י״ט במרחשון ה׳תשע״ז (November 20, 2016)

Bava Metzia 55a-b: Eating from Priestly Tithes

The Mishna on our daf teaches that there are a number of laws that all have a similar rule attached to them – that when redeeming them or paying for them, aside from the value of the object itself, an additional one-fifth must be paid. These laws include cases when someone who is not a kohen eats from the priestly tithes – Ha-okhel – when someone eats:

  • terumah – tithes,
  • terumat ma’aser – tithes given by the levi who received teruma,
  • ma’aser shel demai – tithes given when it was doubtful whether they had been given properly before,
  • halla – dough set aside for the kohen when baking bread,
  • bikkurim – first fruits taken to the Temple.

In the Gemara, Rava quotes Rabbi Elazar as questioning one of those cases. Regarding ma’aser shel demai, how can require the same obligation on their Rabbinic enactment as exists on Torah laws? In response, Rav Nahman quotes Shmuel as saying that this Mishna follows Rabbi Meir who rules regarding a divorce case that the Sages can require that their enactments carry the same weight as Torah laws.

In truth, the Gemara’s question is somewhat odd, since we find many places in the Talmud where Rabbinic enactments are given the same status as Torah law, and occasionally even a higher status than Torah law.

Some suggest that the question in this case stems from the unique situation of demai. The Rabbinic rule about demai is that we are concerned that farmers may choose to separate teruma gedola – the basic tithe, which is a very small amount – but refrain from separating the other required tithes. Thus, the enactment is a very weak one, since it shows concern for the fact that a small minority of people may not be separating their tithes properly. The Gemara found it surprising that aside from creating this enactment, the Rabbis further ruled that if demai was eaten accidentally a penalty should be paid. The response of the Gemara is that in Rabbi Meir’s case of divorce there is also a very unlikely situation, yet it is one that Rabbi Meir was very stringent about the Rabbinic decree.

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