Avoda Zara 44-50
Search and Destroy
The Torah commanded Jews to destroy all the idols in the lands which they conquered. Two passages are cited in our gemara as a source for this command: You shall utterly destroy all the places in which the nations whom you are to dispossess served their gods. (Devarim 12:2) you shall wipe out their name from that place. (ibid. 12:3)
Both of these passages seem to be referring to the destruction of idols wherever they are located. Rabbi Akiva, in fact, interprets the phrase utterly destroy as a commandment to search and destroy idols everywhere and wipe out their names as an extra dimension of referring to the idols by shameful names.
Rambam (Laws of Avoda Kochavim 7:1) draws a distinction between the places where the above passages apply. Apparently following the approach of Rabbi Yossi ben Rabbi Yehuda he writes that the command to search and destroy applies only in Eretz Yisrael. In all other lands where Jews take possession they are required only to destroy the idols they encounter but not to conduct a search for them.
Rabbi Chaim ben Atar, in his Torah commentary Ohr Hachayim, finds support for this distinction in the very language of the two above-mentioned passages. The destruction mandated in the first passage is to be done wherever Jews dispossess the idol worshippers with no distinction made between Eretz Yisrael and elsewhere. Wiping out the name of the idols in this approach is a command to search and destroy and this is required only from that place, a reference to Eretz Yisrael alone. Because of the sacred nature of the Land, every effort must be made to rid it of contaminating idols.
Avoda Zara 45b
Treading on Unholy Ground
The son of saints walks upon them and we should refrain from doing so!
This is how Rabbi Yochanan brought support to his position that stones taken from the idol Markulis and used for paving a road were permissible to walk upon. This particular idol was made up of stones and it was worshipped by stones being thrown upon it. These added stones could be viewed as becoming an integral part of the idol or as offerings to the original idol. The difference between these two perspectives is what determined the status of the stones removed and placed in the road.
If an idol worshipper takes an action which demonstrates that he has abandoned an idol as an object of worship it is no longer forbidden for a Jew to derive benefit from it. In the case of offerings to an idol, however, such abandonment does not remove the ban on deriving benefit. This rule is based on the passage describing an incident of idol worship of the Israelites on their way from Egypt to Eretz Yisrael. They attached themselves to Baal Peor and ate the sacrifices of the dead. (Tehillim 106:28) Just as one may never derive any benefit from the dead, so too are sacrificial offerings to an idol forever forbidden.
Those sages who viewed the stones cast upon the idol Markulis as offerings in addition to becoming a part of the idol could not be satisfied with the abandonment of those stones as an object of worship expressed in turning them into cobblestones. Since they considered them offerings as well, whose status could not be affected by abandonment, they avoided treading upon those stones in order to avoid benefiting from them. Rabbi Yochanan, however, defined the ban on benefiting from offerings to an idol as applying only to those made in a manner which somehow simulated the offerings made to G-d in the Beit Hamikdash. Since there was no service performed there with throwing stones, the stones cast upon this idol did not come under the category of offerings, and could be released from their status as idols by the abandonment process of paving the streets with them.
Who is this son of saints who is cited as support for this approach?
He is identified as Rabbi Menachem ben Yossi who gained this title by so distancing himself from anything related to idols that he even avoided looking at the human likenesses engraved on coins although this was not a halachic requirement. (See Tosefot here and in Mesechta Shabbat 149a) When this saintly sage passed away all the faces of the statues and on the coins in his area became flattened as Heavenly tribute to his piety. (Mesechta Moed Katan 25b) The reason this piety is described in terms of a son of saints, explains Tosefot (Mesechta Pesachim 104a), is because Rabbi Menachems father was also an exceptionally holy man.
Avoda Zara 50a