1) HALACHAH: HOW TO DESTROY AN IDOL
OPINIONS: The Mishnah (43b) quotes the opinion of Rebbi Yosi who says that when one destroys an idol, he should grind it up and throw the pieces into the wind or the ocean. The Tana Kama argues that grinding does not suffice, since the pieces will become fertilizer and fertilize the ground, causing Jews to benefit from the Avodah Zarah.
The Gemara describes a number of incidents in which people did not merely grind up an Avodah Zarah, but they first burned it. In fact, the verses which command the destruction of Avodah Zarah specifically mention burning, such as the verses, "And their idols you shall burn in fire (Devarim 7:5), and "[You shall] burn their Asherim with fire" (Devarim 12:3)."
Is it necessary to destroy an idol through burning, or is burning merely the recommended manner but is not obligatory?
(a) TOSFOS in Chulin (88b, DH Sechikas) cites an opinion that maintains that burning is mandatory. The Gemara there seems to assume that things cannot grow in ground pieces of a metal vessel. Tosfos there questions this from the opinion of the Tana Kama in the Mishnah here, who says that these pieces will cause things to grow (the Mishnah is referring to idols made of metal). Tosfos answers that the Mishnah here in Avodah Zarah says only that such pieces can help things grow, but not that things can grow in metal.
However, Tosfos quotes RABEINU TAM who answers that only through the process of burning do metal shards become enabled to grow things. He explains that this is the issue in Avodah Zarah, as all Avodah Zarah is at first burned when it is destroyed, like the Egel ha'Zahav, the Golden Calf.
The SEDER YAKOV points out that the logic behind such an approach is that even though the fire does not necessarily totally demolish an Avodah Zarah made out of metal, it still can melt it and change it. It follows that Rabeinu Tam presumably understands that there are two Halachos. The first is that the fire must be large enough to cause damage to the Avodah Zarah. The second is that it is possible that if an Avodah Zarah is made out of stone, which will not be affected at all by fire, then there is no requirement to put it in fire.
(b) The RASHBA here disagrees with Rabeinu Tam, since idols made out of metal cannot be destroyed through fire. He explains that the only time the Torah requires that an Avodah Zarah be burned is when it is made of wood. This explains the verse that requires the burning of the Asheirah tree. The Rashba explains that, similarly, the verse that says that idols must be burned (Devarim 7:4) refers only to idols made of wood. (It is important to note, however, that the Rashba in Chulin cites Rabeinu Tam's opinion without arguing.)
(c) The RAMBAM in SEFER HA'MITZVOS (Mitzvah 185) explains that the Mitzvah is to "destroy Avodah Zarah... in any manner of destruction: breaking, burning, destroying, and cutting down every type of Avodah Zarah with the best and quickest manner of destruction. The intent is not to leave any trace of them."
The Rambam clearly does not require that the specific means of burning be used. According to the Rambam, the primary goal is to dispose of the Avodah Zarah in the most effective manner.
The practical difference between the approach of the Rambam and that of Rabeinu Tam seems to be in a case in which a wooden Avodah Zarah was found and no fire is immediately available with which to burn it. According to the Rambam, it would seem that the Avodah Zarah should be destroyed by the quickest manner possible, while according to Rabeinu Tam and the Rashba one should wait to destroy it with fire. (Y. MONTROSE)
2) HALACHAH: BATHING WITH NOCHRIM
QUESTION: The Mishnah relates that Raban Gamliel was bathing in the bathhouse of Aphrodite and was discussing with Perokelus (a Nochri) how Raban Gamliel was permitted to wash in a bathhouse of Avodah Zarah.
However, there seems to be another important Halachic issue that is not addressed in this incident. The Pirkei d'Rebbi Eliezer (ch. 29) states that one should not bathe in the company of Nochrim. Why, then, did Raban Gamliel bathe with Nochrim, even if the bathhouse was not one of Avodah Zarah?
(a) The MORDECHAI (#839) addresses this question. He explains that if the Jew enters the bathing area first, and the Nochri enters only afterwards, then the Jew is permitted to stay. He adds that if the Jew distances himself four Amos from the Nochri, then he is also permitted to bathe there even if he did not enter first.
The DARCHEI MOSHE (YD 153:1) comments that we are not stringent to conduct ourselves in accordance with the Mordechai nowadays. He suggests that the reason for this is perhaps that in their days, they bathed without wearing any pants, as mentioned by the AGUDAH in Pesachim (#50).
The Rema records this as the Halachah and states that one is not allowed to bathe without clothing with Nochrim, unless he is the first in the bath (as stated by the Mordechai).
(b) The BACH argues with the conclusion of the Rema. He does not understand where the Rema derives this Halachic difference between wearing pants and not wearing pants. Moreover, why should four Amos, or arriving first, make a difference if there is a problem of bathing together unclothed?
The Bach explains that the Pirkei d'Rebbi Eliezer prohibits bathing in the company of Nochrim because of purity. He quotes the Pirkei d'Rebbi Eliezer at length, which states that the reason why Avraham Avinu circumcised his servants was that he did not want them to be like ritually impure Nochrim. He did this because touching a Nochri "is like touching a dead person," and washing with them "is like washing with a leper." This wording clearing shows that the reason behind this prohibition is to keep from becoming ritually impure. Although all Jews are ritually impure today, this prohibition still applies since the Chachamim prohibited it and never repealed the prohibition (see Insights to 36a). However, the reason why it is permitted when the Jew distances himself four Amos from the Nochri is that one is not considered as though he is washing in the same area as the Nochri, and thus he will not become Tamei from the Nochri. The Bach dismisses the Rema's difference between wearing pants and not wearing pants as irrelevant.
The SHACH agrees in essence with the arguments of the Bach. His disagreement with the Bach rests in whether or not this Halachah still applies nowadays. The Shach cites a different statement of the Mordechai in which he quotes the RASH BAR BARUCH who says that one is allowed to wash in a bathhouse with Nochri bath-attendants. This implies that there is no prohibition against bathing with Nochrim today. He explains that when the Mordechai says that one should not bathe with Nochrim, he is teaching merely appropriate behavior, not a prohibition. The Shach therefore rules that one is permitted under all circumstances to bathe with Nochrim.
The TAZ agrees with the position of the Shach, but he mentions a qualification in accordance with the Rema. He explains that one is not allowed to bathe in a place where the Nochrim are not wearing clothes, as this may cause one to have immoral thoughts and lead to promiscuity (see Pesachim 51a). (Y. MONTROSE)