Avodah Kochavim - Chapter Seven
It is a positive commandment to destroy false deities, all their accessories, and everything that is made for their purposes, as [Deuteronomy 12:2] states: "You shall surely destroy all the places [where the gentiles... served their gods]" and, as [implied by Deuteronomy 7:5]: "Rather, what you should do to them is tear down their altars."
In Eretz Yisrael, the mitzvah requires us to hunt after idol worship until it is eradicated from our entire land. In the diaspora, however, we are not required to hunt after it. Rather, whenever we conquer a place, we must destroy all the false deities contained within.
[The source for this distinction is Deuteronomy 12:3, which] states: "And you shall destroy their name from H3this place," [implying that] you are obligated to hunt false deities in Eretz Yisrael, but you are not obligated to do so in the diaspora.
It is forbidden to benefit from false deities, their accessories, offerings for them, and anything made for them, as [implied by Deuteronomy 7:26]: "Do not bring an abomination to your home."
Anyone who derives benefit from any of the above receives two measures of lashes: one because of the prohibition, "Do not bring an abomination...," and one because of the prohibition, "Let nothing which is condemned cling to your hand."
It is forbidden to benefit from an animal which was sacrificed to false deities in its entirety - even its excrement, its bones, its horns, its hooves, and its hide. It is forbidden to benefit from it at all.
To cite an example, the hide of an animal which is marked by a sign that indicates that it was offered as a sacrifice to false deities - e.g., it has a round hole in the place of the heart through which the heart is extracted, which was a common practice [of idolaters] - It is forbidden to benefit from all of these hides and others of the like.
What is the difference between an idol belonging to a gentile and one belonging to a Jew? It is forbidden to benefit from an idol belonging to a gentile immediately [after it is fashioned], as [implied by Deuteronomy 7:25]: "You shall burn the sculptures of their gods with fire" - i.e., they are considered gods as soon as they have been sculpted.
[In contrast,] it is not forbidden to benefit from a Jew's [idol] until he worships it, as [implied by Deuteronomy 27:15]: "[Cursed is the person who makes an idol...] and places it in a hidden place" - i.e., it is not forbidden until he does private acts - i.e., worship - on its behalf.
The accessories of idol worship, whether belonging to a Jew or to a gentile, are not forbidden until they were actually used for the purpose of idol worship.
[When] a person makes an idol for another person - although he receives lashes - his wage is permitted. [This applies] even when he made [the idol] for a gentile, and it is therefore forbidden immediately.
[What is the rationale for the latter decision? The idol] is not forbidden until it is completed and the hammer-stroke which completes it is not worth a penny.
[The following rules apply when] a person buys scrap metal from a gentile and finds idols within it: If he has already paid the money, but has not taken possession of it, he should return it to the gentile. The same [rules] apply if he took possession of it, but did not pay the money. Though taking possession represents a formal transfer of ownership in dealings with a gentile, the transaction was made in error. If he paid the money and took possession [of the scrap], he must take [the idols] to the Dead Sea.
Similarly, when a gentile and a convert [divide] the estate of their father - a gentile - the convert may tell the gentile, "Take the idols and I will take the money," "Take the forbidden wine and I will take the produce." Once [idols] come into the possession of the convert, however, they are forbidden.
We are allowed to benefit from images which gentiles made for aesthetic purposes. It is forbidden, however, to benefit from images that are made for the purpose of idol worship.
What is implied? It is forbidden to benefit from any images found in villages, for one may assume that they were made for the sake of idol worship. When images are found in a city, they are forbidden only when they are found at the entrance to the city and hold a staff, bird, globe, sword, crown, or ring in their hands. Otherwise, we may assume that they were made for aesthetic purposes, and benefit from them is permitted.
Statues of false deities which are found discarded in the marketplace or in a scrap metal heap are permitted. Needless to say, this applies to pieces of statues.
In contrast, should one find a hand, a foot, or another limb from the form of one of the constellations or celestial signs, it is forbidden to benefit from it. Since one knows that this limb is one of the images that is worshiped, the prohibition against [benefiting from it] remains until one knows that the gentiles who worshiped it, nullified it.
[The following laws apply when] a person finds articles which have the form of the sun, the moon, or a d'rakon upon them: If they are golden or silver objects, or silk garments, or if these forms were engraved on a nose-ring or finger-ring, they are forbidden. If these forms are found on other articles, they are permitted, since we may assume that they were made for aesthetic purposes. Similarly, we may assume that any other form which is found on an article was intended for aesthetic purposes. Therefore, [the articles] are permitted.
A false deity, its accessories, and the objects offered to it are always forbidden, regardless of the proportion [of a mixture they make up].
What is implied? If an idol becomes mixed together with statues made for aesthetic purposes - even if the proportion is merely one in several thousand - the entire group must be taken to the Dead Sea. Similarly, if a goblet [used for] idol worship becomes mixed together with many other goblets, or a piece of meat [coming from a sacrifice to a false deity] becomes mixed with other meat, the entire group must be taken to the Dead Sea. Similarly, if a hide with a hole through which the heart was removed becomes mixed with other hides, it is forbidden to benefit from the entire mixture.
[When] a person transgresses and sells a false deity, one of its accessories, or an object that was offered to it, it is forbidden to benefit from the money received, and that prohibition [remains if these funds become mixed with others], regardless of the proportion [of the mixture] they make up. [Deuteronomy 7:26] states: "Lest you become condemned like it." [From this we infer,] that anything that comes from a false deity, from any of its accessories, or from [anything] offered to it is [governed by the same prohibitions] as it is.
When a false deity or an asherah is burned, it is forbidden to benefit from its ashes. A coal taken from an idol is forbidden; a flame [from an idol] is permitted, for it is not an entity with substance.
When there is a doubt whether an object is connected to idol worship or not, it is forbidden. If, however, that doubt is questionable, it is permitted.
What is implied? Should a goblet used for idol worship fall into a storage room of goblets, they are all forbidden, because a false deity and all its accessories are always forbidden, regardless of the proportion [of a mixture they make up]. If one of the cups from this mixture falls together with two other cups, the the [entire second mixture] is permitted.
Should a ring [used to adorn] an idol become mixed together with one hundred other rings, and then two of them fall into the Mediterranean Sea, it is permissible to use all of them. We presume that the [forbidden] ring was among the two [which fell].
Should [a forbidden ring] become mixed together with a hundred others and then [the group] becomes divided, forty being separated in one group and sixty in another, and then the entire [group of] forty fall into another group of rings, it is permissible to use all of them. We presume that the forbidden ring remained among the majority. If the [group of] sixty fall into another group of rings, they are all forbidden.
Sitting under the shade of the trunk of an asherah - whether it is worshiped itself or whether an idol was placed under it - is forbidden. It is, however, permissible to sit under the shade of its branches and its leaves.
If a person has another route, it is forbidden for him to pass under it. If he has no other route, he may pass under it, provided he runs.
Chicks which do not need their mother and nest in [an asherah] are permitted. In contrast, the chicks and eggs which need their mother are forbidden for the asherah is considered as if it is a base for them. The nest itself - [even though it is] in the top of the tree - is permitted, for the birds bring the wood for it from other places.
It is forbidden to benefit from wood which one takes from it. Should a person have heated the oven with such wood, he must cool it off. Afterwards, he should kindle it with other, permitted, wood and then bake within.
Should he bake bread in [an oven heated in this manner] without cooling it, he is forbidden to benefit from the bread. If [such a loaf] became mixed together with others, he must bring the value of that loaf to the Dead Sea so that he will never benefit from it. The other loaves, however, are permitted.
If one took [a piece of wood from an asherah to use as] a shuttle, and wove a garment with it, it is forbidden to benefit from [the garment]. Should the garment become mixed together with other garments, he must bring the value of that garment to the Dead Sea. All the other garments, however, are permitted.
It is permissible to plant vegetables under [an asherah] - whether in the summer - when they need the shade - or in the winter. [This leniency is granted] because the vegetables' growth is produced by two factors: the shade of the asherah, which is forbidden, and the earth, which is permitted. Whenever an effect is produced by the combination of a forbidden factor and a permitted factor, it is permitted. Therefore, if a field was fertilized with fertilizer [that was forbidden because of a connection with] idol worship, one may sow it. Similarly, [the meat of] a cow that was fed with beans [that were forbidden because of a connection with] idol worship, may be eaten. The same principle applies in other similar situations.
It is not forbidden to benefit from meat, wine, and fruits that were prepared as offerings for idols. Although they were brought into the temple of a false deity, [they are not prohibited] until they are actually brought as offerings.
Once they are brought as offerings, [their status changes] and they remain forbidden forever, even if they were later removed [from the temple].
Torah law forbids benefiting from anything that is found in a temple of a false deity, even water or salt. If a person eats even the slightest amount from such substances, he is [punished by] lashing.
[The following laws apply when] a person finds garments, utensils, or money [placed] on the head of an idol. If he finds them [placed] in a derisive manner, they are permitted. If he finds them [placed] in a deferential manner, they are forbidden.
What is implied? If one finds a purse hanging around its neck, folded garments placed on its head, or a utensil overturned on its head, they are permitted, because [they were placed] in a derisive manner. The same applies to other similar situations. [In contrast,] if one finds an object of a type which is used as an offering for the [Temple] altar on the head [of an idol], it is forbidden.
When does the above apply? When one finds such articles outside its [usual] place of worship. When, however, one finds such articles within the [idol's place of worship], regardless of whether it was placed in a derisive manner or in a deferential manner, or whether it is of the type of objects used as sacrifices for the [Temple] altar, any article found within [such a structure] - even water or salt - becomes forbidden.
[Different laws apply regarding] Pe'or and Marculis. It is forbidden to benefit from anything that is found together with them, whether [it is found] in their [temple] or outside of it. Similarly, with regard to the stones [found near a symbol of] Marculis: If a stone appears to be together with it, it is forbidden to benefit from it.
When [the shrine of] a false deity possesses a bathhouse or a garden, benefit may be derived from it, provided one does not offer appreciation [in return]. [If] one must offer appreciation, it is forbidden.
[If the garden or bathhouse] is mutually owned by [the shrine] and another entity, one may derive benefit from it even if one provides its priests with appreciation. One may not, however, pay a fee.
It is permitted to bathe in a bathhouse even though an idol is located within, because it is placed there for aesthetic purposes and not to be served. [This leniency can be inferred from the use by Deuteronomy 12:2 of the term:] "their gods" - i.e., the prohibition applies when they treat them as gods, and not when they humiliate them, such as in an instance where [the idol] stands over the sewage pipe and they urinate before it.
Should [the idol's] worship involve such activities, it is forbidden to enter [the bathhouse].
It is permitted to benefit from [an animal] slaughtered using a knife [forbidden because of its connection to] idol worship, because one is detracting from [the animal's] value. If the animal is in danger [of dying], it is forbidden, because one is enhancing its value, and this improvement involves benefit from an accessory of idol worship.
Similarly, it is forbidden to cut meat with [such a knife], because one is enhancing its value. Should one cut with a destructive intent, causing a loss, the meat is permitted.
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