י״א בטבת ה׳תשע״ב (January 6, 2012)

Bekhorot 53a-b – Introducing animal tithes

The final perek (=chapter) of Masechet Bekhorot is entitled Ma’aser Behemah – “animal tithes” – and its focus is on a commandment that is similar to the firstborn in many ways. The Torah commands (Sefer Vayikra 27:32-33) that in order for a farmer to tithe his flock, he must pass them before him and mark every tenth animal, which will become sanctified. Those animals are brought to the Temple and sacrificed, unless an animal develops a mum – a blemish that precludes its sacrifice – in which case it can be eaten in any place.
Throughout the Torah, the laws regarding animal tithes are presented together with ordinary tithes from the farmer’s agricultural harvest (see, for example, Devarim 12:6). This juxtaposition raises questions about the parallels between these laws. For example, is the commandment to tithe one’s animals limited to the land of Israel, as is the case with agricultural tithes? Is it forbidden to derive benefit from the animals in the flock before the tithe is set aside, as is the case with crops?

With regard to the question about whether the commandment to tithe one’s animals is limited to the land of Israel, the Mishnah is clear – tithing animals is obligatory both in Israel and in the Diaspora. This ruling notwithstanding, the Gemarabrings the opinion of Rabbi Akiva that animals that are tithed outside the land of Israel are not brought to the Temple to be sacrificed. In the Mishnah in Masechet Temurah (daf, or page, 21a) Rabbi Shimon explains that since the animal can be eaten if it develops a permanent mum, do not require that it be brought to the Temple. According to this view, were the animal brought to Israel, it would, in fact, be sacrificed. Tosafot point out that according to the Sifri, only animal tithes from Israel would be valid as sacrifices in the Temple; an animal brought from the Diaspora would disqualified from sacrifice.