QUESTION: The Mishnah discusses a case in which an idolater sells his Avodah Zarah or puts it up as a security for a loan. Rebbi says that such an act is considered Bitul of the Avodah Zarah, and the Chachamim say that it is not.
In the Gemara, Rav and Rebbi Yochanan disagree about how to understand the Mishnah. One says that the argument between Rebbi and the Rabanan involves an Avodah Zarah that was sold to an Tzoref (smith, or craftsman) who is an idolater, but if the Avodah Zarah was sold to a Jewish smith everyone agrees that the seller was Mevatel his Avodah Zarah. The other opinion says that their argument involves an Avodah Zarah sold to a Jewish smith.
Why do Rav and Rebbi Yochanan say that the Mishnah specifically discusses an Avodah Zarah that was sold to a smith, and not to an ordinary Jew or idolater?
(a) RASHI (DH Ze'iri) says that the "smith" is not an integral part of the case. It is only used because most people who buy metal are smiths. Rashi implies that the Halachah would be the same if he sold it to an ordinary Jew or idolater, even one who is not a smith.
TOSFOS (DH Aval) cites proof for Rashi's explanation. The Gemara later quotes a Beraisa which discusses the case of a person who buys some pieces of metal from a Nochri and finds among the pieces Avodah Zarah. If he has not yet paid the Nochri, he should return the pieces. If he has already paid him, he should throw the pieces of Avodah Zarah into the Dead Sea. The Gemara asks that if the argument in the Mishnah is whether or not an idolater who sells Avodah Zarah to a Jewish Tzoref is Mevatel the Avodah Zarah, the Beraisa is expressing the view of the Rabanan. If, however, the Tana'im in the Mishnah agree that when the idolater sells to a Jewish Tzoref he is Mevatel the Avodah Zarah, why does the Beraisa say that a person has to throw the Avodah Zarah into the Dead Sea? The idolater was Mevatel the Avodah Zarah through the sale! The Ran explains that if there would be a difference between an ordinary Jew and a Tzoref, the Gemara should answer that the Beraisa is talking about an idolater who sells to an ordinary Jew who might not melt down the Avodah Zarah, as opposed to a Tzoref. Since the Gemara does not give this answer, it presumably maintains that there is no difference between a Jewish Tzoref and an ordinary Jew.
(b) TOSFOS (DH Aval), like Rashi, explains that when the Gemara mentions a Jewish smith, it does not mean specifically a smith. The main point is that if a Nochri sells his Avodah Zarah to a Jew, presumably he knows that the Jew will melt it down or break it in some fashion. He therefore certainly is Mevatel his Avodah Zarah. Why, then, does the Gemara mention a Jewish smith? It mentions a Jewish smith only because it needed to mention a Nochri smith. Tosfos (in contrast to Rashi) understands that the Gemara specifically mentions a Nochri smith, because an idolater who sells his Avodah Zarah to a smith has greater reason to assume that it is going to be destroyed than when he sells it to an ordinary idolater.
(c) The Ran quotes the RA'AVAD who understands that the Gemara specifically discusses a Tzoref. If an idolater sells his Avodah Zarah to another ordinary idolater or to an ordinary Jew, Rebbi and the Rabanan agree that there is no Bitul.
How does the Ra'avad understand the Gemara later which does not answer that the Beraisa (which discusses a Jew who purchases metal from a Nochri) refers to an ordinary Jew and not a Tzoref? The Ran explains that the Ra'avad understands that this answer was unrealistic. Who buys scrap metal? Only smiths buy metal, and not ordinary people. The Gemara therefore does not entertain the possibility that the Beraisa refers to an ordinary Jew, and thus it gives a different answer. This is also the opinion of the RAMBAN. (Y. MONTROSE)


OPINIONS: The Gemara derives from the verse, "Eleh Elohecha Yisrael" -- "These are your gods, Yisrael" (Shemos 32:4), that not only did the Jewish people commit the sin of the Egel ha'Zahav, but they also wanted other gods. What does this mean?
(a) RASHI in Sanhedrin (63a, DH she'Ivu) explains that they wanted other gods and they accepted them as their gods. (See Sanhedrin 60b, where the Gemara states that even the acceptance of an Avodah Zarah as a god is considered an act of Avodah Zarah.) Does this mean that they in fact accepted other gods along with the Egel ha'Zahav?
The SHE'EILAS YA'AVETZ (2:133) writes that this interpretation does not seem consistent with the Gemara in Sanhedrin (63a). The Gemara there quotes Acherim who say that without the letter Vav in the word "He'elucha" -- "brought you up" (Shemos ibid.), the Jewish people would have been destroyed. Rashi (DH Ilmalei) explains that the Vav implies that they still accepted Hash-m as their G-d, along with the Egel.
Rebbi Shimon bar Yochai disagrees with Acherim. One who transgresses Shituf (believing that Hash-m shares His power with a partner) will be destroyed, and thus if the extra Vav implies that they accepted Hash-m as well as other gods, this is no reason to spare them. Rebbi Shimon bar Yochai explains instead that the word "He'elucha" teaches that they wanted other gods. (The Gemara there in Sanhedrin derives this from the word "He'elucha," while the Gemara here derives this from the word "Eleh." See AVODAH BERURAH here who addresses this point.)
What does Rebbi Shimon bar Yochai mean? He says that it cannot be that they were saved because they believed in Hash-m as well as other gods, because that constitutes Shituf for which they deserve to be destroyed. He suggests instead that "they wanted a lot of gods," but that also clearly is no reason to spare them! The Ya'avetz concludes that there must be a slight error in our text of Rashi. The text of Rashi should read that "they wanted other gods and accepted Him upon them." Rebbi Shimon bar Yochai is saying that the Jewish people still understood that Hash-m was the Creator; they just wanted to serve other gods which they erroneously felt that Hash-m wanted as mediums between them and Hash-m. Rebbi Shimon bar Yochai is teaching that this is not the form of Shituf which warrants destruction. Shituf is the belief that Hash-m has an equal partner. Since the Jewish people did not espouse this belief, they were spared destruction.
What other gods did they accept?
The TORAH TEMIMAH (Shemos 32:4) explains that the words of Rashi in Sanhedrin (63a) are based on the Gemara here. The Gemara here says that the Jewish people wanted other gods at the time of the Egel ha'Zahav, because it wants to explain why the Asheirah trees in Eretz Yisrael were able to become forbidden by idolaters. Since the Jewish people wanted the Asheirah trees to exist, they were able to become forbidden. The Gemara here understands that "they accepted other gods" is a reference to their acceptance of the Asheirah trees in Eretz Yisrael. These are the gods which Rashi saying the Jewish people accepted. (Y. MONTROSE)