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Food Laws of Judaism, Table of Contents

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Laws of Religion

Laws of Judaism Concerning Food

from the Biblical Books of Moses (Torah)

and the Code of Maimonides (Mishneh Torah)

13.  Idol-Worshippers, Non-Jews and Food

From the Biblical Books of Moses (Torah)

 

The wine of the polytheistic (idol-worshiping) enemies of Israel is poisonous. Eating the fat or drinking the wine of sacrifices to idols will not protect a person from the Lord's wrath.[1]

 

If there are Israelites in one of the cities of Israel who advocate worshiping other gods, everyone in that city must be killed, the city and all of its contents must be burned and nothing from that city is to be taken into the hands of any other Israelite.[2] (Editor’s note: This passage from Deuteronomy is included here because it is cited by Maimonides as the basis for prohibiting Israelites from drinking wine that has been poured out as a libation to an idol, as discussed below.)

 

 

Idol-Worshippers, Non-Jews and Food

Jewish Law (Halakha) from the Code of Maimonides (Mishneh Torah)

 

Contents

Food given or sold to non-Jews

Eating food and drinking wine from or with non-Jews

Rules specific to wine

Food containers of non-Jews

 

Food given or sold to non-Jews.  As discussed in more detail on a following page, Food Obligations to Workers and the Poor, there is a general obligation to give alms to the poor,[3] including food[4] as well as money, clothing or other needed items.[5] For the sake of peace, poor heathens are to be given alms as well as poor Jews.[6] However, alms are not to be accepted from a heathen in public by a Jew unless there is no alternative way to survive.[7]

 

The word “heathen” refers to an idol-worshiper (polytheist) – a person who worships false gods.[8] An apostate is considered to be a heathen[9] as is a Jew who publicly desecrates the Sabbath.[10] While Muslims are not idol-worshipers,[11] according to Maimonides Christians are.[12]

 

A following page entitled Food Obligations to Workers and the Poor also discusses the requirement that a portion of one’s crops be left behind for the benefit of the poor, the stranger, the fatherless and the widow.[13] Maimonides explains that the “stranger” who may benefit from such produce is a person who has actually converted to Judaism.[14] In order to advance peace, poor heathens may also benefit[15] as long as the gentiles are in power over the Jews. When Jews are in power, idolaters (polytheists) are not to be permitted to stay in the land ruled by Jews unless they convert to Judaism. Heathens who become resident aliens by accepting the seven universal laws that the Lord gave to Noah can also be accepted and receive the benefits accorded to strangers, but only when the Jubilee years are counted[16] (which has not happened for over 2700 years and will not happen again until all the Messiah arrives and the Jews settle again in the Land of Israel, as discussed under Jubilee year on a previous page, “Restrictions on Crops.”)

 

While it is permissible to allow a heathen (idol-worshiping, polytheistic) woman to nurse a Jewish child, this must be done only where a Jew can watch to ensure that the nursing woman does not kill the child. It is not permissible, however, for a Jewish woman to nurse a heathen child since she would thereby be raising a heathen.[17]

 

Prohibitions against deriving benefit from food prohibited for eating are discussed on a previous page, “Forbidden Foods – General Rules,” and also prohibitions concerning mixed plantings are discussed on the page entitled “Restrictions on Crops.” The meaning of “deriving benefit” includes giving or selling something to non-Jews. If something forbidden for benefit is nevertheless sold, then the money obtained in this way is permitted for use unless the thing sold was an idol, an item used in idol worship, an offering made to an idol or wine poured out as libation to an idol. As a consequence, a Jew hired by a heathen to make wine cannot keep the wages earned.[18]

 

Eating food and drinking wine from or with non-Jews.  Consuming any amount, no matter how small, of wine that has been used as libation in idol worship or poured out as a libation to an idol or any amount of food used in a heathen offering is punishable by flogging.[19] Maimonides here quotes from the two Torah passages (Deuteronomy 32:38; Deuteronomy 13:17) summarized at the top of this page – flogging being the penalty for violating a negative Torah commandment.

 

Similarly, eating any quantity of anything found in a temple of an idol is punishable by flogging. However, if meat, wine or fruit was intended for use in idol worship and even brought into the temple of the idol but the offering was not actually made, then it is permitted to consume it.[20] If a cup used in a libation service to an idol becomes mixed with other cups, or a piece of meat sacrificed to an idol becomes mixed with other meat, all of the cups or all of the meat must be thrown into the Dead Sea.[21]

 

Although the Torah does not so specify, the Sages have forbidden drinking with heathens (idol-worshipers, polytheists) or eating their cooked food or bread. The purpose of this prohibition is to prevent social contact that might lead to intermarriage.[22] If most of the people at a banquet are Jews, then it is permitted to drink even if heathens are also present.[23] However, because of idol worship (polytheism), a Jew may not consume even his own food at a heathen wedding.[24]

 

In places away from any city where there is no Jewish baker, the prohibition against heathen bread is applied with leniency and so buying bread from a heathen baker in such places is permitted. However, eating bread made by a heathen who is not employed as a baker is still forbidden so as to discourage dining together and intermarriage.[25] Also, food cooked by heathens is permitted for eating if it is a type of food that is not served with bread at the king’s table. This is because people will only invite each other for meals together if they are serving such delicacies as would be found on the king’s table to be eaten with bread, and the purpose of the prohibition against heathen food is to prevent intermarriage.[26]

 

It is only permitted to buy wine, meat, cheese or cuts of fish that cannot be identified from a Jew who is known to observe the dietary laws.[27] Meat may be delivered by an Israelite or the slave of an Israelite but not by a heathen (idol-worshiper, polytheist) since the heathen may exchange the meat for other meat.[28]

 

Rules specific to wine.  As stated in the previous section, above, consuming any amount of wine that has been used as libation in idol worship or poured out as a libation to an idol, no matter how small, is punishable by flogging.[29]

 

If it is not known whether wine obtained from a heathen was used in an idolatrous libation, it is still prohibited for drinking or benefit and the punishment of flogging for disobedience is incurred only if more than one-quarter of a log is consumed.[30] (A log is a liquid measure equal to the volume of six eggs.[31]) Unusual wines made by heathens, such as from apples or pomegranates, are permissible for drinking but wine made from raisins is not because it may be used for a libation to an idol.[32]

 

The wine of a Muslim or other non-Jewish non-idolater is only forbidden for drinking but may be used for benefit (such as giving or selling it to a non-Jew).[33]

 

Since a heathen (idol-worshiper, polytheist) is usually thinking about idolatry, Israelite wine that has been touched by a heathen is forbidden for drinking or benefit.[34] Touching here includes touching the wine itself and shaking it, shaking an open container that holds the wine or pouring out the wine.[35] However, if the wine of a Jew is first boiled and then touched by a heathen, it may be consumed, even from the same cup used by the heathen, because boiled wine is not suitable for a libation for an idol.[36] Since odor has no substance, an Israelite is permitted to smell wine used for an idolatrous libation and also to drink wine that has been smelled by a heathen.[37] If a Muslim or other non-Jewish non-idolater unintentionally touches the wine, it is still permitted, even for drinking.[38]

 

If a heathen is alone in a house in which there are open containers of wine belonging to a Jew and other containers belonging to the heathen and the door is closed, then the wine becomes forbidden except for the wine in containers that were visible through a window. This is because the heathen would have been afraid to do anything to the wine in containers visible through the window.[39]

 

Jewish men may drink wine when a heathen prostitute is in their company since the prostitute will be afraid of the men and is not likely to touch the wine. However, a Jewish prostitute in the company of heathen men is forbidden to drink wine since the men are likely to have touched it without her knowing it.[40]

 

Wine in large commercial wine storage containers that are found somewhere is permitted for benefit if most of the local wine merchants where the containers are found are Jews. If wine jugs have been broken by thieves, the wine is permitted for drinking if most of the thieves of the city are Jews.[41]

 

Food containers of non-Jews.  Earthenware pots or plates used for hot food should not be purchased from a heathen (idol-worshiper, polytheist) or used. However, if one has purchased such a heathen article, it may be used after one day has passed since any absorbed fat would have spoiled by then.[42] (Editor’s note: On the first day the fat absorbed into the pot or plate may improve the flavor of the food being eaten, which makes the food forbidden as discussed on a previous page, “Forbidden Foods – General Rules.”) Maimonides describes the various ways of treating different types of food utensils or containers obtained from a heathen to make them suitable for use, including immersion in a ritual bath (mikvah), scalding and heating in fire.[43] Nevertheless, a Jew is permitted to lend or rent his utensils or containers to a heathen.[44]

 

An earthenware cup from which a heathen has drunk wine may be used if it is properly rinsed first.[45] However, a lead-lined green container in which libation wine was stored is forbidden since green containers absorb liquids; white, red and black containers are permitted since they do not absorb liquid.[46]

________________

 

 

Laws of Religion is a project of the Religion Research Society.

 

Updated October 13, 2012

 

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Food Laws of Judaism, Table of Contents

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Abbreviations used in footnotes:

Gen: The Biblical book of Genesis.

Exod: The Biblical book of Exodus.

Lev: The Biblical book of Leviticus.

Num: The Biblical Book of Numbers.

Deut: The Biblical Book of Deuteronomy.

MT:  The Mishneh Torah of Maimonides (Code of Maimonides). The names of the specific books and treatises within each book are given according to the Yale University Press translation and also the Moznaim/Touger Hebrew transliterations to facilitate locating the texts posted here. (Book 10, the Book of Cleanness, has not been published by Moznaim.)

F:  indicates page numbers in the Feldheim Publishers, Ltd., translation of Book 1 of the Mishneh Torah of Maimonides, the Book of Knowledge.

M:  indicates page numbers in the relevant volume of the Moznaim Publishing Corporation’s Touger translation. (Some of the books of Mishneh Torah are published in several volumes by Moznaim, so the Moznaim volume numbers do not correspond to the Book numbers of Maimonides’ work.)

Y:  indicates page numbers in the translation of the Yale University Press Judaica Series.

  The sources cited are described on the page Source Texts Used for Laws of Judaism.



[1] Deut 32:31-38

[2] Deut 13:12-18

[3] MT Book 7, The Book of Agriculture, Sefer Zeraim; Treatise 2 on Gifts to the Poor, Matnot Aniyim; Chapter 7, sec 1, (pages 160M 77Y)

[4] MT Book 7, The Book of Agriculture, Sefer Zeraim; Treatise 2 on Gifts to the Poor, Matnot Aniyim; Chapter 7, sec 6, (pages 164M 78Y)

[5] MT Book 7, The Book of Agriculture, Sefer Zeraim; Treatise 2 on Gifts to the Poor, Matnot Aniyim; Chapter 7, secs 1-8, (pages 160-164M 77-78Y)

[6] MT Book 7, The Book of Agriculture, Sefer Zeraim; Treatise 2 on Gifts to the Poor, Matnot Aniyim; Chapter 7, sec 7, (pages 164M 78Y)

[7] MT Book 7, The Book of Agriculture, Sefer Zeraim; Treatise 2 on Gifts to the Poor, Matnot Aniyim; Chapter 8, sec 9, (pages 172M 82Y)

[8] MT Book 5, The Book of Holiness, Sefer Kedushah; Treatise 2 on Forbidden Foods, Ma’achalot Assurot; Chapter 11, sec 8, (pages 402M 209Y)

[9] MT Book 11, The Book of Torts, Sefer Nezikin; Treatise 4 on Wounding and Damaging, Chovel UMazik; Chapter 7, sec 6, (pages 478M 184Y)

[10] MT Book 3, The Book of Seasons, Sefer Zemanim; Treatise 1 on The Sabbath, Shabbat (Shabbos); Chapter XXX, sec 15, (pages 350-352M 197-198Y); MT Book 3, The Book of Seasons, Sefer Zemanim; Treatise 2 The Erub, Eruvin; Chapter 2, sec 16, (pages 46M 213Y)

[11] MT Book 5, The Book of Holiness, Sefer Kedushah; Treatise 2 on Forbidden Foods, Ma’achalot Assurot; Chapter 11, sec 7, (pages 400-402M 209Y); MT Book 5, The Book of Holiness, Sefer Kedushah; Treatise 2 on Forbidden Foods, Ma’achalot Assurot; Chapter 13, sec 11, (pages 430M 222Y)

[12] MT Book 1, The Book of Knowledge, Sefer Madda; Treatise 4 Avodat Kochavim V’Chukkoteihem V’Chukkoteihem Worship of Stars (Idolatry), Chapter 9, sec 4, (pages 76bF 170-172M); MT Book 1, The Book of Knowledge, Sefer Madda; Note 8 in Moznaim translation to Treatise 4 Avodat Kochavim V’Chukkoteihem Worship of Stars (Idolatry), Chapter 9, sec 4, (page 171M)

[13] Lev 19:10, Lev 23:22, Deut 24:19-21

[14] MT Book 7, The Book of Agriculture, Sefer Zeraim; Treatise 2 on Gifts to the Poor, Matnot Aniyim; Chapter 1, sec 9, (pages 106-108M 50Y)

[15] MT Book 1, The Book of Knowledge, Sefer Madda; Treatise 4 Avodat Kochavim V’Chukkoteihem Worship of Stars (Idolatry), Chapter 10, sec 5 (pages 78bF 192-194M); MT Book 7, The Book of Agriculture, Sefer Zeraim; Treatise 2 on Gifts to the Poor, Matnot Aniyim; Chapter 1, sec 9, (pages 106-108M 50Y)

[16] MT Book 1, The Book of Knowledge, Sefer Madda; Treatise 4 Avodat Kochavim V’Chukkoteihem Worship of Stars (Idolatry), Chapter 10, sec 6 (pages 78bF 194-196M); MT Book 2, The Book of Love, Sefer Ahava; Treatise 6 on Circumcision, Milah; Chapter 1, sec 6 (pages 202-204M 164Y); MT Book 5, The Book of Holiness, Sefer Kedushah; Treatise 1 on Forbidden Intercourse, Issurei Bi’ah; Chapter 14, secs 7-8, (pages 174-176M 93-94Y)

[17] MT Book 1, The Book of Knowledge, Sefer Madda; Treatise 4 Avodat Kochavim V’Chukkoteihem Worship of Stars (Idolatry), Chapter 9, sec 16 (pages 77bF 180-182M)

[18] MT Book 5, The Book of Holiness, Sefer Kedushah; Treatise 2 on Forbidden Foods, Ma’achalot Assurot; Chapter 13, sec 15, (pages 432M 220Y)

[19] MT Book 5, The Book of Holiness, Sefer Kedushah; Treatise 2 on Forbidden Foods, Ma’achalot Assurot; Chapter 11, secs 1-2, (pages 398M 208Y)

[20] MT Book 1, The Book of Knowledge, Sefer Madda; Treatise 4 Avodat Kochavim V’Chukkoteihem Worship of Stars (Idolatry), Chapter 7, sec 15 (pages 74bF 136-138M)

[21] MT Book 1, The Book of Knowledge, Sefer Madda; Treatise 4 Avodat Kochavim V’Chukkoteihem Worship of Stars (Idolatry), Chapter 7, secs 9-10 (pages 74aF 124-128M)

[22] MT Book 5, The Book of Holiness, Sefer Kedushah; Treatise 2 on Forbidden Foods, Ma’achalot Assurot; Chapter 17, sec 9, (pages 492M 250Y)

[23] MT Book 5, The Book of Holiness, Sefer Kedushah; Treatise 2 on Forbidden Foods, Ma’achalot Assurot; Chapter 17, sec 10, (pages 492M 250Y)

[24] MT Book 1, The Book of Knowledge, Sefer Madda; Treatise 4 Avodat Kochavim V’Chukkoteihem Worship of Stars (Idolatry), Chapter 9, sec 15, (pages 77bF 180M)

[25]  MT Book 5, The Book of Holiness, Sefer Kedushah; Treatise 2 on Forbidden Foods, Ma’achalot Assurot; Chapter 17, sec 12, (pages 494M 251Y)

[26] MT Book 5, The Book of Holiness, Sefer Kedushah; Treatise 2 on Forbidden Foods, Ma’achalot Assurot; Chapter 17, sec 15, (pages 496M 252Y)

[27] MT Book 5, The Book of Holiness, Sefer Kedushah; Treatise 2 on Forbidden Foods, Ma’achalot Assurot; Chapter 3, sec 21, (pages 314M 168-169Y); MT Book 5, The Book of Holiness, Sefer Kedushah; Treatise 2 on Forbidden Foods, Ma’achalot Assurot; Chapter 8, secs 7-8, (pages 362M 192Y); MT Book 5, The Book of Holiness, Sefer Kedushah; Treatise 2 on Forbidden Foods, Ma’achalot Assurot; Chapter 11, sec 25, (pages 410M 213Y)

[28] MT Book 5, The Book of Holiness, Sefer Kedushah; Treatise 2 on Forbidden Foods, Ma’achalot Assurot; Chapter 8, sec 10, (pages 364M 193Y)

[29] MT Book 5, The Book of Holiness, Sefer Kedushah; Treatise 2 on Forbidden Foods, Ma’achalot Assurot; Chapter 11, secs 1-2, (pages 398M 208Y)

[30] MT Book 5, The Book of Holiness, Sefer Kedushah; Treatise 2 on Forbidden Foods, Ma’achalot Assurot; Chapter 11, sec 3, (pages 398M 208Y)

[31] MT Book 5, The Book of Holiness, Sefer Kedushah; Note in Yale translation to Treatise 2 on Forbidden Foods, Ma’achalot Assurot; Chapter 11, sec 3, (page 366Y)

[32] MT Book 5, The Book of Holiness, Sefer Kedushah; Treatise 2 on Forbidden Foods, Ma’achalot Assurot; Chapter 17, sec 11, (pages 494M 251Y)

[33] MT Book 5, The Book of Holiness, Sefer Kedushah; Treatise 2 on Forbidden Foods, Ma’achalot Assurot; Chapter 11, sec 7, (pages 400-402M 209Y)

[34] MT Book 5, The Book of Holiness, Sefer Kedushah; Treatise 2 on Forbidden Foods, Ma’achalot Assurot; Chapter 11, sec 4, (pages 398-400M 208Y)

[35] MT Book 5, The Book of Holiness, Sefer Kedushah; Treatise 2 on Forbidden Foods, Ma’achalot Assurot; Chapter 12, secs 1-2, (pages 412M 214Y)

[36] MT Book 5, The Book of Holiness, Sefer Kedushah; Treatise 2 on Forbidden Foods, Ma’achalot Assurot; Chapter 11, sec 9, (pages 402M 209Y)

[37] MT Book 5, The Book of Holiness, Sefer Kedushah; Treatise 2 on Forbidden Foods, Ma’achalot Assurot; Chapter 13, sec 14, (pages 432M 220Y)

[38] MT Book 5, The Book of Holiness, Sefer Kedushah; Treatise 2 on Forbidden Foods, Ma’achalot Assurot; Chapter 13, sec 11, (pages 430M 222Y)

[39] MT Book 5, The Book of Holiness, Sefer Kedushah; Treatise 2 on Forbidden Foods, Ma’achalot Assurot; Chapter 12, sec 21, (pages 422M 218Y)

[40] MT Book 5, The Book of Holiness, Sefer Kedushah; Treatise 2 on Forbidden Foods, Ma’achalot Assurot; Chapter 12, sec 26, (pages 424M 219Y)

[41] MT Book 5, The Book of Holiness, Sefer Kedushah; Treatise 2 on Forbidden Foods, Ma’achalot Assurot; Chapter 12, sec 29, (pages 424M 219Y)

[42] MT Book 5, The Book of Holiness, Sefer Kedushah; Treatise 2 on Forbidden Foods, Ma’achalot Assurot; Chapter 17, sec 2, (pages 488M 248Y)

[43] MT Book 5, The Book of Holiness, Sefer Kedushah; Treatise 2 on Forbidden Foods, Ma’achalot Assurot; Chapter 17, secs 3-7, (pages 488-492M 248-250Y)

[44] MT Book 3, The Book of Seasons, Sefer Zemanim; Treatise 1 on The Sabbath, Shabbat (Shabbos); Chapter 6, sec 16, (pages 110M 37Y)

[45] MT Book 5, The Book of Holiness, Sefer Kedushah; Treatise 2 on Forbidden Foods, Ma’achalot Assurot; Chapter 11, sec 18, (pages 406M 211Y)

[46] MT Book 5, The Book of Holiness, Sefer Kedushah; Treatise 2 on Forbidden Foods, Ma’achalot Assurot; Chapter 11, sec 19, (pages 406M 211-212Y)