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Class Notes - Class 17

Mitzvah #472 prohibits Jews from eating n’veilah, meat from a mammal or bird that died of a cause other than shchitah. Meat of an animal that died from a shchitah that was not done properly is also n’veilah.  We have used the concept of n’veilah many times before and now we have the mitzvah that prohibits eating n’veilah. The source verse, Deut. 14:21, specifies that non-Jews may eat n’veilah so if Jews have n’veilah it is fine to give or sell that to a non-Jew or to get benefit from it by doing things other than eating it.

            The concept of this mitzvah is already familiar to us, but the author takes the opportunity to add to what he has already taught us about prohibited food combining with permitted food.  That forces us to review material we have not seen recently.

            First the author presents a new aspect.  Jews may not eat meat that is n’veilah if the meat is fresh enough to be edible.  Once that meat goes bad and is too putrid to eat it is no longer considered n’veilah.  A Jew who eats a k’zayit of putrid n’veilah does not break this mitzvah because in general prohibitions on eating only apply to food; eating disgusting, putrid stuff is not eating at all.  And we assume that food or food residue begins to taste disgusting after 24 hours, a reasonable assumption in a warm climate before refrigeration. The principle here applies not only to n’veilah; if permitted food gets mixed with prohibited food that tastes bad, the mixture is not subject to the ordinary rules of permitted food mixed with prohibited food.  As we have come to expect, when the author introduces a new principle he gives us practice in understanding the implications of that principle.

            Now consider the case of a pot that was used to cook some forbidden food like pork.  Even after the pot is washed there is some small amount of residue of the food in the pot.  (Imagine boiling some water in a pot usually used to cook meat.  There is a good chance the water will have some evidence of the meat previously cooked in the pot.)  Suppose someone cooked some permitted food in that pot.  From what we learned earlier we know that if the permitted food is more than 60 times the volume of the forbidden food remaining in the pot and the residue does not impart flavor to the permitted food the food remains permitted.  But if the residue imparts flavor to the permitted food, or if the permitted food is less than 60 times the volume of the residue, the food is forbidden.  That is all true if the residue is still food.  But if the residue is more than 24 hours old we assume it tastes disgusting, and the author just taught us that eating disgusting stuff is not forbidden.  Therefore, even if the residue is less than 60 times the volume of the permitted food, the permitted food will be permitted.

            The author raises several challenges to that result.  The result seems surprising in light of Lev. 11:43, which in discussing eating swarming animals, tells us not to make ourselves disgusting. It would seem the case we just outlined involves our knowingly eating something disgusting.  But in this case the disgusting stuff we are eating is residue hidden in the walls of a pot, something small enough not to violate that injunction.  (There is a mitzvah based on this verse, mitzvah #164, but our author does not mention this aspect in his discussion of that mitzvah.)

            That result also seems surprising in light of the passage in Num. 31, where the Jews win a battle with the Midianites, killing most of the adults and male children and taking as booty the rest of the women and children, the animals and the belongings.  But the cooking utensils taken as booty must be purified before the Jews use them.  Presumably any food residue remaining in those utensils was fresh since the Midianites had been using them just before the attack.  Since the residue did not have time to spoil and become disgusting, the utensils being purified by boiling the utensils in water would need to be boiled in water more than 60 times the volume of the residue. 

            One more implication of this new rule arises in a case where a repugnant critter falls into some permitted food and is then removed.  There are two things we have to worry about, whether the critter itself makes the food forbidden and whether the flavor of the critter makes the food forbidden. D’oraita the forbidden critter will be batel if the volume of the permitted food is twice the volume of the forbidden critter.  Assuming that was true in this case, once the critter is removed the only problem left if the flavor of the critter.  Since the flavor is presumed to be disgusting and disgusting flavor imparted by forbidden food is no problem, Jews may eat the remaining food.

            Our author has covered many different rules about what to do when permitted food becomes contaminated with forbidden food.  Applying those rules is complicated, especially when the case involves the interplay of several of those rules.  The author points out that he has only given a few of the many complex cases related to this topic, the proverbial “tip of the iceberg.”  But the author reminds his son that his purpose was to introduce and to inspire interest rather than to completely cover this or any topic.  The author sounds confident that he has piqued his son’s interest and that his son will pursue his studies and enjoy doing it. 


Now, yet again, back to idol worship:

            Mitzvah #456 prohibits giving our attention to someone delivering prophecy in the name of an idol.  In mitzvah #416 we learned how to determine if someone speaking prophecy on behalf of God is reliable and legitimate.  We ought not apply those same criteria to someone who prophesies on behalf of an idol.  Jews should not engage in long discussions with such an erstwhile prophet, or test to see if the prophet can perform miracles. Engaging in the legitimation process gives the prophet of an idol too much legitimacy.  Our job is to undermine the message.  Ultimately this false prophet is liable to the death penalty.

            Our author explains that people are easily misled into believing questionable or false ideas.  Someone who engages is discussion with the false prophet may be convinced by mistaken ideas, or come to doubt true ideas.  Even a brief dalliance with falsehood is harmful.  So the Torah warns us away from these tempting conversations.  This rationale might also help explain several other mitzvot we have seen that require us to avoid certain types of intellectual inquiry.

            Just as Jews are prohibited from engaging with a prophet of idolatry, Jews are prohibited from engaging with someone who invites someone else to worship idols.  Mitzvot #457 – 462 deal with a person who entices others toward idol worship.  Mitzvah #462 prohibits one Jew from inviting other Jews to worship idols.  Mitzvot #460 and 461 instruct the invitee to speak out against the enticer and to enable legal action against the enticer. Mitzvah #459 prohibits the invitee from rescuing the enticer from a dangerous situation.  Mitzvot # 457 and 458 instruct all Jews to avoid having affection for the enticer, but rather to maintain hatred for the enticer. These mitzvot require extreme rejection of one Jew who invites others to worship idols.  Rules that apply to all other situations do not necessarily apply in a case of enticement to idol worship. The author says the shoresh is obvious.

            An enticer might explicitly invite others to join in idol worship, but more subtle actions will also be considered enticement.  Someone is an enticer if that person tells others that he or she is going to worship idols, presumably in a way that makes others feel welcome to come along.  One is guilty of enticement whether or not either the enticer or the invitee actually ends up worshipping idols.

            When someone invites someone else to worship idols, the invitee should do whatever possible to make sure the enticer can be convicted.  If the enticer invites two people, they can both be witnesses against the enticer in a trial that can result in the death penalty.  Normally a defendant cannot be convicted unless the witnesses give a full warning before the guilty act occurs, but the enticer need not be warned.  Not only can the invitee be a witness against the enticer, but the invitee should try to recruit someone else who could then be the second witness against the enticer.  A lone invitee should tell the enticer to repeat the invitation to other friends who might be interested; the invitee is trying to create a situation where there is another witness to the enticement.  Normally for the defendant to be convicted the defendant would have to know the witnesses are present and watching.  But if the enticer doesn’t want to invite someone else, the single invitee should try to hide witnesses in the area so that those witnesses can testify against the enticer.  Once the witnesses are in place, the invitee should try to tempt the enticer into repeating the enticement, for example by reopening the conversation and raising questions about whether idol worship is appropriate.  There is an element of entrapment in this rubric, and that reflects the seriousness of the enticer’s behavior. 

Normally, anyone can make arguments in court in favor of acquitting the defendant, but the invitee may not argue in defense of the enticer.  Conversely, the invitee should not hesitate to make arguments for the prosecution.  If the enticer is convicted, the invitee participates in the execution.

When we encounter propaganda that could lead us astray we need to keep our mental defenses up. As per mitzvah #457, the invitee should not pay attention to what the enticer is saying or to feel any affection for the enticer.  Mitzvah #458 goes further, requiring the invitee to hate the enticer.  The mitzvah to love other Jews does not apply to an enticer.  Rambam, in Sefer haMitzvot, is clear that these two mitzvot apply to the invitee, but our author does not specify, apparently implying that they apply to Jews in general.  Mitzvah #459 prohibits the invitee from rescuing the enticer from a dangerous situation, even if that means the enticer dies.  The mitzvah of not standing idly when another Jew is in danger does not apply to the enticer.

In mitzvah #461, the author extends the notion of hating the enticer to other wrongdoers.  The author says it is a mitzvah to hate wrongdoers, but only certain wrongdoers.  We should hate those who are entirely corrupted and beyond hope of redemption or repentance, wrongdoers who will absolutely not listen to rebuke or teaching but will rather attack those trying to correct the behavior.  The author’s notion of hating wrongdoers does not seem to apply to very many people.  But the paragraph is not very specific and could be read to include many people whose behavior does not seem impeccable.  Overall it reflects concern that we be careful when dealing with people who might lead us astray.

Enticement to idol worship can happen on a larger scale.  We saw that mitzvah #86 prohibits a Jew from trying to entice many others to idol worship. When the inhabitants of a town in Israel start worshipping idols, mitzvah #464 requires the entire town to be burned and the inhabitants to be decapitated.  Mitzvah #466 prohibits taking any spoils and mitzvah #465 prohibits rebuilding the town. 

The author finds this procedure obvious and appropriate.  When the people of a community sign on to such evil behavior, they are eliminated.  They get what they deserve.  All remnant of that town is obliterated so as not to call attention to it.  If no action is taken against one town, the idol worship might spread to other towns. People who live in the town and do not worship idols have their property destroyed.  That is their punishment for choosing to live in such a wicked place. This mitzvah applies in Israel, when the tribes of the Jews are settled there and when the Sanhedrin is functioning.  This mitzvah has parallels to the mitzvah we saw earlier requiring the Jews who entered Israel to annihilate the idolatrous residents there.  The overall point seems to be that idol worship in Israel is intolerable. 

The rabbis read the source verses, Deut. 13: 13 - 18, very carefully, and that limits the applicability of these mitzvot.  There must be at least two enticers, and they must be from the town and from the same tribe as the inhabitants of the town.   A majority of the inhabitants must have become idol worshippers.  If fewer inhabitants become idol worshippers, they are judged as individuals.  The town must have at least 200 inhabitants, but be smaller than half the tribe.  Jerusalem, border cities and the cities of refuge are not subject to this procedure.

The source verses require careful inquiry before action is taken against a city with widespread idol worship. The author mentions that the inhabitants of such a town need to be warned and that there is a judicial procedure for deciding whether the town is subject to the penalty outlined in these mitzvot, but the author does not explain.  Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Avodah Zarah 4:6, explains that when a city is suspected, the Sanhedrin sends out a committee to investigate.  If the committee finds that the majority of people in the town might be worshipping idols, the Sanhedrin then sends two scholars to the town to warn the inhabitants and to try to get them to repent. If the people repent, the town as a whole is no longer suspect. If the people do not repent, the Sanhedrin mobilizes a military operation to conquer the town.  Once the town is conquered, courts are set up to individually try the inhabitants.  If a minority of inhabitants is found guilty of idol worship, they are individually subject to the death penalty.  If a majority of the inhabitants is found guilty, though, they are brought to the Sanhedrin for a further hearing.  All those who worshipped idols, along with their wives and children, are killed by stoning.  Then all the property and animals of the city, including the property of residents who did not worship idols, is gathered together in the town square and burned. No one may get benefit from that property. The city is burned and is never rebuilt, although the area may be used for gardens and orchards.  Our author mentions the predictable close-call questions: what about property in the city that belongs to others, what about property of the people in the city that is located elsewhere?

As a practical matter, with that much procedural introduction before punishment occurs, there is plenty of opportunity for people to avoid the violence.  The tosefta says this institution never happened and never will happen.  It exists as a cautionary tale.

The treatment of a Jewish town where a majority worships idols is intended to be terrifying and horrific.  The source verses would seem to imply that all the inhabitants of the town are killed.  Our author is not clear about who in the town dies and who does not. Rambam provides more information and seems to think the basic procedure has people judged individually as to capital punishment although not as to destruction of property.  But even Rambam says that the wives and children of adult male idol worshippers in the town are killed.  That reinstates the notion that innocent individuals are killed, although not as many innocent individuals as we might originally have thought.  One cannot help but recall the story of Sodom, where Abraham pleads for the lives of the inhabitants of the town arguing that God should not punish good people along with bad people, and where Lot and his family escape with their lives although their property is burned with the rest of the town.  There is intriguing and disturbing ambiguity in all of this.