Asheira was a form of idol-worship (avoda zara) that involved people worshipping a tree (3:7). As we have already learnt one is prohibited from gaining any benefit from avoda zara. The Mishnah (3:9) taught that with respect to an asheiratree one would not be able to get any benefit from its wood1. The Mishnah also taught that if one used the wood of an asheiratree to fuel an oven and bake bread, then no benefit may be gained from the bread either. The Bartenura explains that this is when the bread was baking while the wood was burning and the bread was gaining benefit while the forbidding wood was visible.
The Mishnah continues with a debate regarding what to do if the forbidden loaf was mixed with many others. Since we are dealing with the prohibition of avoda zara the laws of bitul do not apply. Consequently the first opinion is that the entire mixture is forbidden. R’ Eliezer however offers another solution: “cast the benefit in the dead sea”. In other words set aside money equivalent to the benefit and dispose of it in the Dead Sea. The Chachamim however take issue with this responding that the prohibition of avoda zara cannot simply be “redeemed” and transferred to money. In other words, since everyone agrees that redemption with money cannot permit an object of idol worship, this case should be no different.
According to R’ Eliezer,how is the benefit being calculated? The Tosfot Yom addresses this question in detail. The Bartenura and Rambam maintain that it is the value of the forbidden loaf. The Ran however finds this difficult since the Mishnah should have taught, “the value of one of them [i.e. the loaves] is cast to the Dead Sea”; instead it refers to “the benefit”. He argues, it is the benefit of the provided by the forbidden wood that was used.
Similarly, the Rosh asserts that once the benefit of the actual forbidden item (issur), i.e. the wood, is removed then it should be permitted. He adds however that this solution of “redeeming” the issur was only made possible if the bread was mixed with other loaves. The Ran explains that we find similarities with respect to yayin nesech (wine used for idol worship) when explaining the position that the technique cannot be used when dealing with the single loaf alone. With respect to a mixture of wine with yayin nesech in one container, one cannot sell the mixture to a non-Jew excluding the value of the yayin nesech.
The Ran himself however maintains that R’ Eliezer’s technique can be use on the single loaf alone. He explains that there is a difference between our case and the case of the yayan nesech. In the latter case, the object of issur is part of the mixture – the yayin nesech itself. In our case, it is only the benefit of the heat generated from the forbidden wood that is mixed into the bread and not the wood itself. Consequently the Ranunderstands that the redemption can be made even before any further mixtures.
This distinction as described by the Ranarises with respect to another debate. After the redemption there is a discussion as to what is permitted. According to the Ritva one can gain benefit from the bread (e.g. sell it) but not eat it. A parallel is found with yayin nesech, that if one barrel is mixed with many others, they can all be sold for a price that excludes the value of one barrel. There, benefit is permitted but not consumption. Rabbeinu Yona however maintains that our case is different since none of the actual issur is in the bread, consequently once redeemed it may be eaten.
1 The Tifferet Yisrael explains that this is only if an Yisrael cuts the wood. If an Akum did, he would have annulled the idol by the act of cutting wood and the wood would therefore be permitted.
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