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Babylonian Talmud: Tractate ‘Abodah Zarah

Folio 39a

There [when the bread is dipped in the fish-sauce] the presence of the wine is something actual,1  but [with the pressed foodstuffs] it is not something actual.2

PICKLED HERRING WHICH HAD BEEN MINCED, BRINE IN WHICH NO FISH etc. What is the meaning of HELEK? — R. Nahman b. Abba said in the name of Rab: It is the sultanith.3  Why is it prohibited? Because other species of a similar kind4  [but prohibited] are caught together with it.

Our Rabbis taught: [Those species of fish] which have no [fins and scales] at the time but grow them later, as, e.g., the sultanith and 'aphiz,5  are permitted; those which have them at the time but shed them when drawn out of the water, as, e.g., the colias, scomber, sword-fish, anthias and tunny are permitted. R. Abbahu announced in Caesarea that fish-entrails and fish-roe may be purchased from anybody since the presumption is that they only come from Pelusium and Aspamia.6  This is like what Abaye said: The zahanta7  from the river Bab-Nahara8  is permitted. On what ground? If I answer because of the rapid flow of the stream and an unclean species of fish cannot exist in fast-flowing water since the backbone is lacking in them, we do see them existing there! If it be suggested that the reason is because the water is salty and an unclean species of fish cannot exist in salty water since scales are lacking in them, we do see them existing there! — Rather must the explanation be that the river-bed is such that it does not permit the breeding of the unclean species of fish. Rabina said: Since nowadays the rivers Goza and Gamda flow into [Bab-Nahara, its zahanta] is prohibited.9  Abbaye said: The sea-ass [i.e., hake] is permitted, the sea-ox10  prohibited; and an aid to the memory is the unclean [on land, viz., the ass] is clean [in the water] and vice versa. R. Ashi said: Shefarnuna11  is permitted, kedashnuna12  prohibited; and an aid to the memory is Holy [kodesh] to the Lord13  [but not to men]. According to another version he said that the kebarnuna14  is prohibited, an aid to the memory being the phrase 'graves [kibre] of heathens.'

When R. Akiba visited Guizak,15  they set before him a fish resembling the mud-fish; he covered it over with a basket, and noticing scales16  in it declared it permitted. When R. Ashi visited Tamduria,17  they set before him a fish resembling an eel; holding it up against the sun, he noticed that it had growths [like scales], so he declared it permitted. When R. Ashi visited a certain place, they set before him fish resembling the shefarnuna, — he covered white basins over them, and perceiving scales18  in them declared them permitted. When Rabbah b. Bar Hanah visited the fort of Agama,19  they set before him some zahanta; but when he heard somebody call it 'roach', he said, 'Since this has been called "roach", I conclude that there is something unclean in it.' He did not eat any of it; and looking at it the following day he found something unclean in it; so he applied to himself the verse, There shall no mischief happen to the righteous.20

DROPS OF ASAFOETIDA. On what ground [are they prohibited when obtained by a heathen]? — Because [to secure them the root] must be cut with a knife;21  and although a Master has said that when [the forbidden element] imparts a worsened flavour [the mixture] is permitted, yet on account of the pungency of the asafoetida it sweetens the fatty substance [which had been absorbed in the knife] and it therefore becomes a case where [the forbidden element] imparts an improved flavour and as such is prohibited. R. Levi's slave used to sell asafoetida; and when R. Levi died people asked R. Johanan whether it was permissible to buy of him. He replied to them: The slave of a haber22  is like a haber.

R. Huna b. Minyomi bought blue wool23  from the wife24  of R. Amram the pious, and came before R. Joseph.25  He was unable to answer him; and when Hanan the tailor chanced to meet him [R. Huna mentioned the matter to him]. He replied: How could the poor Joseph be acquainted with this! But it once happened that I bought blue wool from the household of Rabbanaah,26  brother of R. Hiyya b. Abba, and I came before R. Mattena who could not answer [the same question]. So I went to R. Judah of Hagronia27  who said to me: You have need of my instruction. Thus said Samuel: The wife of a haber is like a haber; for our Rabbis have taught: The wife of a haber is like a haber, the slave of a haber is like a haber, and when a haber dies his wife, children and members of his household remain in that state of confidence until they give grounds for suspicion. Similarly a store in which blue wool is sold remains in a state of confidence until its wares are disqualified.

Our Rabbis have taught: The wife of an 'am ha-arez28  who marries a haber, likewise the daughter of an 'am ha-arez who marries a haber, and the slave of an 'am ha-arez who is sold to a haber are all required to take the obligation relating to the status of a haber;29  but the wife of a haber who marries an 'am ha-arez likewise the daughter of a haber who marries an 'am ha-arez and the slave of a haber who is sold to an 'am ha-arez are not ab initio30  required to take the obligation relating to the status of a haber. Such is the statement of R. Meir; R. Judah says: These too are required ab initio to take the obligation relating to the status of a haber. Similarly declared R. Simeon b. Eleazar: It happened that a woman married to a haber used to bind the phylacteries upon his arm; she afterwards married a tax-collector31  and she used to attach the tax-seals for him.32

Rab said: Milk, meat, wine and blue wool [if transmitted through a heathen] with only one seal [attached to identify them] are prohibited;33  but asafoetida, fish-sauce, bread and cheese34  are permitted with one seal. Milk, meat, wine and blue wool

To Part b

Original footnotes renumbered. See Structure of the Talmud Files
  1. Because one swallows the sauce together with the bread.
  2. One eats the preserved food but not the liquor in which it has been kept.
  3. A fish of the anchovy species.
  4. Lewysohn, Zoologie des Talmuds, p. 260, explains the word as meaning 'the sprat'.
  5. Perhaps the sardine (Lewysohn, p. 261).
  6. The former is a town on the Nile, the latter is Spain. It was supposed that no forbidden kinds of fish existed there.
  7. A small fish preserved in brine.
  8. A tributary of the Euphrates.
  9. Because these streams carry unclean fish into it. [These three tributaries of the Euphrates flowed above Pumbeditha, Obermeyer, op. cit. p. 228.]
  10. According to Lewysohn, p. 270, a species of ray.
  11. Lewysohn, p. 267, explains it as the hammer-fish, of the shark family.
  12. A fish of the anthias genus.
  13. Ex. XXVIII, 36. Tosaf. cites another reading to the effect that the shefarnuna is prohibited and the kedashnuna permitted, and this is the more probable. The mnemonic then indicates that this latter fish is 'holy', i.e., clean.
  14. A species of mud-fish. According to Tosaf. the reading should be 'permitted' instead of 'prohibited', the mnemonic 'graves of heathens' indicating this since they do not defile.
  15. V. supra, p. 165, nn. 4-5.
  16. [Which the fish dropped while struggling in the basket (Rashi). R. Han. explains: He scraped the back of the fish against the edge of a basket.]
  17. An unidentified place in Babylonia.
  18. [I.e., the dark scales against the white background.]
  19. Near Pumbeditha.
  20. Prov. XII, 21.
  21. Which may be impregnated with the fat of forbidden food.
  22. V. Glos. Just as the master was scrupulous with the dietary laws so is the servant likely to be. It is therefore allowed to buy of him.
  23. For the zizith. V. Glos.
  24. Lit., 'household'.
  25. To inquire whether he may use it, since R. Amram was no longer alive at the time of the purchase and the wife might have sold him some imitation instead of the genuine blue.
  26. [Rabbanai; v., e.g., Ber. 21b.]
  27. The town Agranum on one of the tributaries of the Euphrates near Nehardea.
  28. V. Glos.
  29. Before reliance can be placed upon them.
  30. I.e., before they can be trusted. It is assumed that they will continue their former practice.
  31. Who was generally an unscrupulous person.
  32. Which served as a receipt. The point is that a woman is influenced by her husband. Therefore the wife of a haber who marries an 'an ha-arez cannot be trusted.
  33. The heathen may have changed the article and attached the seal to it. In the text mnemonics are employed to represent the two sets of enumerated articles, and the explanation of the mnemonics follows on.
  34. These being less expensive articles, the heathen is not so likely to make a substitution.
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‘Abodah Zarah 39b

are prohibited with one seal; but asafoetida, fish-sauce, bread and cheese are permitted with one seal. Why need we be concerned about bread? Were he to change a fresh loaf for a stale one, or a wheaten-loaf for one of barley, it could be readily detected! If [the fear is that he might substitute] one loaf for another like it [baked by a heathen], since there is one seal attached he would not take the trouble to commit a fraud. Why, however, should Rab make a distinction that with cheese [the heathen] would not take the trouble to commit a fraud [and allows one seal]; likewise with milk he would not take the trouble to commit a fraud [and yet Rab demands two seals]? — R. Kahana said: Strike out the word 'milk' and insert 'slices of fish' which have no distinguishing mark. But that is the same as meat! — [Rab differentiates] two kinds of meat.1  Samuel, on the other hand, said: Meat, wine and blue wool are prohibited with one seal; but fish-sauce, asafoetida and cheese2  are permitted with one seal. According to Samuel, a slice of fish which has no distinguishing mark is regarded as the same as meat, and we do not say that there are two kinds of meat.3

Our Rabbis taught: We do not buy in Syria4  wine, fish-sauce, milk, sal-conditum, asafoetida or cheese,2  unless it be from a reliable dealer; but if [an Israelite] is the guest of a host there [all these foodstuffs] are permitted.5  This supports the statement of R. Joshua b. Levi who said: If [a Syrian] householder sends him [as a gift any of these foodstuffs] to his house he may eat them; for what reason? — A householder would not leave what is allowed and eat what is forbidden, and if he sends anything to him [it may be assumed that] he sends him from what he himself eats.

AND SAL-CONDITUM. What is sal-conditum? — Rab Judah said in the name of Samuel: Salt of which all Roman guests6  partake. Our Rabbis have taught: Black sal-conditum is prohibited and the white is permitted. Such is the statement of R. Meir; R. Judah says: The white is prohibited and the black permitted. R. Judah b. Gamaliel says in the name of R. Hanina b. Gamaliel: Both kinds are prohibited. Rabbah b. Bar Hanah said in the name of R. Johanan: In the opinion of him who declared the white to be prohibited, the intestines of unclean white fish are mixed with it; in the opinion of him who declared the black to be prohibited, the intestines of unclean black fish are mixed with it; and in the opinion of him who declared both kinds to be prohibited, [the intestines of] both species of fish are mixed with them. R. Abbahu said in the name of R. Hanina b. Gamaliel: There was an old man in our neighbourhood who used to polish this salt with swine's fat.

BEHOLD THESE ARE PROHIBITED. What does this intend to exclude? — According to Hezekiah it excludes [those preserved foods] in which it is known [that wine is included].7  According to R. Johanan it excludes fish-brine and cheese from Bithynia.8  This anonymous statement [in the Mishnah] is that of R. Meir.


GEMARA. What we learn here in the Mishnah is a support for what the Rabbis have taught elsewhere: If an Israelite is sitting near a heathen's flock11  and the latter milks and brings some to him, he need have no concern [and is allowed to drink it]. How is this to be understood? If there is no unclean animal in the flock, obviously so; but if there is an unclean animal in the flock why [should he be permitted to drink the milk]! — It certainly deals here with the circumstance when there is an unclean animal, but [the Israelite is in such a position that] when he stands up he can see the heathen and when sitting he is unable to see him. You might argue that since he cannot see him when sitting, he should fear that he might bring him [milk in which something forbidden] has been mixed; hence we are informed [that there need be no such fear], because inasmuch as he is able to see him when standing, the heathen would be afraid to mix anything with the milk.

HONEY. Why should he have any concern about honey? If because of the possibility that something [forbidden] may have been mixed with it, the effect would be to make it rancid! If it is on account of [the prohibition against] all things cooked by a heathen, it is something which is eaten in its raw state!12  If on account of the rule that vessels used by heathens must be scoured [before they may be used] by a Jew, it is an instance where a worsened flavour is imparted and it is therefore permitted!

GRAPE-CLUSTERS-EVEN WHEN THESE EXUDE MOISTURE THE LAW WHICH RENDERS FOOD SUSCEPTIBLE TO DEFILEMENT BY A LIQUID DOES NOT APPLY TO THEM. Against this I quote: If one gleans grapes for the wine-press, Shammai says that they are susceptible to defilement [by liquid] while Hillel says that they are not susceptible; but eventually Hillel agreed with Shammai! — In the passage just cited the grapes are required for the manufacture of a liquid,13  whereas [in the Mishnah] they are not required for that purpose.

PICKLED HERRING WHICH HAS NOT BEEN MINCED. Our Rabbis have taught: How do we define 'pickled herring which has not been minced'? Such as have the head and backbone recognisable.14  And how do we define 'brine containing fish'? Such as have one or two kalbith-fish15

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Original footnotes renumbered. See Structure of the Talmud Files
  1. One of a more costly kind than the other.
  2. These are likewise introduced by mnemonics.
  3. He omits bread because he felt no concern about that; and as to fish, this is included in meat and need not be specified.
  4. The Israelite shopkeepers there were suspected of adulterating their wares.
  5. The food used in the Jewish house may be considered unadulterated.
  6. This is Krauss's explanation, identifying the word with the Greek sullektoi. Jastrow thinks of the Latin siliginarii, bakers of wheat flour. The traditional Jewish interpretation is 'nobles'.
  7. They are forbidden for any use.
  8. V. Mishnah, supra 29b.
  9. The word is also explained to mean 'honeycombs'.
  10. In which they are exhibited for sale on the counter.
  11. Although he does not actually see the milking done.
  12. And should be permitted, as already explained.
  13. In which case the liquid that exudes is acceptable to him, and accordingly can render the cluster susceptible to uncleanness, which is not the case when he wishes to eat the grapes. V. Mak. I, 1.
  14. They have not been broken up, and the species, whether clean or unclean, can then be identified.
  15. V. supra p. 172.
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