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Following up on a question raised on the Avodah list (see here & here under the subject “Destroying Idols”).

Archaeologists often dig up idols whose worshipers have abandoned them over the millenia. The archaeologists who take possession of the objects certainly have no interest in their worship. For the purposes of this question, I will assume (l’kula) that one or the other of these constitutes sufficient bitul (nullification) of the objects’ avodah zara status, rendering them no longer ossur b’hana’a.

[Edit: In a comment below, JNF points out a responsum by Rabbi Dov Lior which explicitly says that such artifacts are “מותר, כי העבודה זרה הזו כבר התבטלה מן העולם” permitted, since this form of idolatry has vanished (= been nullified) from the world.]

But what of asheros etc. discovered in Ancient Israel digs? Their worshipers were likely Jews, who cannot nullify avodah zara, as are many (most?) of the archaeologists. Is there a way to permit Jews to derive benefit from these historically important objects?

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There have got to be Israeli posekim who have dealt with this question in practice. If we can identify who may have dealt with this, we may be able to contact them and get an answer. –  Isaac Moses Feb 20 '12 at 15:08
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@IsaacMoses ...or see what they wrote. –  msh210 Feb 20 '12 at 18:26
    
Is studying them as an archaeologist even considered 'deriving benefit'? –  Double AA May 3 '12 at 20:38
    
@DoubleAA, similar to your comment - About archaeology, but not in Isarel, more –  JNF Oct 2 '12 at 21:32
    
@JNF sounds like an answer to me! –  HodofHod Dec 24 '12 at 20:42
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1 Answer

up vote 1 down vote accepted

I posted my question as a follow-up to the one mentioned in the comments above. Rabbi Dov Lior answered it at http://www.yeshiva.org.il/ask/?id=77609 as follows (translation mine):

אין ליהנות מהם, אך לימוד אינו נחשב הנאה – כי קול ומראה וריח אין בהם משום הנאה.‏
One may not derive benefit from them, but study is not considered benefit – since [as a general halachik principle —JCS] “sound, sight, and smell are not considered benefit.”

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Did you intend to link to the previous question? Also, FTR the principle of "sound sight smell..." is from Pesachim 26a. –  Double AA Jan 13 '13 at 17:31
    
Thank you, @DoubleAA; URL is fixed. –  J. C. Salomon Jan 14 '13 at 2:13
    
These antique idol artifacts now fetch millions and there is always a high chance of them getting stolen and be sold to black market. Which can be purchased back by the current Idolaters. In India the temple committe does seek to get ancient Idols back to India, To be installed in temples –  Ali May 28 '13 at 6:34
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