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Seemingly, there's an idea that honey dissolves flesh (which thereby turns into honey. I don't have a primary source for this, but there is an ibn Ezra story about it). How does this fit in with the Bavli, Bava Basra 3:2, which says that honey preserves flesh? Dissolve would seem to be the opposite of preserve in this context.

(Note: I'm not asking about what modern science says about the issue. I'm asking only about how the two Jewish-sourced statements relate to one another.)

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I like the answers offered, but still wish someone had some source. I've found that the Intziklopedya Talmudis discusses honey's dissolving things in it (in its article on d'vash), mentioning also (IIRC) breadcrumbs. It refers the reader to Sh'elos Us'shuvos Rabenu Asher, k'lal 24 #6, Magen Avraham 247:3, Chok Yaakov 467:16, and Sh'elos Us'shuvos Chasam Sofer, YD 70 and 117, none of which I've had a chance to look up yet; perhaps one of them discusses my question.... –  msh210 Aug 26 '11 at 19:30
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Maybe indeed honey will penetrate into organic material and dissolve it, but only some distance. With a small creature like a bee, then, that's enough to include its entire body; with a human corpse, the bulk of it will still remain intact.


The issue is discussed in Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De'ah 84:12 and commentaries there. The Mechaber writes that "honey tends to preserve things immersed in it"; Shach (:37) observes that this is true only if the creature is whole, but that if it is dissected, then on the contrary the honey will dissolve it. The case at hand seems to have involved bees' legs that were in the honey (see Beur Hagra there :37), not the entire insect.

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Thank you! ..15 –  msh210 Aug 28 '11 at 5:32
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The ibn Ezra story is about a bee (which has no flesh) dissolving into honey, the Gemara is about human flesh.

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Okay, but that sort of begs the question. What's the difference, then, between humans and bees (in this context)? I'd think honey would dissolve (or preserve) both if either. –  msh210 Aug 24 '11 at 18:03
    
Well bees are the ones that produce honey, and maybe therefore they dissolve in it. –  Gershon Gold Aug 24 '11 at 18:11
    
bees do not have flesh.... I don't understand the question. –  avi Aug 25 '11 at 8:13
    
@avi, good point. So perhaps honey dissolves chitin but preserves human skin? Conceivable, but not very plausible. –  msh210 Aug 25 '11 at 20:00
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@msh210 I agree regarding the materials argument. Gershon's argument about bees' association with honey sounds more plausible from a pre-scientific point of view, but would also need a source. –  Isaac Moses Aug 25 '11 at 21:37
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