Gentile Impurities and Jewish Identities: Intermarriage and Conversion from the Bible to the Talmud

By Christine E. Hayes | Go to book overview

Appendix C
The Ritual Impurity of Idolatry: A Refutation of Alon

In this appendix, I present a detailed refutation of many of the particulars of Alon's (1977) claim that rabbinic sources attest to three types of ritual impurity associated with idols and idolatry since ancient times. Specifically, I focus on Alon's discussion of the ritual impurity of idolatrous temples, asherahs, sacrifices, and libation wine.


Idolatrous Temples

We have already seen the toseftan tradition, according to which an idolatrous temple ritually defiles one who enters with his head and the greater part of his body (t. Zav 5:7; t. AZ 6:2). In this tradition, the ritual impurity of the temple is based on the laws of scale disease impurity. It is likely that this impurity is derived by analogy from a house afflicted with scale disease (as asserted in the Yerushalmi, p. AZ 3:6, 43a). In such a view, the idol in an idolatrous temple may be likened to the plague that infects and defiles buildings and persons. This view is reflected in a midrash (Lam Rab 21) which speaks of the Jerusalem temple, defiled by idolatry, as comparable to a person afflicted by scale disease and concludes that idolatry defiles like scale disease. Thus, the rabbinic formulation of the impurity of idolatrous temples on analogy with the impurity of scale diseased houses leads to a conception of idols as defiling on analogy with scale disease itself. 1 The idea that idols defile like scale disease, however, does not appear outside of discussions of the impurity of temples, suggesting the former's dependence on and derivation from the latter. 2


Asherah

“He who comes under it [an asherah] is as if he came into a temple of idolatry. But if the public way passed through it — behold, this is permitted” (t. AZ 6:8). The overhang created by the branches and foliage of an asherah are likened to the overhang of a temple of idolatry. However, it is not clear that the conveyance of ritual impurity is the subject

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