י״ח במרחשון ה׳תשע״א (October 26, 2010)

Avodah Zarah 73a-b – Bittul – Nullifying forbidden foods

When we have mixtures of foods that are forbidden with foods that are permitted, can the forbidden food ever be perceived as so insignificant that it is nullified so that the mixture can be eaten?

 

The Mishnah on today’s daf (=page) teaches that yayin nesekh – wine that has been poured off as a libation to pagan gods – that is mixed with other wine – can never be nullified. Similarly, water that has been sacrificed in that way that has been mixed with other water can never be nullified. Water mixed with wine or wine mixed with water, however, will become nullified if the volume of the permitted liquid overwhelms the forbidden liquid to the extent that it can no longer be tasted. The general principle is that min be-mino – in a mixture where the two things are similar – one cannot nullify the other; min be-she’eno mino – when the mixture is two dissimilar things – one can nullify the other.

 

The Gemara teaches that there is a disagreement about this ruling, and that Rav and Shmuel accept the teaching of the Mishnah. Rabbi Yohanan and Resh Lakish, however, basing themselves on a baraita, rule that under all circumstances the smaller part of the mixture can become nullified if there is so much of the other ingredient that the smaller one can no longer be tasted (an amount that concluded was 60 times the smaller ingredient). Only in cases like yayin nesekh, where the severity of idol worship is so great, will this rule not apply and the mixture will remain forbidden.

 

Although the Gemara does not distinguish between yayin nesekh and stam yeinam – ordinary non-Jewish wine that has not been poured out as a sacrifice – Rabbenu Tam does suggest that stam yeinam should be treated like any other forbidden substance and that it can be nullified. The R”i argues that in the time of the Mishnah there may have been no reason to distinguish between them, but in societies where idol worship – and libations to pagan gods – are uncommon, it makes sense to treat stam yeinam like any other prohibited substance and allow it to be nullified.