1) HALACHAH: DRINKING WATER FROM A WATER FOUNTAIN STATUE
OPINIONS: The Gemara discusses actions that one is prohibited from doing because they resemble forms of idol-worship. One of these actions is drinking water that pours forth from the mouth of a statue. Idolaters would build water fountains in the shapes of statues, with water coming out of the mouths of the statues. The Gemara says that a person is not allowed to place his mouth on the mouth of the statues in the cities in order to drink the water, because it appears as though he is kissing the Avodah Zarah.
The Gemara does not specify whether this prohibition applies to statues which themselves are used for Avodah Zarah or whether it applies even to ordinary water fountain statues. What is the Halachah?
(a) The RIF, ROSH, and TUR (YD 150) record the Gemara's prohibition without specifying that the fountain itself is used for Avodah Zarah. They understand that one may not drink from such a fountain even if the statue is not worshipped as Avodah Zarah.
According to this opinion, however, why does the Gemara specifically state this Halachah with regard to statues in the cities? The TAZ answers that it seems that the Gemara intends to give a stringency by mentioning statues in the cities, for such statues were commonly built merely for beauty and not for Avodah Zarah. (In contrast, statues in villages were usually built for idol-worship; see SHULCHAN ARUCH YD 141:1, based on the Mishnah on 44b). The Gemara is teaching that one may not drink from statues even in the cities.
(b) The RAMBAM (Hilchos Avodas Kochavim 3:8), SEMAG, and SHULCHAN ARUCH (YD 150:3) specify that this prohibition applies only to fountains situated in front of an Avodah Zarah. (Obviously, it applies as well when the statue itself is worshipped as Avodah Zarah.)
The BACH cites a proof for this opinion. The Gemara discusses three other cases: crouching in front of an Avodah Zarah in order to remove a thorn, picking up money in front of an Avodah Zarah, and drinking from a stream which lies in front of an Avodah Zarah. After the Gemara explains the necessity to mention all three cases, the Gemara asks why is it necessary to mention the case of the water fountain. RASHI (12b, DH Partzufos) explains that the case of the stream already teaches that even when someone is very thirsty he is not allowed to drink from that water, and thus what more can the case of the water fountain be teaching? The Gemara answers that this case was said merely to introduce the next part of the Beraisa.
According to the opinion that the prohibition applies even when the statue is not in front of Avodah Zarah, why does the Gemara say that there is no intrinsic novelty in this case? This case is unique in that it forbids drinking from the fountain even when there is no Avodah Zarah present, unlike the other cases! It must be that this prohibition applies only when the fountain is in front of an Avodah Zarah.
HALACHAH: The Bach concludes in accordance with the view of the Rambam, and as recorded by the Shulchan Aruch. However, he maintains that one who is stringent upon himself and does not drink from any water fountain statue will receive a blessing. This is also the opinion of the SHACH.
The TAZ also writes that one should be stringent and follow the opinion of the Tur. However, he implies that it is not merely a stringency, but that it is the Halachah, but he does not explain why. Perhaps his reasoning is that of the Bach in his Hagahos to the Rif, where the Bach points out that since many Rishonim prohibit drinking from such a fountain even when it is not used for Avodah Zarah, and since the Gemara does not mention that the statue must be in front of an Avodah Zarah, the Halachah seems to follow the view of the Tur. (Y. MONTROSE)
2) MUST ONE GIVE UP HIS LIFE FOR "MAR'IS HA'AYIN" OF IDOLATRY?
OPINIONS: The Beraisa lists several actions which one is prohibited from doing because those actions resemble forms of idol-worship. These actions are: crouching in front of an Avodah Zarah in order to remove a thorn, picking up money in front of an Avodah Zarah, and drinking from a stream which lies in front of an Avodah Zarah. The Gemara states that if the Beraisa had not taught the law in the case of the stream, one might have thought that he is permitted to drink from the stream in front of an Avodah Zarah when refraining from drinking would endanger his life. The Beraisa teaches that it is prohibited even in such a situation.
It is known that the sin of Avodah Zarah is one of three sins for which a Jew must die in order not to transgress. The Gemara here implies that one must die even in order to avoid transgressing "Mar'is ha'Ayin" (doing a permitted action which appears to be an act of transgression) of Avodah Zarah. Is this true?
(a) The RASHBA, TUR (YD 150) and others write that the straightforward understanding of the Gemara is that indeed one must sacrifice his life in order to avoid even an act of "Mar'is ha'Ayin" of Avodah Zarah. This also appears to be the intention of RASHI (DH Aval).
The BI'UR HA'GRA cites another proof for this opinion. The Gemara in Sanhedrin (75a) discusses a case in which a man became sick from his lust for a woman. The doctors said that he would recover even if she would consent merely to talk to him from behind a wall. The Rabanan ruled in such a case that it is better for the man to die than to have the woman talk with him. One opinion there says that the woman was married, while another opinion says that she was not married. The Gemara states that according to the opinion that she was married, the Rabanan's ruling makes sense; it is better that the man die than talk with the woman (since she is an Eshes Ish and falls into the category of the Isur of Arayos, one of the categories of transgression for which a person must die in order not to transgress). The Vilna Ga'on asks why is that opinion, that she was married, more reasonable than the opinion that she was not married? According to the Ramban and others, the prohibition there would have been only an Isur d'Rabanan! Why, then, should the man be left to die? It must be that even for an Isur d'Rabanan in one of the three categories of sins of "Yehareg v'Al Ya'avor," the rule that one must die and not transgress applies. Similarly, one must die and not transgress the Isur d'Rabanan of "Mar'is ha'Ayin" of Avodah Zarah.
(b) The RAN also writes that this is the straightforward meaning of the Gemara, but he adds that the requirement to allow oneself to be killed in order not to transgress does not apply in all cases of "Mar'is ha'Ayin" but only in certain cases. In the case of drinking from a stream, where the person looks as though he is bowing down to the Avodah Zarah, he is required to give up his life and not transgress "Mar'is ha'Ayin" of Avodah Zarah. However, in cases of "Mar'is ha'Ayin" where the person's act does not appear to be a blatant act of idol-worship (for example, traveling to a city which happens to be celebrating an idolatrous festival), a person is not required to give up his life.
(c) However, the Ran seems to conclude that even the case of drinking from a stream in front of an Avodah Zarah is not a case of "Yehareg v'Al Ya'avor." How, then, does he understand the Gemara? The Ran understands that the Gemara means that even though the person is very thirsty and might die before he finds water, he still is not allowed to drink the water. However, if he knows that he will not find any other water and that he definitely will die, he is allowed to drink the water. The Ran cites this opinion in the name of RABEINU ASHER. This opinion is also cited by the REMA (YD 150:3).
The MEKOR MAYIM CHAYIM explains how the Ran will answer the proof of the Vilna Ga'on. In the case in Sanhedrin, the person was interested in doing more than just talking to the woman. The Chachamim said that, in general, a man should not talk in such a context to a married woman since doing so might lead to an actual transgression of Giluy Arayos. Such a case is not comparable to the case of the Gemara here, in which the person involved has absolutely no interest in doing the actual sin of Avodah Zarah. Therefore, the Chachamim did not include this act in the category of "Yehareg v'Al Ya'avor." (Y. MONTROSE)
3) THE SOURCE FOR THE PROHIBITION AGAINST BENEFITING FROM OBJECTS OFFERED TO AVODAH ZARAH
QUESTION: The Mishnah teaches that one should not do business in a city of Avodah Zarah with a store that is decorated in honor of the Avodah Zarah. The Gemara explains that the decorations to which the Mishnah refers are myrtle branches and roses which have a pleasant and enjoyable aroma. RASHI (DH d'Ka) explains that since the idol-worshippers normally spread these decorations in front of their Avodah Zarah, it is forbidden to derive any benefit from them. However, if the store is decorated only with fruit, then one may do business there. This is derived from the verse written with regard to the property of the inhabitants of an Ir ha'Nidachas, "v'Lo Yidbak b'Yadcha Me'umah Min ha'Cherem" -- "Nothing shall remain in your hand from the banned property" (Devarim 13:18), which teaches that only deriving benefit from an Avodah Zarah is forbidden, but not giving benefit (by doing business with an idolater).
The Gemara later (29b), however, says that the prohibition against deriving benefit from such items is derived from the verse, "And they ate from the sacrifices of the dead (a reference to idols)" (Tehilim 106:28). Just as one is prohibited from deriving benefit from the corpse of a dead person, one is prohibited from deriving benefit from things brought to idols.
Which verse is the actual source for this prohibition?
(a) TOSFOS (DH Ela) maintains that the verse, "v'Lo Yidbak," is the source for the Torah prohibition against deriving benefit from objects offered to or used for Avodah Zarah. Tosfos explains that although an aroma is usually not considered a form of forbidden pleasure, it is forbidden when the primary purpose of the object is to provide a pleasurable smell. Even when the primary purpose of the object is not its smell, one still should be prohibited (on some level, either mid'Oraisa or mid'Rabanan) from smelling an object used for Avodah Zarah. This is because the Gemara in Pesachim (24b), which states that one does not receive Malkus for transgressing a prohibition in an abnormal manner (such as by smelling an object normally not used for its smell), does not say that the act is permitted. One merely does not receive Malkus; perhaps the act, however, is still prohibited.
Tosfos adds that Avodah Zarah might be like certain other prohibitions which are exceptions to the rule, and Malkus indeed is administered even when the act is transgressed in an abnormal manner. Tosfos explains that the Torah does not mention the act of eating with regard to Avodah Zarah; only the verse in Tehilim mentions eating with regard to Avodah Zarah. Since the Torah does not mention the specific act of eating with regard to the prohibition of Avodah Zarah, it is reasonable to suggest that any form of pleasure is prohibited.
Like Tosfos, the RAMBAM (Hilchos Avodah Zarah 7:2) writes that the verse, "v'Lo Yidbak," is the source for the prohibition, together with the verse, "v'Lo Savi So'evah El Beisecha" -- "You shall not bring an abomination into your house" (Devarim 7:26).
REBBI AKIVA EIGER (in GILYON HA'SHAS) asks a very strong question on the words of Tosfos. Tosfos writes that since the act of eating is not mentioned in the Torah with regard to the prohibition of Avodah Zarah, the prohibition of deriving benefit from objects used for Avodah Zarah might be an exception to the general rule that one transgresses a prohibition only when he performs the act in the normal manner. Rebbi Akiva Eiger asks that the words of Tosfos would make sense if the Isur of deriving benefit from objects used for Avodah Zarah would be written in the Torah with no mention of the act of eating. However, there is no mention of this Isur in the Torah! Although it indeed is a Torah prohibition, the only verse that teaches this Isur is in Tehilim.
What does Rebbi Akiva Eiger mean to ask? The Gemara itself states that this Isur is derived from the verse, "v'Lo Yidbak," which is in the Torah and not in Tehilim. Apparently, Rebbi Akiva Eiger understands that it is obvious that the source is the verse in Tehilim that the Gemara later cites and not the verse that the Gemara here cites. Rebbi Akiva Eiger (in Likutim, end of DERUSH V'CHIDUSH, vol. 2) also asks this question on the words of the Rambam.
(b) The RAMBAN (to SEFER HA'MITZVOS #194) argues that the verse of "v'Lo Yidbak" cannot be prohibiting objects brought to Avodah Zarah. The verse says, "Nothing shall remain in your hand from the banned property (Min ha'Cherem)." The "Cherem" refers specifically to the Avodah Zarah itself (i.e., the actual idol), and not to objects offered to the Avodah Zarah.
This also seems to be the view of Rebbi Akiva Eiger, who rejects Tosfos' assertion that the Isur is written in a verse in the Torah, as mentioned above.
(The CHAZON ISH answers the difficulty regarding the word "Cherem" according to the Rambam. He explains that while the word usually refers to the Avodah Zarah itself, it is also used to refer even to objects that are brought to Avodah Zarah, as is evident from the verses that the Gemara quotes later.)
If, however, the verse of "v'Lo Yidbak" is not teaching the prohibition against deriving benefit from objects used for Avodah Zarah, then why does the Gemara here cite this verse at all?
The KEHILOS YAKOV (Avodah Zarah 6:2) answers that according to the Ramban and Rebbi Akiva Eiger, when the Gemara quotes the verse of "v'Lo Yidbak" it does not intend to teach the source for the prohibition against benefiting from objects that were used for Avodah Zarah. Rather, the Gemara's intention is to show that one is permitted to shop in a store (decorated with fruit, as opposed to myrtle branches and roses) owned by an idolater, even though he thereby gives indirect support to Avodah Zarah. The verse that prohibits taking objects of Avodah Zarah discusses only taking such things, and it does not discuss indirectly supporting Avodah Zarah. (Y. MONTROSE)