א׳ באדר ה׳תשע״ח (February 16, 2018)

Avoda Zara 32a-b: Intoxicating Pottery

According to the Mishna, there are a number of things belonging to non-Jews from which it is forbidden for Jews to derive benefit. Among them are wine, vinegar that was originally wine and ḥeres hadriyani – Hadrianic pottery.

The first cases are fairly straightforward –

  • Wine is forbidden both because of concern that it may have been consecrated for pagan worship, in addition to the desire on the part of to limit social interaction between Jews and pagans.
  • Vinegar made from wine, assuming that it belonged to a pagan while it was still wine, becomes forbidden and its change of status does not remove the prohibition.

But what is ḥeres hadriyani and why is it forbidden?

Rav Yehuda quotes Shmuel as teaching that this refers to the Caesar Hadrian. When Rav Dimi came from Israel he explained that the Romans tilled virgin soil that had not been tilled before, which they then planted with grapevines. The wine that was produced was poured into white earthenware jugs which absorbed the wine. These vessels were then broken into fragments that the soldiers then used to carry, so that wherever they went they would soak them in water and have wine to drink. Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi attested to the potency of this wine, saying that – as Rashi explains – our best wine is the equivalent of the third soaking of this pottery in water.

Hadrian was the Roman Caesar from 117-138 CE. In Jewish history he is remembered as an evil tyrant, who put down the Bar Kokheva revolt in a violent and bloody manner, destroyed the city of Jerusalem and erected a pagan city on its ruins. During his reign he led military escapades throughout the Roman Empire, and apparently the method described in the Gemara is how the Roman soldiers were able to enjoy drinking even as they were stationed far from home.