י׳ באב ה׳תשע״ג (July 17, 2013)

Pesaḥim 27a-b: Making Inappropriate Use of Sacred Property

On yesterday’s daf we learned of the unique status of kodashim – things consecrated for use in the Temple, and the rule of me’ila – making inappropriate use of sacred property. The source for the laws of me’ilah appears in Vayikra 5:14-16, and an entire tractate of the Talmud – Massekhet Me’ila – is devoted to the study and analysis of this rule. Here is a brief synopsis of me’ila:

When someone derives benefit or pleasure by accident from something that has been consecrated to the Temple (i.e. he does not realize that the thing was kodesh), he is considered to have committed me’ila, and he will be obligated to bring an appropriate sacrifice, and to pay back the value of his benefit to the Temple, together with an additional fifth (20%) as a penalty. Generally speaking, after the object has been used for some mundane purpose and the person has fulfilled the requirements as mentioned above, the object then loses its status as kodashim and can now be used for normal purposes (hullin). In effect, the holiness has transferred from the object to the money that has been paid to the Temple in its place.

As noted above, the rules of me’ila only apply when the object was used by accident. If someone makes use of kodesh – of an object that belongs to the Temple – for his own use on purpose, the rules of me’ila do not apply. The Torah does not say what should be done to the transgressor in such a case. What is clear is that the atonement offered by the sacrifice and monetary payment will not apply.

Another halakha about kodashim discussed on our daf is the rule that it cannot become batel – it cannot become nullified when combined with other things. The background to this rule is that most things can become nullified when they are in a mixture in such a small quantity that they can no longer be noticed. For most food, for example, the ratio is 60:1; therefore, when there is sixty times more kosher meat than non-kosher meat, we view the non-kosher meat as having been nullified and the mixture is permitted.

There are a number of explanations as to why this rule is not applied to kodashim. The Meiri suggests that it is because in this case, aside from the question of issur ve-heter – of permissibility on a ritual level – there are also questions of money and ownership involved, since the kodashim is perceived as being the property of the Mikdash. Those types of questions are not governed by the same rules of bittul (nullification).

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