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Tuesday, 7 Shevat 5775 / January 27, 2015
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Rambam - 1 Chapter a Day

Rambam - 1 Chapter a Day

Avodah Kochavim - Chapter Eight

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Avodah Kochavim - Chapter Eight

Halacha 1

It is permitted to derive benefit from anything that has not been manipulated by man or that was not made by man, even though it was worshiped [as a deity]. Therefore, it is permitted to benefit from mountains, hills, trees - provided they were planted originally with the intent of harvesting their fruit - springs which provide water for many people, and animals, despite their having been worshiped by pagans. It is permitted to partake of fruits that were worshiped in the place where they grow and to partake of such an animal.

Needless to say, it is permitted to partake of an animal that was set aside for the purpose of idol worship. It is permitted regardless of whether it was set aside to be worshiped or to be sacrificed [to another deity].

When do the above statements permitting the use of an animal apply? When a deed involving it was not committed for the sake of idol worship. If, however, any deed whatsoever was committed involving it, it is forbidden; for example, one cut one of its signs for the sake of an idol. Should one exchange it for an idol, it is forbidden. Similarly, it is forbidden if it was exchanged for an article that was itself exchanged for an idol, since the latter article is considered to be "payment for an idol."

When does the above apply? Regarding one's own animal. If, however, one slaughtered a colleague's animal for the sake of a false deity, or exchanged it for an idol, it does not become forbidden, because a person cannot cause an article that does not belong to him to become forbidden.

When a person bows down to virgin earth, he does not cause it to become forbidden. If he digs pits, channels, and caverns in it for the sake of a false deity, it becomes forbidden.

Halacha 2

When a person bows down to water which was lifted up by a wave, he does not cause [the water] to become forbidden. If, however, he picked [water] up with his hands and bowed down to it, it becomes forbidden.

If rocks which had slid down from a mountain were worshiped in the place where they [landed], they are permitted, since they were not manipulated by man.

Halacha 3

When a Jew stands a brick up with the intention of bowing down to it, but does not bow down to it, and then a gentile comes and bows down to it, benefit from [the brick] becomes forbidden, because standing it up is considered to be a deed. Similarly, if he stands an egg up and a gentile comes and bows down to it, it becomes forbidden.

If one cuts off a gourd or the like and bows down to it, it is forbidden. Even when one bows down to only half the gourd, and the other half is still attached to it, it is forbidden because of the doubt involved: perhaps the second half is considered to be a handle for the half which was worshiped.

It is forbidden to benefit from a tree which was planted for the purpose of being worshiped. This is the asherah that the Torah mentions. When a tree which had been planted previously was pruned and carved for the sake of idol worship - even if it was extended or a growth was grafted onto the trunk of the tree - and branches grew, one must cut off [these] branches, and benefit from them is forbidden. The remainder of the tree, however, is permitted.

Similarly, when a person bows down to a tree, even though the tree itself is not forbidden, it is forbidden to benefit from all the branches, leaves, sprouts, and fruits which it produces during the time it is worshiped.

When gentiles guard the fruits of a tree and say that they are designated to be used to make alcoholic beverages for a particular pagan temple, and [the fruits] are used for alcoholic beverages which are drunken on their pagan holidays, it is forbidden to benefit from this tree. This is the ritual associated with an asherah. Accordingly, we can assume that [the tree] is an asherah, and therefore its fruits will be used for such purposes.

Halacha 4

[The following rules apply to] a tree under which a false deity was placed: It is forbidden to benefit from it as long as the deity is located under it. When it is removed, we are permitted [to benefit] from it, since the tree itself is not the entity which was worshiped.

When a gentile constructs a building with the intention that the building itself be worshiped, and, similarly, when a person bows down to a building that has already been constructed, they become forbidden.

When a [building] which had already been constructed, was plastered and embellished for the sake of worship to the extent that it is considered to be a new entity, one must remove all the new additions, and it is forbidden to benefit from them, since they were made with the intention of being worshiped. It is, however, permitted to benefit from the remainder of the building.

If one placed an idol within a house, it is forbidden to benefit from the house while the idol is located within. When it is removed, the house becomes permitted.

Similarly, it is forbidden to benefit from a stone which was hewn from a mountain with the intention that it be worshiped. If it had already been hewn out, but was adorned and embellished with the intention that it be worshiped - even if the stone itself was adorned and embellished and, needless to say, if the adornment was added to it - one must remove all the new additions, and it is forbidden to benefit from them, since they were made with the intention of being worshiped. It is, however, permitted to benefit from the remainder of the stone.

Halacha 5

A stone on which an idol is placed is forbidden as long as the idol is upon it. Once [the idol] is removed, it is permitted.

When a person's house which is located next to [a shrine of] an idol falls, it is forbidden for him to rebuild it. What must he do? He must move [the wall] within his own four cubits, and then rebuild it. The empty space must not be left free for the sake of the shrine of the idol. Rather, he should fill it with thorns or feces.

If the wall belonged jointly to both a private individual and an idol, it should be considered to belong to them equally. It is permitted to benefit from his half; the [half] belonging to the idol, however, is forbidden. [Similarly,] it is forbidden to benefit from all [the wall's] stones, beams, and earth.

Halacha 6

How must one destroy a false deity and the other entities which are forbidden on its account - e.g., its accessories and offerings? One must grind them and scatter [the dust] in the wind, or burn them and deposit the ashes in the Dead Sea.

Halacha 7

Although [as mentioned above,] an entity which cannot be manipulated by man - e.g., a mountain, animal, or tree - even when worshiped remains permitted, it is forbidden to benefit from its coatings. A person who derives any benefit from them whatsoever is [liable for] lashes, as [Deuteronomy 7:25] states: "Do not desire the silver and gold which are upon them."

Any coating of a false deity is considered to be one of its accessories.

Halacha 8

It is permitted to benefit from a false deity belonging to a gentile whose deification was nullified [by gentiles] before it entered the possession of a Jew, as [Deuteronomy, ibid.] states, "You must burn the statues of their gods with fire." [This command applies] only if they are treated as gods when they enter our possession. If, however, their deification was nullified, they are permitted.

Halacha 9

A false deity belonging to a Jew can never be nullified. Even if he owns it in partnership with a gentile, its nullification is of no consequence. Rather, it is forbidden to benefit from it forever, and it must be entombed.

Similarly, when a false deity belonging to a gentile enters the possession of a Jew, and then is nullified by a gentile, the nullification is of no consequence, and it is forbidden to benefit from it forever.

A Jew cannot nullify a false deity even when it is in the possession of a gentile. A gentile who is a minor or a fool cannot nullify a false deity. When a gentile is forced to nullify a false deity - whether it belongs to him or to other gentiles, even when he is forced to do so by Jews - the nullification is of consequence.

The gentile who nullifies idol worship must himself be an idolater. If he is not an idolater, his nullification is of no consequence.

When [a gentile] nullifies a false deity, he also nullifies [the connection to idol worship of] its accessories. When he nullifies [the connection to idol worship of] its accessories, it is permitted to benefit from the accessories. [The deity] itself, however, remains forbidden until it is nullified. [The connection to idol worship of] an object that was brought to an idol as an offering can never be nullified.

Halacha 10

How is [an idol] nullified? When one cuts off the tip of its nose, the tip of its ear, or the tip of its finger, smoothes out its face - even though none of its substance was destroyed - or sells it to a Jewish jeweler, it is nullified.

If, however, one gave it as security for a loan, sold it to a gentile, [sold it] to a Jew who is not a jeweler, [left it] after it was covered by fallen articles without removing them, did not demand its return after it was stolen by thieves, spat in its face, urinated upon it, dragged it [in mud], or threw feces upon it, it is not nullified.

Halacha 11

When a false deity was abandoned by its worshipers in a time of peace, it is apparent that they nullified it. Hence, benefit may be derived from it. [If it was abandoned] in a time of war, it is forbidden. The only reason they abandoned it was the war.

When a false deity becomes broken in the course of nature, it is forbidden to benefit from its broken pieces until they have been nullified. Accordingly, when a person finds broken pieces of an idol, [he must regard them] as forbidden, lest the gentiles have not nullified them.

[The following principles apply to an idol] which comes in pieces: If it could be reassembled by an ordinary person, each piece must be nullified individually. If [an ordinary person] could not reassemble it, once one has nullified one of its limbs, all of them are nullified.

Halacha 12

Though an altar for idol worship has been damaged, it is still forbidden to benefit from it until the majority of it has been destroyed by gentiles. A platform which has been damaged is permitted.

What is considered a platform, and what, an altar? A platform consists of a single stone; an altar, of many stones.

How are the stones of Marculis nullified? When one constructs a building from them or uses them to pave the roads or the like, it is permitted to benefit from them.

How is an asherah nullified? When one pulls off a leaf, cuts off a branch, takes a staff or scepter from it, or planes off its sides in a manner which does not benefit it, it is nullified. When one planes its sides in a manner which benefits it, it is forbidden, but its shavings are permitted.

If [the sides of] an asherah which belongs to a Jew [are planed off], both it and its shavings are forbidden forever, regardless of whether [it was planed] for its benefit or not, because a false deity belonging to a Jew can never be nullified.

Commentary Halacha 1

It is permitted to derive benefit from anything that has not been manipulated by man or that was not made by man - Idol worship is a human error. Hence, an object whose existence is not dependent on man cannot become forbidden because of it.

even though it was worshiped [as a deity]. - Although generally, it is forbidden to benefit from any entity worshiped as a false deity, as stated in Chapter 7, Halachah 2, this law does not apply in such instances.

Therefore, it is permitted to benefit from mountains, hills, trees - Avodah Zarah 45a derives this concept from the exegesis of Deuteronomy 12:2: "You shall surely destroy all the places where the gentiles... served their gods: on the mountains, on the hills, and under any luxuriant tree." The Sages explained that the verse indicates that shrines which are "on" the mountains and the hills and "under" the trees must be destroyed, but not the mountains, hills, and trees themselves. Our Sages exclaim: "Must God cause His world to be destroyed because of the fools?"

provided they were planted originally with the intent of harvesting their fruit - If, however, the trees were planted with the intent that they be worshiped, they are considered to be an asherah and forbidden, as explained in Halachah 3.

springs which provide water for many people - The Rambam's phraseology leads to the conclusion that a spring which provides water for only one person is forbidden if it is worshiped. The Prisha (Yoreh De'ah 145, based on Avodah Zarah 47a), explains that were an individual to quarry out a spring to worship as a deity, it would be forbidden to benefit from it. Accordingly, when a spring that is worshiped provides water for only one person, we fear that it was quarried out for these purposes. In contrast, when many people benefit from a spring, we do not harbor such suspicions, even when the spring is worshiped.

[In their commentaries on Yoreh De'ah 145:1, the Turei Zahav and the Siftei Cohen reject this premise and maintain that as long as the water is attached to the spring, it is not forbidden, despite its being worshiped. Indeed, the Turei Zahav explains that even the Rambam would accept such a decision. See the commentary on the following halachah.]

and animals - Temurah 29a derives this concept as follows: Our Sages required a special verse from the T'nach to teach us that an animal that was worshiped as a deity may not be offered as a sacrifice. Were such an animal to be forbidden for use by a common person, no verse would be necessary to teach us that it is not fit for sacrificial purposes.

despite their having been worshiped by pagans. It is permitted to partake of fruits that were worshiped in the place where they grow - Nevertheless, after the tree has been worshiped, all the fruits which grow on it during the time it is worshiped are forbidden, as explained in Halachah 3.

and to partake of such an animal. - The Paschal sacrifice offered by our ancestors in Egypt serves as an example of this principle. Though the Egyptians worshiped the lamb, our ancestors offered it as a sacrifice to God.

Needless to say, it is permitted to partake of an animal that was set aside - but not yet used

for the purpose of idol worship. It - such an animal

is permitted regardless of whether it was set aside to be worshiped - as a deity itself.

or to be sacrificed [to another deity]. - See Chapter 7, Halachah 15, which explains that anything set aside to be offered to an idol is not forbidden until it has actually been offered.

Temurah 28b cites a striking example of this principle. Judges (Chapter 6) relates that Gideon offered as a sacrifice to God a bull which his father had been fattening for seven years to offer as a sacrifice to Baal.

When do the above statements permitting the use of an animal - dedicated to an idol

apply? When a deed involving it was not committed for the sake of idol worship. If, however, any deed whatsoever was committed involving it, it is forbidden - Temurah 29a gives two examples: One shears the animal for the sake of idol worship or uses it to perform work for an idol. See also Hilchot Issurei Mizbeach 4:4.

for example, one cut one of its signs - The term "signs" refers to the windpipe and esophagus, which must both be slit open for ritual slaughter to be acceptable. (See Hilchot Shechitah 1:9.)

for the sake of an idol - as are all sacrifices offered to idols (Chapter 7, Halachah 2).

Should one exchange it for an idol, it is forbidden - as explained in Chapter 7, Halachah 9. The Or Sameach explains that this prohibition applies only with regard to an idol worsiped by a Jew. We are permitted to benefit from anything which a gentile exchanged for an idol.

Similarly, it is forbidden if it was exchanged for an article that was itself exchanged for an idol, since the latter article is considered to be "payment for an idol." - The Tur and the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh De'ah 145:9) do not accept this prohibition and permit the use of an article exchanged for an article that was exchanged for an idol.

When does the above apply? Regarding one's own animal. If, however, one - According to the Beit Yosef (Yoreh De'ah 145), this leniency does not apply when such actions are performed by a gentile. [In this regard, an apostate Jew is considered like a gentile.]

Though the halachah follows the Beit Yosef's opinion, theOr Sameach offers a different interpretation of the Rambam's words, explaining that his statements are explicit, and neither Jew nor gentile can cause his colleague's property to become forbidden.

slaughtered a colleague's animal for the sake of a false deity, or exchanged it for an idol, it does not become forbidden, because a person cannot cause an article that does not belong to him to become forbidden. - According to the Or Sameach, this is a blanket statement, applying under all circumstances. The Kessef Mishneh, however, cites Hilchot Shechitah 2:21 (which is based on Chulin 41a), where the Rambam clarifies the rationale for this decision, explaining that the person presenting the offering is only performing the act to "cause his colleague discomfort."

The phrasing of the present halachah appears to indicate that a person has no potential to cause his colleague's property to become forbidden. From Hilchot Shechitah, however, it appears that were he to, in fact, desire to sacrifice an animal to a idol, he would cause it to become forbidden. Leniency is granted only because his intent is not to do so, and he appears to do so merely to cause his colleague suffering.

The Tur and the Shulchan Aruch 145:8 (based on the passage from Chulin) rule that if a person was warned against offering the sacrifice to an idol and acknowledged the warning, it is forbidden to benefit from the animal. See also Halachah 3 and the commentary.

When a person bows down to virgin earth, he does not cause it to become forbidden - because the earth cannot be manipulated, nor was it made by man, as above.

If he digs pits, channels, and caverns in it for the sake of a false deity, it becomes forbidden. - From the Rambam's statements, it appears that if these diggings were carried out for the sake of an idol, they are automatically forbidden. The Tur (ibid.) differs and maintains that one must worship the land after the digging is completed. The Shulchan Aruch (ibid., 145:7) quotes the Rambam's statement.

Commentary Halacha 2

When a person bows down to water which was lifted up by a wave, he does not cause [the water] to become forbidden. - Avodah Zarah 59a states that since the water was not separated by human activity, it is considered to be attached to its source. Hence, it is governed by the principles mentioned in the beginning of the previous halachah.

If, however, he picked [water] up with his hands - it is "manipulated by man"

and - is no longer governed by the same rules. Therefore, if a person

bowed down to it, it becomes forbidden - as an idol would.

The Ra'avad disputes the Rambam's decision, basing his opinion on Avodah Zarah 47a, which states: "Water that belongs to the many is never prohibited." Accordingly, he explains that the water can become prohibited only if it is the private property of a single individual. If it belongs to the public at large, it remains permitted even if it was picked up by human hands and worshiped.

The Rambam interprets the passage from Avodah Zarah differently, and maintains that once water is picked up by an individual, it is considered to be his property, and hence can become prohibited. The Shulchan Aruch does not mention this law, leading to the conclusion that it accepts the Ra'avad's view. The later authorities (e.g., Siftei Cohen 145:2), however, follow the Rambam's view.

[Note the comments of the Turei Zahav 145:3, who explains that the Rambam mentions "Springs which provide water for many people" in the previous halachah only to negate the Ra'avad's opinion. By making such a statement, the Rambam clarifies that water belonging to many people remains permitted at all times when it is a "spring." If separated from its source by human activity, it can become forbidden.]

If rocks which had slid down from a mountain - The Turei Zahav 145:2 explains that this decision applies even when they slid far from the mountain. This decision, however, is not accepted by all authorities.

were worshiped in the place where they [landed], they are permitted, since they were not manipulated by man. - Hence, the leniencies mentioned in the previous halachah apply.

The Ra'avad objects to this decision as well, noting that the matter is debated by the Sages in Avodah Zarah 46a, and no decision is reached. Since this is a question of Torah law, it would seem appropriate to follow the more stringent view.

The Siftei Cohen (Yoreh De'ah 145:1) explains that the Rambam's decision is based on the Jerusalem Talmud (Avodah Zarah 3:6), which rules that these rocks are permitted.

Commentary Halacha 3

When a Jew stands a brick up with the intention of bowing down to it, but does not bow down to it - Were the scenario to be completed at this point, the brick would not be forbidden, because an object of worship does not become forbidden until it is actually worshiped.

and then a gentile comes and bows down to it - serving it as a false deity

benefit from [the brick] becomes forbidden, because standing it up is considered to be a deed. - The explanation of this law (quoted from Avodah Zarah 46a) depends on the difference of interpretation between the Beit Yosef and the Or Sameach mentioned in the commentary on Halachah 1.

According to the Or Sameach, who maintains that a gentile cannot cause property belonging to a Jew to become forbidden, this law can be explained as follows: Although the gentile's actions would not generally cause the brick to become forbidden, since the Jew indicated his desire to worship the brick, we assume that he is pleased with the gentile's act. Therefore, it becomes forbidden.

According to the Beit Yosef's opinion (see Yoreh De'ah 145), which maintains that a gentile can cause a Jew's property to become forbidden, this passage teaches us that the Jew's act is considered sufficient to cause the brick to become forbidden.

Similarly, if he - a Jew

stands an egg up and a gentile comes and bows down to it, it becomes forbidden. - This situation is left as an unresolved question in Avodah Zarah (ibid.). Rashi explains that the question is whether standing up an egg is, like standing up a brick, a significant act, or whether, because an egg is much smaller than a brick, standing it up is of no significance. Because the question is left unresolved, the Rambam follows the more severe view.

This and the previous law indicate that for a Jew's acceptance of idol worship to be significant in this context, it is necessary for him to perform a deed; a verbal statement or thought is of no consequence.

If one cuts off a gourd or the like and bows down to it, it is forbidden. - As long as a plant is attached to its source, the fact that it is worshiped does not cause it to be forbidden, as explained in Halachah 1. When, however, it is cut off and worshiped, it becomes forbidden.

Even when one bows down to only half the gourd and the other half is still attached to it, it is forbidden because of the doubt involved. Perhaps the second half is considered to be a handle for the half which was worshiped. - The Ra'avad objects to this decision, stating that the principle of considering one object as a "handle" of another applies only with regard to questions of ritual purity, and not regarding the prohibition of articles because of their connection with idol worship.

Though Rashi's interpretation of Chulin 128a appears to support the Ra'avad's view, the Kessef Mishneh and the Radbaz explain that the passage can also be interpreted according to the Rambam's perspective.

It is forbidden to benefit from a tree which was planted for the purpose of being worshiped. - Although, as stated in Halachah 1, worshiping a tree does not cause it to become forbidden, since at the time the tree was planted it could be "manipulated by man," idol worship could cause it to become forbidden.

This is the asherah that the Torah mentions - in Exodus 34:13 and in Deuteronomy 7:5 and 12:3. There are many more references in the works of the prophets. See Chapter 6, note 28, which describes the worship of asherot. Note also the statements of the Zohar (Vol. I, 49a), which associate the rites of an asherah with the worship of the moon.

When a tree which had been planted previously - not for the pupose of idol worship

was pruned and carved for the sake of idol worship - even if it was extended - 18הכרבה refers to a technique quite popular as a means of extending vines. A large branch of the original vine is implanted into the ground. It becomes the base from which a new vine sprouts.

or a growth was grafted onto the trunk of the tree - and branches grew, one must cut off [these] branches, and benefit from them is forbidden. - Since these branches come about as a result of a human activity carried out for the sake of idol worship, they are forbidden.

The remainder of the tree, however, is permitted. - Although a deed was carried out with the tree itself, the tree - unlike the animals mentioned in Halachah 1 - does not become forbidden (Avodah Zarah 48a).

Similarly, when a person bows down to a tree, even though the tree itself is not forbidden, it is forbidden to benefit from all the branches, leaves, sprouts, and fruits which it produces during the time it is worshiped. - All the fruits and branches that are growing on the tree when it is first worshiped are permitted. The prohibition only applies to those which begin growing from the time the tree was worshiped (Siftei Cohen, Yoreh De'ah 145:5).

When gentiles guard the fruits of a tree and say that they are designated to be used to make alchoholic beverages for a particular pagan temple, and [the fruits] are - known to be

used for alchoholic beverages which are - customarily

drunken on their pagan holidays, it is forbidden to benefit from this tree. - Avodah Zarah (ibid.) mentions this law with regard to date palms in Babylon that were set aside for the purpose of making beer for pagan celebrations.

This is the ritual associated with an asherah. - Thus, we see that its worship also involved Bacchanalian rites.

Accordingly, we can assume that [the tree] is an asherah, and therefore its fruits will be used for such purposes. - Although we generally do not accept a gentile's word, we accept his statements in this instance, since the circumstances attest to their genuineness.

Commentary Halacha 4

[The following rules apply to] a tree under which a false deity was placed: - See also Chapter 7, Halachah 11, which explains (based on Avodah Zarah 48a) that such a tree is also considered to be an asherah.

It is forbidden to benefit from it as long as the deity is located under it. - Rabbenu Nissim explains that this prohibition applies only when the tree was originally planted for this purpose. Otherwise, as in an instance when the tree itself is worshiped (see Halachah 1), it is not forbidden.

Tosafot (Avodah Zarah 47b) do not accept this view. They explain that, although according to Torah law (מדאורייתא), the tree is permitted, the Rabbis forbade deriving benefit from it as long as the false deity is located under it.

From the Rambam's inclusion of this law in this halachah, it would appear that he subscribes to the latter view. Though the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh De'ah 145:6) quotes this law without specifying that the tree must be planted for this intent, the Siftei Cohen (145:19) mentions this factor.

When it is removed - The Rambam's phraseology differs slightly from his source, Avodah Zarah (ibid.), which states, "when it (the deity) is negated."

we are permitted [to benefit] from it - The Kessef Mishneh explains that, in contrast to the previous halachah, in this instance even the branches of the tree which grew while the deity was located under the tree are permitted

since the tree itself is not the entity which was worshiped.

When a gentile - The Rambam mentions a gentile in this instance because, as stated in Chapter 7, Halachah 4, a false deity made by a gentile is prohibited immediately. In contrast, if it was made by a Jew, it is not forbidden until it was worshiped.

constructs a building with the intention that the building itself be worshiped, and, similarly, when a person bows down to a building that has already been constructed, they become forbidden. - Although a building that has already been constructed is connected to the earth, and thus cannot be "manipulated by man," it can still become forbidden. Avodah Zarah 47b explains that since the building materials were originally separate from the earth, the fact that they were later attached to the earth is of no significance.

The Radbaz (Vol. V, Responsum 1492) and other authorities note that in other places in the Mishneh Torah - e.g., Hilchot Me'ilah 5:5 - the Rambam considers a house, like a mountain or a tree, to be an article which is attached to the earth and beyond man's control. The Radbaz explains that the more stringent position was adopted in our particular instance because of the serious nature of the prohibition against the worship of false deities.

When a [building] which had already been constructed, was plastered and embellished - with artistic forms (Rambam's Commentary on the Mishnah, Avodah Zarah 3:7)

for the sake of worship - This also refers to an instance where the building itself is worshiped, and not where it is merely serving as a shrine for the worship of other deities.

to the extent that it is considered to be a new entity, one must remove all the new additions - If the house belonged to a gentile, it is unnecessary for all the additions to be removed. After making minor changes to nullify the house's connection with worship, benefiting from it is permissible (Turei Zahav, Yoreh De'ah 145:8).

and it is forbidden to benefit from them, since they were made with the intention of being worshiped. - If these "improvements" were made by a Jew, his intent is not taken into consideration and the prohibition takes effect only if the building is actually worshiped.

It is, however, permitted to benefit from the remainder of the building - since it was not constructed with a forbidden intent.

If one placed an idol within a house, it is forbidden to benefit from the house while the idol is located within. - Although the house was not originally constructed to be a shrine, as long as it serves this purpose, it is forbidden to benefit from it.

When it is removed, the house becomes permitted. - The Ramah (Yoreh De'ah 145:3) relates that if the house was originally constructed to be a shrine for a false deity, the removal of the idol is not sufficient to cause it to become permitted. Rather, the connection it shares with idol worship must be nullified. Furthermore, such nullification is effective only when the house is owned by a gentile. If it is owned by a Jew, the nullification is of no consequence.

Similarly, it is forbidden to benefit from a stone which was hewn from a mountain with the intention that it be worshiped. - Note the differences in the laws involving Jews and gentiles mentioned above.

If it had already been hewn out, but was adorned and embellished with the intention that it be worshiped - even if the stone itself was adorned and embellished - i.e.,the substance of the stone was itself carved and

and, needless to say, if the adornment was - from other substances that were

added to it - one - a Jew, see above regarding a gentile

must remove all the new additions, and it is forbidden to benefit from them, since they were made with the intention of being worshiped. It is, however, permitted to benefit from the remainder of the stone - since it was hewn from the ground without a forbidden intent.

Commentary Halacha 5

A stone on which an idol is placed is forbidden as long as the idol is upon it - even though it was not originally hewn out for this intention.

Once [the idol] is removed, it is permitted. - In this case as well, we must assume that the stone was not originally hewn out for this intention. Otherwise, the prohibition would continue even after the idol was removed.

When a person's house which is located next to [a shrine of] - Rashi, Avodah Zarah 47a, states that this refers to a house which is itself worshiped.

an idol - The commentaries explain that the person's house and the shrine share a single wall. The wall is located, however, on property belonging to the shrine.

falls, it is forbidden for him to rebuild it - to its former boundaries. By rebuilding the wall, the person completes the construction of the idol's shrine.

What must he do? He must move [the wall] within his own four cubits - The Rambam's text of the source of this halachah, the Mishnah, Avodah Zarah 3:6, does not mention "four cubits," nor is this phrase included in many manuscripts of the Mishneh Torah. The intent appears to be that he should move the wall entirely onto his own property. Other authorities, however, include this phrase in the Mishnah. According to their view (which is accepted by the Siftei Cohen, Yoreh De'ah 143:2), one must leave open a space of four cubits.

and then rebuild it. The empty space must not be left free for the sake of the shrine of the idol - lest the shrine be expanded.

Rather, he should fill it with thorns or feces. - Avodah Zarah 47b states that the space should be used "as an outhouse for children."

If the wall belonged jointly to both a private individual and an idol - i.e., the space upon which the wall originally stood belonged to both. Therefore, when the property lines are drawn again,

it should be considered to belong to them equally. - This is the common practice when a wall falls. (See Bava Batra 1:1.)

It is permitted to benefit from his half - Though he must leave an open space between the wall he builds and the wall of the shrine, he may include his portion of the area from the fallen wall as part of this space (Beit Yosef, Yoreh De'ah 143).

the [half] belonging to the idol, however, is forbidden - and cannot be included in the open space.

[Similarly,] it is forbidden to benefit from all [the wall's] stones, beams, and earth. - Our translation follows Rashi's commentary. Rabbenu Nissim maintains that if the wall was built jointly by the two parties, the Jew is entitled to half of the building materials. Nevertheless, even though he follows this view in principle, in practice, he forbids the Jew from using any of the building materials which he does not recognize as his own. The Ramah (Yoreh De'ah, ibid.) quotes Rabbenu Nissim's view.

Commentary Halacha 6

How must one destroy a false deity - The placement of this halachah appears problematic. On the surface, it would have been more appropriate to relate it after Chapter 7, Halachah 1, which mentions the commandment to destroy idol worship, or after the following halachah, which completes the description of the types of articles that are forbidden because of their association with idol worship.

Perhaps, since the prohibition against benefiting from the coating of an idol is considered to be a mitzvah in its own right, the Rambam concludes his discussion of the mitzvah to destroy prohibited articles before entering that subject (Kinat Eliyahu).

and the other entities which are forbidden on its account - e.g., its accessories and offerings? - See Chapter 7, Halachot 2 and 9.

One must grind them and scatter [the dust] in the wind - The Sages objected to this opinion, maintaining that the dust will serve as fertilizer, and thus benefit man. This objection is not accepted, since the fertilizer is not the only factor causing the crops to grow (see the commentary on Chapter 7, Halachah 14, which describes the concept of 18הז םרוגáהזו), and it was not intentionally used for this purpose (Tosafot, Avodah Zarah 43a).

or burn them and deposit the ashes in the Dead Sea. - See the commentary on Chapter 7, Halachah 5, which explains why the Dead Sea is mentioned.

The Merchevat HaMishneh cites Hilchot Chametz UMatzah 11:3, which states:

How must chametz be destroyed? It may be burned, crumbled and tossed to the wind, or thrown to the sea.

On this basis, he explains that there are three options to destroy a false deity: grinding and tossing it to the wind, burning (where the article must be destroyed), and throwing it into the Dead Sea. Since the Dead Sea is a barren place, which is not frequented by ships, the article need not be destroyed. Even if it is left whole, we assume that no benefit will come from it to man.

This interpretation is not accepted by all authorities. Tosafot (ibid.) maintains that even an idol tossed into the Dead Sea must be destroyed first.

The Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh De'ah 146:15) mentions letting an idol sink "in the sea" (not "the Dead Sea"), without requiring that it be destroyed first. The Siftei Cohen (145:13) and the Turei Zahav (145:11), however, require an idol to be destroyed before it is deposited in any sea other than the Dead Sea.

Commentary Halacha 7

Although [as mentioned above,] an entity which cannot be manipulated by man - e.g., a mountain, animal, or tree - even when worshiped remains permitted - Though, as mentioned in Halachah 1, benefit from these entities is not forbidden, their worship is still considered to be idol worship. Therefore,

it is forbidden to benefit from its coatings - since they are considered to be an accessory of idol worship. Sefer HaMitzvot (Negative Commandment 22) and Sefer HaChinuch (Mitzvah 428) consider this to be one of the 613 mitzvot of the Torah.

A person who derives any benefit from them whatsoever is [liable for] lashes - The commentaries note that in Chapter 7, Halachah 2, the Rambam states that a person who benefits from an idol or its accessories receives two measures of lashes. Thus, one might assume that for this transgression, one should receive two or three measures of lashes. (See the Ramban, Hasagot l'Sefer HaMitzvot, Negative Commandment 194.)

Avodat HaMelech explains that since the deity itself is not forbidden, this prohibition is considered to be a separate commandment.
Accordingly, its transgression is not related to any other prohibitions.

as [Deuteronomy 7:25] states: "Do not desire the silver and gold which are upon them." - Although, literally, the subject of the Biblical proof-text is "the statues of their gods," the interpretation quoted by the Rambam has its source in Avodah Zarah 45a.

Any coating of - Though the verse mentions only silver and gold, any substance which was intended to adorn an entity worshiped as

a false deity is considered to be one of its accessories - and forbidden.

Commentary Halacha 8

It is permitted to benefit from a false deity belonging to a gentile - but not one belonging to a Jew, as explained in the following halachah. That halachah also states that the gentile must be an idolater. If he does not worship idols, different rules apply.

whose deification was nullified - by performing one of the deeds mentioned in Halachah 10

by gentiles - but not by Jews (see the following halachah)

before - but not after, (see the following halachah.)

it entered the possession of a Jew, as [Deuteronomy, ibid.] states, "You must burn the statues of their gods with fire." - Avodah Zarah 52a notes that the root לספ can mean both "statue" and "nullify." Thus, it comments, "Which is the source from where we learn that a gentile can nullify his deity? 'You must burn the statues of their gods.'"

K'nesset HaGedolah notes a difficulty in this halachah, based on the principle that two new concepts cannot be derived from the same verse. Avodah Zarah, ibid., mentions that the same phrase is quoted as the source for both this concept and the law stated in Chapter 7, Halachah 4. It therefore seeks to derive one of these laws from a different source. The Rambam, however, quotes the same phrase as the proof-text for both laws.

K'nesset HaGedolah and the Lechem Mishneh explain - using this as an example for a principle that applies throughout the Mishneh Torah - that the Rambam's goal was to present the laws in the manner which it could be most easily appreciated by a reader, even if in doing so he did not follow all the principles of Biblical exegesis accepted by the Talmud.

[This command applies] only if they are treated as gods when they enter our possession. If, however, their deification was nullified, they are permitted - and may be used for whatever purposes a Jew desires. It appears, however, that they are forbidden to be used for the Temple's purposes, even after they were nullified.

Commentary Halacha 9

A false deity belonging to a Jew can never be nullified. - Since a Jew's sin of idol worship is more severe than a gentile's, it is forbidden to derive benefit from the object of that worship forever.

Even if he owns it in partnership with a gentile, its nullification is of no consequence. - Avodah Zarah 53a explains that we consider the Jew to have worshiped the idol through his own process of choice, and not merely as a result of the gentile's influence. Therefore, even though the gentile nullifies his portion, the idol is still forbidden because of the Jew.

Rather, it is forbidden to benefit from it forever, and it must be entombed. - Avodah Zarah 52a derives this from Deuteronomy 27:15: "Cursed be the man who makes an idol... and places it in a secret place." We can infer: What must be done with an idol made by a Jew? It must be placed in a "secret place" - i.e., entombed.

The Kessef Mishneh and others question why a Jew's idol should be entombed instead of destroyed, as required in Halachah 6. [Note that Tosafot, Avodah Zarah, ibid., interpret the Hebrew genizah to mean "destruction," rather than entombment, in this instance.]

Avodat HaMelech explains that since the concept is derived from a Biblical proof-text, there is no difficulty. It is all a matter of Divine decree. In one instance, God desires that the false deities be destroyed, while in another instance He desires that they be entombed.

Similarly, when a false deity - Note that the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh De'ah 146:2) distinguishes between a false deity itself and its accessories and adornments, stating that the latter may be nullified by a gentile even after they have been acquired by a Jew.

belonging to a gentile enters the possession of a Jew, and then is nullified by a gentile, the nullification is of no consequence - The Beit Yosef (Yoreh De'ah 146) explains that this is a Rabbinic decree.

and it is forbidden to benefit from it forever. - Therefore, whenever a Jew wants to take possession of a false deity, he must have it nullified by a gentile before he assumes ownership of it.

A Jew cannot nullify a false deity - An idol can be nullified as a divinity only by a person who once attached importance to it. Since a Jew is, in essence, a believer in the true God, his attachment to idols is merely superficial. Hence, his acts can have no effect upon them.

even when it is in the possession of a gentile. - The Kessef Mishneh explains that this decision applies even when the gentile gives the Jew permission to nullify it.

A gentile who is a minor or a fool cannot nullify a false deity. - Avodah Zarah 43a relates the following narrative:

Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi related: Once I was following Rabbi Elazar HaKappar the Great on a road. He found a ring with the imprint of a d'rakon (see Chapter 7, Halachah 8) on it. He passed a gentile child without saying anything to him. Afterwards, he met a gentile adult and asked him to nullify it. He refused. Rabbi Elazar struck him and he nullified it.
We learn from this three things: a) a gentile can nullify an idol whether it belongs to him or to his colleague; b) a gentile who is knowledgeable about idol worship can nullify it, while one who is not knowledgeable cannot nullify it; c) a gentile's nullification of idol worship is effective even if he is compelled to do so.

Neither a minor nor a fool is considered "knowledgeable about idol worship." hence, their nullification is not acceptable.

When a gentile is forced to nullify a false deity - whether it belongs to him or to other gentiles - even when he is forced to do so by Jews, the nullification is of consequence.

The gentile who nullifies idol worship must himself be an idolater. - It does not, however, matter whether the idolater worships the particular idol he nullifies or not. For example, a worshiper of Pe'or can nullify a shrine of Marculis (Avodah Zarah 64b).

If he is not an idolater, his nullification is of no consequence. - Avodah Zarah (ibid.) states that a ger toshav - a gentile who accepts the observance of the seven universal laws given to Noach and his descendants - cannot nullify an idol.

As stated in Chapter 10, Halachah 6, a ger toshav must formalize his acceptance of these laws before a Rabbinic court. Also, the laws of a ger toshav apply only during the era when the Jubilee year is observed. Nevertheless, from Hilchot Ma'achalot Asurot 11:7 and 13:11, it appears that even a gentile who observes the seven Noachide laws cannot nullify an idol in the present era. There, the Rambam explains that the Moslems are not considered to be idolaters regarding the laws of yayin nesech. Thus, it can be assumed that their nullification of idol worship would not be of consequence.

See also the statements of the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh De'ah 124:2) and the Ramah (Yoreh De'ah 124:5), which appear to accept this decision.

When [a gentile] nullifies a false deity, he also nullifies [the connection to idol worship of] its accessories - and it becomes permitted to benefit from them. The Ramah (Yoreh De'ah 146:13) states that this law applies even if a Jew had already taken possession of the accessories, so long as the false deity remained in the possession of the gentile.

When he nullifies [the connection to idol worship of] its accessories, it is permitted to benefit from the accessories. [The deity] itself, however, remains forbidden until it is nullified. - On the contrary, the fact that the gentile did not nullify the false deity itself indicates that he still has some reverence for it.

[The connection to idol worship of] an object that was brought to an idol as an offering - whether it was brought by a Jew or gentile

can never be nullified. - From Hilchot Sha'ar Avot HaTum'ah 6:7, it appears that this decision applies only to foods which were offered to a false deity. If other articles were brought as offerings, different laws apply.

Commentary Halacha 10


How is [an idol] nullified - by a gentile, as mentioned in Halachah 8?

When one cuts off the tip of its nose, the tip of its ear, or the tip of its finger - By doing so, one mars its appearance and thus reveals that one no longer regards it with reverence.

smooths out its face - Our translation follows the Rambam's Commentary on the Mishnah (Avodah Zarah 4:4). Others (see Rashi, Avodah Zarah 53a) render it as "smashes its face."

even though none of its substance was destroyed - Once the face of an idol is no longer recognizable, the idol is obviously not considered to be a deity. The Rambam emphasizes that it is only when the face of the idol is smoothed out that it is nullified. Smoothing out any other portion of the idol is not effective.

or sells it to a Jewish jeweler - By doing so, the gentile implies his willingness to have the Jew smelt down the idol to its precious metal value. Thus, he obviously no longer considers it to be a god.

This point is debated in Avodah Zarah 53a, and no explicit conclusion is reached. Most other authorities (and the Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De'ah 146:8) maintain that selling it to a Jewish jeweler is insufficient to nullify it.

it is nullified. - Note the Ramah's decision (Yoreh De'ah 146:7) that making a verbal statement is sufficient to nullify it as an idol in most cases. A deed such as those mentioned above is necessary only when a gentile is compelled to nullify it.

If, however, one gave it as security for a loan, sold it to a gentile - even a jeweler

[sold it] to a Jew who is not a jeweler - In these instances, although the gentile used the idol for business purposes, it is still possible that he sold it with the intent that the purchaser use the idol as a god. Hence, we cannot be certain that it was nullified by the seller.

[left it] after it was covered by fallen articles without removing them, did not demand its return after it was stolen by thieves - Such acts appear to indicate that the gentile has little reverence for his idol. (Why should he? Once he sees that the idol cannot save itself, why should he think that it will benefit him?) Nevertheless, as long as he does not do anything that explicitly clarifies that he no longer reveres it, it is not nullified.

spat in its face, urinated upon it, dragged it [in mud] - The bracketed additions are based on Rashi's commentary (Avodah Zarah, ibid.).

or threw feces upon it - Although these acts are irreverent in nature, they could be interpreted as temporary expressions of anger rather than a sincere nullification of the idol's divinity.

it is not nullified. - Avodah Zarah 53a derives this from the exegesis of Isaiah 8:21-22, which implies that though temporarily the people may "curse their king and god (idol) and look upward (to the true God)," shortly afterwards they will return and "look to the earth" (worship their idol again).

Commentary Halacha 11

When a false deity was abandoned by its worshipers in a time of peace, it is apparent that they nullified it. - Were they still to worship it, they would not have abandoned it. Note Avodah Zarah 53b, which applies these principles to the Tower of Babel.

Hence, benefit may be derived from it. [If it was abandoned] in a time of war, it is forbidden. The only reason they abandoned it was the war. - Note the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh De'ah 146:10) which states that if the gentiles could return to the idol but do not, it is considered to have been nullified.

When a false deity becomes broken in the course of nature, it is forbidden to benefit from its broken pieces until they have been nullified. - Avodah Zarah 41b quotes a difference of opinion on this matter between Resh Lakish and Rabbi Yochanan. Resh Lakish maintains that we can assume that the gentiles nullified their worship of the idol. If it could not save itself, surely it cannot save them.

Rabbi Yochanan does not accept this opinion and maintains that even when an idol is broken it is revered. Avodah Zarah 49b states that the gentiles would even worship the broken pieces of an idol. (See also the Jerusalem Talmud, Avodah Zarah 3:3.)

Accordingly, when a person finds broken pieces of an idol, [he must regard them] as forbidden, lest the gentiles have not nullified them. - Avodah Zarah 41b explains that although the possibility exists that the idol was nullified, we must still regard it as forbidden. Since it is recognized as an idol, the prohibition against using it becomes an established fact, which cannot be changed until we are certain that it has been nullified as an object of worship. (Note also our commentary on Chapter 7, Halachah 7.)

[The following principles apply to an idol] which comes in pieces: If it could be reassembled by an ordinary person - the fact that it is broken is not of consequence. Indeed, the laws which govern it are more stringent than if it remained whole.

each piece must be nullified individually - for each is considered to be a separate entity.

If [an ordinary person] could not reassemble it, once one has nullified one of its limbs, all of them are nullified. - Since the idol is broken and cannot be reassembled by an ordinary person, it is treated more leniently, and if one part of it is nullified, the entire idol becomes permitted. In contrast to the Ra'avad and some other authorities, the Rambam does require that at least this minimal nullification be carried out. The Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh De'ah 146:11) follows the Rambam's view.

Commentary Halacha 12

Though an altar for idol worship has been damaged, it is still forbidden to benefit from it until the majority of it has been destroyed - Avodah Zarah 54a cites an allusion to this law in Isaiah 27:9: "All the stones of the altar will be as chalkstones that are cracked open."

by gentiles. - As stated in Halachah 9, the nullification of false deities must be performed by gentiles.

A platform which has been damaged is permitted. - Avodah Zarah 53b relates that since a platform consists of only a single stone, if it is damaged another one will be brought to replace it.

Halachah 5 states that once an idol is removed from a stone, one is permitted to benefit from it. Thus, we are forced to say that this law is speaking about an instance where the stone is presently being used as a platform. It can be interpreted as applying when the damage happens as a matter of course. The Rambam is teaching us that even though the stone is being used as a platform at present, since it will soon be replaced, it is permitted. Alternatively, it is speaking about a stone which was originally hewn out to be used as a platform. In such an instance, the damage must be purposely caused by a gentile with the intention of nullifying the platform.

What is considered a platform, and what, an altar? A platform consists of a single stone; an altar, of many stones. - Rather than differentiate between them because of the functions they serve, explaining that a platform is used to place idols upon, and an altar, to bring sacrifices, the Rambam (based on Avodah Zarah, ibid.,) considers size the determinant.

How are the stones of Marculis nullified? - As mentioned, a shrine to Marculis consists of three stones placed one on top of the other.

When one constructs a building from them or uses them to pave the roads or the like, it is permitted to benefit from them. - Avodah Zarah 50a relates that even Rabbi Menachem b'Rabbi Simai, who was called the son of the holy because he would not look at the image of a coin, lest it carry the form of an idol, would walk on such roads.

How is an asherah - A tree which is worshiped or one which offers shade for an idol

nullified? When one pulls off a leaf, cuts off a branch - Our translation is based on the text of the Mishnah (Avodah Zarah 3:10) and the Rambam's commentary. A printing error appears has crept into the standard published texts of the Mishneh Torah, which read זרק rather than זרד.

takes a staff or scepter from it, or planes off its sides in a manner which does not benefit it, it is nullified. - These actions indicate a lack of reverence for the tree. Hence, they are sufficient to nullify it.

When one planes its sides in a manner which benefits it - to improve its appearance or to prune it so that it will grow better

it is forbidden - Since these actions are no indication of a lack of reverence,

but its shavings are permitted - since they are not worshiped.

If [the sides of] an asherah which belongs to a Jew - or if a Jew does this to an asherah of a gentile

[are planed off] - even by a gentile

both it and its shavings - Even though the shavings will not be worshiped, since they come from a false deity which was not nullified, they also

are forbidden forever, regardless of whether [it was planed] for its benefit or not, because a false deity belonging to a Jew can never be nullified - as stated in Halachah 10.

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