Sanhedrin, Chapter Seven, Mishnah Six
Mishnah six deals with which forms of idol worship will cause a Jew to incur the death penalty.
1) He who engages in idol-worship [is executed]. This includes the one whoserves it, sacrifices, offers incense, makes libations, bows to it, accepts it as a god, or says to it, You are my god.
2) But he who embraces, kisses it, sweeps or sprinkles the ground before it, washes it, anoints it, clothes it, or puts shoes on it, he transgresses a negative commandment [but is not executed].
3) He who vows or swears by its name, violates a negative commandment.
4) He who uncovers himself before Baal-Peor [is guilty and is to be stoned for] this is how it is worshipped.
5) He who casts a stone on Merculis [is guilty and is to be stoned for] this is how it is worshipped.
Our mishnah describes what types of idolatrous activities are punished by death and what types are forbidden but not punishable by death. Basically we can summarize that activities that are performed solely in worship of the idol, such as bowing to it, sacrificing to it, or specifically stating that the idol is a god, are punished by death. However, ancillary actions that are not done with the purpose of worship are forbidden but not punishable by death.
The final two clauses of our mishnah mention two idols who were worshipped by strange types of actions. Baal-Peor is worshipped by the idolaters exposing himself. Merculis (Mercury) is worshipped by throwing stones at it. Since these are considered to be worship, the one who performs them is obligated for the death penalty.
Questions for Further Thought:
· Why does the mishnah have to explicate which actions are punished by death and which are not? What might one have thought without this mishnah?