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Babylonian Talmud: Tractate ‘Abodah Zarah

Folio 15a

But R. Eleazar said: Even where it is forbidden to leave them together it is permitted to sell, the reason being that the heathen will avoid the risk of having his cattle sterilised.1  And Rab, too, altered his opinion: for R. Tahlifa said in the name of R. Shila b. Abimi, who said in the name of Rab: A heathen will not run the risk of having his cattle sterilised.2

IN NO PLACE, HOWEVER, IS IT PERMITTED TO SELL BIG CATTLE etc. What reason is there [for this prohibition]? — Though there is no fear of immoral practice,3  there is the fear of his making the animal work [on the days of rest]. Then let him make it work; since he has bought it, he owns it!4  — The prohibition5  is because of lending and because of hiring. [But, surely] when he borrows it he owns it, or when he hires it he owns it [during that period]!6  Then said Rami the son of R. Yeba: The prohibition is because of the probability of 'trying'.7  For he might happen to sell it to him close to sunset on the eve of the Sabbath and the heathen might say to him 'Come now let us give it a trial,' and hearing the owner's voice it will walk because of him, and he indeed desires it to walk, so that he acts as a driver of his burdened beast on the Sabbath and he who drives his burdened beast on the Sabbath is liable to bring a sin-offering.8

R. Shisha the son of R. Idi objected:9  But does hire constitute acquisition? Have we not learnt, 'Even in a place where they pronounced as permitted to let [premises to a heathen], they did not pronounce it in regard to a dwelling house, because he will bring idols into it.'10  Now, if we were to be of opinion that hiring constitutes acquisition, then whatever this one brings in he brings into his own house! — It is different with bringing in idols, which is a very grave matter, for scripture says, And thou shalt not bring abomination into thy house.11

Then R. Isaac the son of R. Mesharsheya objected: But does hire constitute acquisition? Have we not learnt, An Israelite12  who hires a cow from a priest may feed her on vegetables which are Terumah;13  but a priest who hires a cow of an Israelite, even though he is obliged to feed it, may not feed it on vegetables that are Terumah.14  Now, were we to hold the opinion that hiring constitutes acquisition, why should he not feed her on it? Surely the cow belongs to him! From here then you can deduce that hire does not constitute acquisition.

Now, since you have declared that hire does not constitute acquisition, the prohibition15  is both because of 'hiring', and because of 'lending' and because of 'trying'.

R. Adda permitted to sell an ass [to a heathen] through a [Jewish] agent: As for 'trying', it is not familiar with his voice that it should walk because of him, and as to 'lending' or 'hiring', since it is not his own he will neither lend nor give it on hire; also, lest some fault be discovered in it.16

R. Huna sold a cow to a heathen. Said R. Hisda to him: Wherefore have you acted thus? — Said he, I assume that he bought it for slaying.

To Part b

Original footnotes renumbered.
  1. Through immoral practice.
  2. Infra 22b.
  3. For the reason just stated.
  4. A heathen is not commanded to let his cattle rest on the Sabbath; the Israelite is therefore not guilty of 'placing a stumbling-block before the blind', as is the case where he affords him an opportunity for an immoral practice which is forbidden to a Noachide (V. supra 2b).
  5. The permission to sell may lead to lending or hiring cattle to a heathen over the Sabbath.
  6. Since he is liable for any accidents that might happen to it.
  7. How the animal carries a load.
  8. According to an opinion given in Shah. 154a.
  9. To the statement above, 'when he hires it, he owns it'.
  10. Infra 21a.
  11. Deut. VII, 26.
  12. One who is not of the priestly family or the Levitical tribe.
  13. The heave-offering of the produce set aside as the portion of the priests (Num. XVIII, 8ff.), which may not be given to a beast that is not owned by a priest. He is not guilty thereby of robbing the priest of his portion, for having the option of giving it to any priest he chooses, he may consider it as assigned to the one whose cow he had hired.
  14. Ter. XI, 9.
  15. Pronounced in our Mishnah of selling big cattle to a heathen.
  16. Which would be against his interest as an agent charged with selling it.
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‘Abodah Zarah 15b

And whence can it be deduced that one may so assume in a case of this kind? — From [the Mishnah which we learnt:]1  'Beth Shammai say: One should not sell a ploughing-cow during the Sabbatical Year;2  but Beth Hillel permit it, because he may possibly slay it.'3  Said Raba:4  How can the two be compared: In that other case, one is not commanded to let one's cattle rest on the Sabbatical year,5  whereas in our case, one is commanded to let one's cattle rest on the Sabbath!6  Said Abaye to him: Are we to take it then that when one is commanded [concerning a thing] he is forbidden [to sell it to one who may disregard the command]? Take then the case of a field — for one is commanded to let his field lie fallow on the Sabbatical Year. Yet it has been taught: Beth Shammai say: One may not sell a ploughed field on the Sabbatical year, but Beth Hillel permit it, because it is possible that he will let it lie fallow [during that year]!7

R. Ashi objected: Are we, on the other hand, to take it that a thing concerning which there is no direct command may be sold to one who is likely to use it contrary to that command? Take then the case of implements — for no one is commanded to let one's implements be idle in the Sabbatical year. Yet we have learnt: Following are the implements which one is not allowed to sell in the Sabbatical year: the plough and all its accessory vessels, the yoke, the winnowing-fan and the mattock!8  But, continued R. Ashi, where there is reason for the assumption [that proper use will be made] we assume it,9  even though a command is involved, and where there is no reason for such assumption,10  we do not assume it, even where there is no command involved.

Rabbah once sold an ass11  to an Israelite who was suspected of selling it to an idolater. Said Abaye to him: 'Wherefore have you acted thus?' said he, 'It is to an Israelite that I have sold it.' 'But,' he retorted, 'he will go and sell it to an idolater!' 'Why' — [argued the other] 'should he sell it to an idolater and not sell it to an Israelite?'12

He [Abaye] objected to him [from the following Baraitha]: In a place where it is the custom to sell small cattle to Cutheans,13  such sale is permitted, but where they usually do not sell, such sale is not permitted. Now, what is the reason [for the prohibition]? Shall we say because they are suspected of immoral practices? But are they to be suspected? Has it not been taught: One may not place cattle in inns kept by idolaters even male-cattle with male persons and female-cattle with female persons, and it is needless to say that female-cattle with male persons and male-cattle with female persons [are forbidden]; nor may one hand over cattle to one of their shepherds; nor may one be alone with them;14  nor may one entrust a child to them to be educated, or to be taught a trade.15  One may however place cattle in inns kept by Cutheans even male-cattle with female persons and female-cattle with male persons, and it goes without saying that males with males and females with females are permitted; so also may one hand over cattle to one of their shepherds and be alone with them, or hand over a child to them to be educated or to be taught a trade.16  This shows indeed that they are not to be suspected.17  And it has further been taught: One should not sell them either weapons or accessories of weapons, nor should one grind any weapon for them, not may one sell them either stocks or neck-chains or ropes, or iron chains — neither to idolaters nor Cutheans.18  Now, what is the reason?19  Shall we say because they are suspected of murder? But are they suspect, seeing we have just said that one may be alone with them! Hence it is only because he might sell it to an idolater.20  Should you, moreover, say that whereas a Cuthean will not repent an Israelite will repent?21  Surely R. Nahman said in the name of Raba b. Abbuha: Just as it was said that it is forbidden to sell to an idolater, so is it forbidden to sell to an Israelite who is suspected of selling it to an idolater! He [Rabbah] thereupon ran three parasangs22  after the buyer (some say one parasang along a sand-mount) but failed to overtake him.

R. Dimi b. Abba said: Just as it is forbidden to sell23  to an idolater, so it is forbidden to sell to a robber who is an Israelite. What are the circumstances? If he is suspected of murder, then it is quite plain; he is the same as an idolater! If [on the other hand] he has never committed murder, why not [sell them to him]? — It refers indeed to one who has not committed murder; but we may be dealing here with a cowardly thief who is apt at times [when caught] to save himself [by committing murder].

Our Rabbis taught: It is forbidden to sell them shields; some say, however, that shields may be sold to them. What is the reason [for this prohibition]? Shall we say, Because they protect them? In that case even wheat or barley should likewise not [be sold to them].24  — Said Rab:

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Original footnotes renumbered.
  1. Sheb. V, 8.
  2. To a fellow-Jew who is suspected of tilling his fields on that year contrary to the Biblical prohibition, as he thereby 'places a stumbling-block before the blind'.
  3. R. Hunah's action has therefore the ruling of the Hillelites as its authority.
  4. [So Ms.M. Cur. edd. 'Rabbah', v. p. 77 n. 7.]
  5. The question of hiring, lending or trying, mentioned in connection with selling cattle to a heathen does not therefore arise; and the comparatively minor objection of 'placing a stumbling-block before the blind' is waived by the assumption that the animal may have been intended for slaughter.
  6. The objections mentioned before therefore do apply.
  7. Tosef. Sheb. III.
  8. Sheb. V, 6.
  9. In the case of a field, for example, the fact that it is not often procurable may serve as ground for the assumption that the buyer availed himself of the opportunity of purchasing it, even though he does not intend tilling it till the following year.
  10. As, for instance, in the case of the 'implements'.
  11. To which case the assumption of buying for slaughter cannot be applied.
  12. We have a right to assume that he will sell it to an Israelite, so that there is no objection to its being sold to him. [This is contrary to the view expressed above by Rabbah (v. p. 76, n. 9), and supports the reading 'Raba', v. Tosaf. s.v. [H].]
  13. Members of the Samaritan sect.
  14. As his life would be endangered.
  15. Lest he be taught idolatry.
  16. Tosef. A.Z. III.
  17. Since, however, the sale of small cattle only is governed by custom, it is obvious that big cattle may not be sold in any case to a Cuthean; and as the suspicion of immorality does not exist, the reason for the prohibition can only be the probability of his selling it to an idolater, which is contrary to the view of Raba.
  18. Tosef. ibid.
  19. For forbidding the sale of these articles to a Cuthean.
  20. Who might use them for assailing an Israelite, which refutes Rabbah's view.
  21. So that even though he had been addicted to this wrongdoing, he might be taken to have recanted, and this justifies Rabbah's action.
  22. Persian miles.
  23. The aforementioned articles.
  24. Since they protect them against hunger.
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