calves raised there were used for idol worship.  Since cheese uses rennet, a substance which comes from the stomach lining of a cow and solidifies the milk into cheese, we are concerned that the rennet came from a cow used in idol worship.  Due to our concern with both of these foods, Rabbi Meir says it is forbidden for a Jew to derive benefit from either.  According the Sages it is only forbidden to eat them; it is permitted to derive benefit from them.  The fish brine is permitted since the wine was only used as an antidote for any polluting agent in the brine and not for its own taste.  The cheese is permitted since most of the animals in Bithynia were not used for idol worship, only most of the calves which were a minority of the total number of animals. 

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