In hilchos avodas kochavim chapter 3 halacha 8 the Rambam says:

8 A person should not place his mouth over the mouths of statues which serve as fountains that are located before false deities in order to drink, because it appears that he is kissing the false deity.

ח פַּרְצוּפוֹת הַמְקַלְּחוֹת מַיִם בִּפְנֵי עֲבוֹדַת כּוֹכָבִים לֹא יַנִּיחַ פִּיו עַל פִּיהֶם וְיִשְׁתֶּה מִפְּנֵי שֶׁנִּרְאֶה כִּמְנַשֵּׁק לַעֲבוֹדַת כּוֹכָבִים:

The first part says there are statues "before" deities, while the latter part implies that the statues themselves are the deities.

Which one is it? If the statues are not deities, would the law be different if they actually were? And in the flip side, if the Rambam is only talking about statues that are themselves deities, would different laws apply if they weren't?

1 Answer 1


Partial answer:

It should be noted that the Rambam is basing himself off of Tosefta Avodah Zara 7:3:

"פרצופות המטילין מים לכרכין לא יניח פיו ע"פ פרצוף מפני שנראה כנושק לעבודת כוכבים אבל מקבל בידו ושותה
Human faces that spray water in cities, one may not put his mouth on the mouth of the face because it looks like he is kissing an idol, but he can collect [water] in his hands and drink.

The tosefta is referring to public drinking fountains commonly found in Roman cities and which often included a pipe shaped like the face of a pagan deity. For illustration, see these sketches by David Macaulay from his book "City: A Story of Roman Planning and Construction", pp. 48-49.

two pictures from Macaulay's City demonstrating what Roman drinking fountains looked like

From the drawing, you can see that there was a small pipe that ran out of the mouth of the face, thereby spraying the water before (=in front of) the face. In other words, the face is an idolatrous image while simultaneously also the device causing the water to be sprayed in front of the image. So there's no contradiction.

I don't know whether the case would be different if the statues weren't idolatrous.

  • Interesting. While it's possible that's the Rambam's source, the language of the Rambam is a lot different than the language of the Tosefta. The Rambam says "statues that are in front of idols", and doesn't mention just "faces". The question on the Tosefta, also, why does it say because it "looks" like he is kissing the idol, if he actually is? By Rambam its easier to understand because it looks like he's kissing the idol when in reality he is kissing the other statue. Apr 9 at 7:13
  • "statues that are in front of idols" is your translation (and interpretation). As I wrote, in light of what these devices looked like, I don't think that neither the Rambam nor the tosefta should be understood in that manner. Rather, the פרצופות = the עבודת כוכבים. They're the same objects. On the tosefta, I would say that either he's not actually pressing his lips to the mouth of the idol (the person needs the spout, which is sticking out from the mouth), or perhaps since his intention is not to kiss (and likely also wasn't intended by non-Jewish Romans), it's not considered actually kissing.
    – Harel13
    Apr 9 at 9:23
  • Hi. The translation is taken from the chabad.org rendition by Rabbi Eliyahu Touger who bases it off of the Rambam's commentaries. See the question, "the mouths of statues which serve as fountains that are located before false deities", implying that the mouths of statues are different than the false deities themselves. Apr 9 at 17:48
  • If the פרצופות are the AZ itself, then why is it נראה כמנשק? Wouldn't it be that the person is actually מנשק the AZ rather than simply giving off the appearance thereof? I think the illustration is helpful, but its possibly missing the larger context of it being before some larger expression of AZ. The language of פרצופות המקלחות מים **בפני **עבודה זרה seems to imply that there can be occasions where פרצופות המקלחות מים exist independent of an expression of AZ. Apr 9 at 19:03

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