Crime and Punishment in Jewish Law: Essays and Responsa

By Walter Jacob; Moshe Zemer | Go to book overview

shalt not bring the hire of a harlot or the price of a dog into the house of the Lord thy God for any vow; for both these are an abomination...." Aaron of Barcelona, in his Safer ha-Chinuch, explains the reason for the prohibition as follows: If a lamb is brought to the altar in the fulfillment of a vow, its purpose is to purify the heart, but if one brings a lamb which had been given as the hire of a harlot, it would bring back lascivious memories of the sin.

The law is carried over to the Mishnah ( Temura, VI, 2) and thence to the Talmud ( Temura29a If., Baba Kama65b). In the Talmud the application of the law is generally restricted. There are opinions given, that the word "harlot" used in the verse applies only to sexual relations with a married woman (which could not be legitimized by marriage). Other opinions say that only the object itself (e.g., the lamb) may not be given. But if the object is changed (if it be converted into money) or if corn be given to the harlot and the corn is converted into flour, or olives into oil, then these converted objects are no longer unfit and may be brought to the Temple in payment of a vow. So Maimonides records this as the Law ( Hilchoth Issurei Mizbeach, IV, 14): "Only the object itself (i.e., the payment in its original form) is prohibited to be brought to the altar." The "hire of a harlot," etc., is the only "dirty money" mentioned in Scripture as prohibited as Temple gifts, and even these are restricted to the "hire" in its original form.

But there is a further and more important question involved here. The law as given in Bible and Talmud applies only to the Temple in Jerusalem and the altar, etc. Can it be legitimately extended to apply also to the synagogue?

There is considerable doubt about the justification of thus transferring and extending the old Temple restriction to the synagogue. The doubt is clearly expressed by the Magen Avraham (to Orah Hayyim 153:21). He says that the law refers only to the Temple, and that no classic decisor has extended it to apply to the synagogue except Jacob Well. (I could not find the passage he refers to in the Responsa of Jacob Well.) Therefore the Magen Avraham decides that (since there is doubt whether the prohibition really applies to the synagogue at all) all questions on the matter should be decided l'kula, i.e., permissively.

Magen Avraham's comment is in reference to the note of Moses Isserles (ad loc.) who does apply the law to the synagogue, and says that no sacred synagogue object or Sefer Torah can come from "the hire of a harlot." But he adds that money (if the gift is con-

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