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Zevahim 44a-b: Gifts to the Priestly Family

Today’s daf yomi is dedicated to our dear friend
Judy Kaufthal, in honor of her birthday.

In Sefer Bamidbar (18:9) the Torah lists a number of sanctified items that are given to the kohanim for their use.  Aharon, the , is told –

“This shall be yours of the most holy things, reserved from the fire:

  • Kol korbanam – every offering of theirs,
  • Kol minḥatam – every meal-offering of theirs,
  • Kol ḥatatam – every sin-offering of theirs,
  • Kol ashamam – every guilt-offering of theirs,
  • Asher yashivu li – which they shall render unto Me,
    shall be most sacred for you and for your sons.”

The Gemara on today’s daf offers an explanation of what is included in each of these cases, and particularly why the Torah needed to add the word kol – “every” – before each of them. According to the Gemara, within each category there are certain cases that we might have thought were not included as a gift to the kohanim, and therefore the Torah wants to emphasize that all of these belong to them.

The final clause – asher yashivu li – is understood by the Gemara to be teaching the law of gezel ha-ger; when the Torah granted money stolen from a convert to the kohanim, it is a gift that belongs entirely to the kohen, and he can even use it to give it to a woman for the purposes of marriage.

The case of gezel ha-ger is a unique situation. Ordinarily, if someone steals from another person and then takes a false oath denying the thievery, he must bring a guilt-offering and pay back the money that he stole plus an additional 20% penalty (see Vayikra 5:20-26). If the victim died, then the perpetrator would have to pay the money to the people who inherit him. In Sefer (5:7), the Torah teaches that if the victim had no one who would inherit him, then the money must be paid to the kohen. interpret this as referring to gezel ha-ger, since an ordinary Jewish person must have some surviving relative who would deserve to receive the payment.

Rashi points out that the word kol does not appear before asher yashivu li, indicating that there is no special law being taught, it is mentioned simply because it is in the list of those gifts given to the kohanimTosafot argue that there is a special halakha being taught here, based on the emphasis that it be given “for you and for your sons.” Their suggestion is that even though gezel ha-ger is not taken from the altar (“reserved from the fire”) nevertheless it becomes the property of the kohen who can use it for any purpose that he sees fit.

This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

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