ט״ו בכסלו ה׳תשע״ב (December 11, 2011)

Bekhorot 27a-b – Tithes and priestly gifts outside the land of Israel

The Gemara on today’s daf (=page) teaches a number of leniencies regarding terumat hutz la’aretz – priestly gifts from abroad (outside the land of Israel).

Among these leniencies we find:
  • Rava said: Terumah from abroad is not subject to the laws of a priest who helps in the threshing floors, which is forbidden. The Gemara relates that Rav Hama gave it to his attendant, who was a kohen.
  • Shmuel said: Terumah from abroad is neutralized in a larger quantity, i.e. it does not need 100 times of ordinary produce to nullify the terumah. The Gemara relates that Rabbah neutralized it in a larger quantity and used to eat it in the days of ritual impurity.
  • Shmuel further said: One may eat Terumah from abroad without separating the priestly gifts, leaving the separation for afterwards.

The Biblical obligation to separate terumah and ma’aser – tithes – is limited to the land of Israel, inasmuch as all agricultural mitzvot only apply in Israel. Nevertheless, there is an ancient custom to separate these priestly gifts and tithes even outside the land of Israel so that these laws will not be forgotten. According to the Mishnah in Masechet Yadayim(4:3), this Rabbinic enactment developed in stages over the generations.

Originally, the prophets established this custom in Babylonia, where the majority of Diaspora Jewry lived and worked – but only as a short-term enactment. Later on, after the time of Ezra haSofer, this custom was extended to other lands that neighbored the land of Israel, including Egypt to the south, as well as Amon and Mo’av to the east.

Given the Rabbinic nature of this custom, were more lenient with regard to many of its laws in comparison to terumot and ma’aserot in Israel itself.