May these words of Torah serve as a merit le’iluy nishmat Menachem Mendel ben Harav Yoel David Balk, a”h.
This week we learned Avoda Zara 46. These are some highlights.
Avoda Zara 46: May stones of a worshiped Himalayan mountain be utilized to build a shul?
A story: A mountain in the Himalayas was worshiped as a god. The locals would bow to it and worship it. They cut some stones off the mountain and sought to sell them. People brought stones from that mountain to the Land of Israel. They wished to donate those stones to the community for the construction of a shul. May a shul be built from pieces of a mountain that was worshiped?
If gentiles worship a statue, the idol becomes prohibited and asur behana’ah. No one may derive any secular benefit from it. If gentiles worship a mountain, the mountain does not become prohibited as an issur hana’ah. God made the mountain. People can construct idols atop Hashem’s mountain, but they do not have the ability to turn Hashem’s mountain into an idol. You may cut stones from the mountain, plant on the mountain, and benefit secularly from the mountain. Our Gemara has a question from Rami Bar Chama. If gentiles worship a mountain, is it prohibited to use stones from that mountain to construct an altar? While the gentiles’ worship did not impose on the mountain a full status of idolatry, perhaps their actions cause the mountain and its stones to become repugnant. Repugnant items cannot be used in the service of the Temple. Animals have a similar law. If a person worships and bows to the animal, the animal is not considered idolatrous and secular benefit may be derived from the animal. But, if a person worshiped or bowed to the animal, the animal may not be used in the temple as a korban. Rami Bar Chama wonders, is a worshiped mountain the same as a worshiped animal?
Rambam (Issurei Mizbei’ach 4:7) rules that you may not use stones from a worshiped mountain to construct an altar. Radbaz finds this ruling difficult. The altar cannot be made of cut stones. Only virgin stones, that are taken from a field, can be used to construct an altar. Why, then, did Rambam disqualify stones from a worshiped mountain because the mountain was worshiped? Such stones are already disqualified for they were cut off of a mountain, and they are not virgin stones. Radbaz suggests that Rambam did not intend to talk of an altar. He mentioned altar as an example of a holy object. Rambam meant all holy objects. Stones from a mountain that was worshiped are repugnant. As disgusting stones, they cannot be used for a mitzvah purpose. They cannot be used for the walls or floors of the temple. They cannot be used for any matter of holiness. According to Radbaz, in our scenario, you would not be able to use the stones from the worshiped Himalayan to build a shul. These stones were part of a worshiped mountain. They have within them the ugly scent of idolatry. They are repugnant and disqualified from mitzvah usage.
Rav Zilberstein points out that we find a similar law in regard to candles. Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 154:11) rules that if a gentile donated candles to his god, and the candles were lit and then extinguished and sold to a Jew, the Jew may not light these candles in a shul. Mishnah Berurah adds that these candles cannot be used for any mitzvah. They are repugnant. They cannot be lit as Chanukah candles or Shabbos candles. A student may not study Torah before their light. Items of mitzvah are never to come from that which was made for idolatry. In light of these sources, Rav Zilberstein rules that the stones from the worshiped Himalayan mountain may not be used to construct a shul. (Chashukei Chemed)
By Rabbi Zev Reichman
Rabbi Zev Reichman teaches Daf Yomi in his shul, East Hill Synagogue.