Class Notes - Class #1

Consecrations

 

Styles of charitable giving change.  The mitzvot for this class deal with ways of pledging gifts dedicated to the sacred. Most of those mechanisms have gone out of style, and our author explains that we should no longer make pledges to the Temple because there is no Temple to accept the pledged items.  But our author explains that our words have meaning and that, when we promise to do something, we should keep our word.  Those ideas are not at all obsolete.

            The discussion of these mitzvot covers several subtopics:  What is the shoresh of these mitzvot?  What are the different forms of pledges?  How soon must the donor fulfill the pledge?  What happens if a donor makes a pledge the donor cannot afford to pay?  What happens if someone pledges something to the Temple when the Temple no longer exists? What happens if someone makes a pledge and then wants to rescind the pledge?  These are not the only mitzvot relevant to Jews fulfilling their promises.  We saw the prohibition on making a useless vow in mitzvah #30.We will see several more mitzvot related to these topics later in our study.

 

Shoresh:

We might expect the author to explain the shoresh of these mitzvot as reminders that we should take our relation to the Temple and its functions seriously.  But our author focuses instead on how important it is that we follow through on what we say. These mitzvot require that a donor making a pledge fulfill that pledge. The author says in mitzvah #353 that all lying is prohibited although there is no general Torah mitzvah that requires us to keep our word. The rabbis repeatedly admonish us to keep our word.  Our author reminds us of an example we have already seen: the rabbis call down curses on a seller who rescinds certain transactions the seller had previously agreed to. We have often seen our author explain that some mitzvot are samples of ethical behavior, which encourage us to identify ethical principles and incorporate those principles into our behavior. This series of mitzvot requires that, when we make a pledge to donate to sacred institutions, we should do what we promised. We ought to generalize these specific mitzvot into an ongoing commitment to do what we say we will do.

            In the shoresh of mitzvah #350 the author discusses the special role of speech.  Speech is a human attribute that helps connect humans to the Divine, that facilitates the ability of humans to transcend our physical, animal nature.  Hence, when we make a promise, especially about sacred matters, we should follow through. The fact that failure to follow through on a promise to consecrate something is punishable even though the violation consists only of speech indicates how important it is to keep our verbal commitments. 

            (If you are using the Feldheim translation, you might want to look at note 6 to mitzvah #350, where the translator explains the difficulty he had translating this passage because the text varies in the different manuscripts and no one manuscript has a text that actually makes sense.)

 

Pledges:

            One apparently common pledge was a promise to donate the value of a person or thing.  The exact import of such a pledge depended on the precise phrasing of the pledge. Since these are vows they are subject to the ordinary rules of release of vows.

            Mitzvah #350 requires a donor to fulfill a pledge of the form “erch ploni alai,” “the value of this person is on me.”  For a pledge of that form, the source verses, Lev. 27:2-7 outline how much the donor is obligated to pay.  The amount depends on the age and gender of the person designated in the pledge and is payable in “shekels of silver.” In each age category the value for a woman is a little less than the value for a man.

            Our author explains that the value of the pledge does not depend on the physical condition or talents and abilities of the designee; the source verses define payment based only on gender and age counted from the day the designated person was born until the day of the pledge.  If the donor did not specify a recipient for the pledge, the pledge is designated for “bedek habayit,” general upkeep and expenses of the Temple. 

            The Torah designates the amounts in “shekels of silver,” also called “shekel hakodesh,” “the sacred shekel.”  Our author makes sure we know just how much silver that is: the weight of 320 kernels of barley.  At some point, though, the rabbis changed the value to 384 barley kernels so that a shekel would equal the value of a common coin called a “sela.”  The sela was worth 4 dinari and a dinar was worth 6 ma’ah.

            A donor might pledge the erech of an animal rather than a person.  According to mitzvah #353, when a donor pledges the erech of an animal, the donor brings the animal to a cohen.  The cohen appraises the value of the animal, with expert help if necessary.  The donor is required to donate at least the appraised value of the animal.  If the donor does not designate a recipient for the pledge, the money goes for bedek habayit. 

            Rather than saying “erech ploni alai,” a donor might make a pledge of the form “damim ploni alai,” which also means “the value of this person is on me.”  According to mitzvah #350, if the donor says “damim alai,” the donor has pledged to donate the value that person has on the slave market.  Thus, for this pledge, the amount pledged depends on the age and gender of the designated person as well as the person’s physical condition and talents, since all of those factors influence the person’s value as a slave.

            Either form of the pledge to donate the value of a person raises the predictable definitional questions we have learned to expect.  The author lists some of those in mitzvah #350.  What is the value of someone who is near death?  Someone who has been sentenced to death?  What is the donor varies the form of the pledge by promising the value of one limb, or of someone’s height or weight?  What if the donor promised silver or gold but did not specify which? If the pledge was an “erech,” what happens if the designated person is not someone listed in the Torah, for example someone of indeterminate gender, a slave or a non-Jew. 

            Pledging the value of a person to sacred causes must have been a very moving experience for the donor.  Imagine celebrating the birth of a child by pledging the value of that child, celebrating recovery from illness by pledging the value of the patient, or showing gratitude to someone who has been kind and helpful by pledging the value of that person. 

            According to mitzvah #357, a donor might also pledge by saying something the donor owns is “herem.”  If the donor directs the pledge to some specific purpose, that controls and the donor can redeem the item at its market value.  If it is inherited land donated through herem and the donor directs it for a specific purpose, it reverts to the donor in yovel. 

But if the donor does not specify, the donor must give the item to a cohen serving in the mishmar at the time the herem was declared. The cohen gets the herem property without paying for it. Once the cohen receives the property, it belongs outright to the cohen, who may use it or sell it.  If the herem property is land and the cohen sells the land, when yovel comes the land reverts to the cohen.  Mitzvah #358 prohibits the donor through herem from selling the designated property, and mitzvah #359 prohibits that donor from redeeming the property.  The property irrevocably belongs to the cohen.  Since property pledged as herem goes to cohanim, property of a cohen or levi cannot be consecrated by herem.

Normally, the term herem designates something set for destruction.  When someone speaks of a herem on his or her property, the person is cursing, expressing anger by consecrating something. “If this car stalls one more time I will ….”  Our author explains that God takes more direct control of what happens to Jews than what happens to people of other nations. Other nations are more subject to natural law; God intervenes more directly in the fate of the Jews.  If the Jews are worthy, that induces God’s good will, and herem will fall on the Jews’ enemies. Anything a Jew has comes by way of God’s blessing. If a Jew expresses anger by consecrating some possession the person cannot rescind.  The consecrator’s intention was to relinquish property; the property returns to God who bestowed it as a blessing.

Our author adds that someone who uses the term herem has said something very serious.  If someone going to battle declares herem on enemies the speaker is obligated to kill the enemies.    

In an excursion in mitzvah/essay #353 our author explains what happens if someone consecrates an animal as a sacrifice and then the animal develops a “mum,” a blemish, so that the animal is no longer qualified to be a sacrifice.  The donor has the animal appraised by a cohen, redeems the animal at that price and brings a substitute animal as a sacrifice.  The author mentions a case where the animal has died so it can no longer be appraised.  If the animal was killed by shchitah, ritual slaughter, a cohen appraises the animal.  The author mentions a case where the animal died of other causes but does not say what to do in that case.

A donor may only consecrate an item that the donor owns and has possession of. If a thief stole an item and the owner has not given up hope or recovering the item, neither the thief nor the owner can consecrate the item.  The thief cannot consecrate the item because the thief does not own it.  The owner cannot consecrate the item because the item is not in the owner’s possession. Distinguish that from a case where an owner lends an item to someone else and then consecrates the item.  That consecration is effective.  Although the owner is not holding the item, the owner could recover the item in court if the borrower was not willing to return it.  Land is always considered to be in its owner’s possession since the land cannot be moved or hidden.

In mitzvah/essay #355 the author explains that if someone donates land to the Temple, the Temple can sell the land.  Representatives of the Temple publicize the proposed sale twice a day for 60 days, announcing a description of the property and the proposed price each day when the workers and leaving and returning.

 

How long does the donor have to fulfill a pledge?

            In mitzvah/essay #350, the author explains that someone who fails to fulfill a pledge promptly is punishable although that punishment is for violating a mitzvah we will see later, #574, that prohibits paying such a pledge late.  According to some authorities the person making the pledge is required to make good immediately but is not punishable until a full cycle of three pilgrimage holidays have passed.  The author also explains the opinion of Rabbi Shimon, who thought the donor could only be punished if the donor failed to fulfill the pledge after the period of three pilgrimage holidays beginning with the next upcoming Passover. (We saw this idea when we studied the first mishnah in Rosh haShannah.)  But other authorities hold the donor can refrain from paying up until the passage of three pilgrimage holidays without violating any mitzvot.

 

Inability of the donor to pay:

            The author considers a situation where the donor makes a pledge worth more than the assets the donor owns.  The donor will be left penniless and even then the donor will not have fulfilled the pledge.  Although one would think the donor would be required to sell everything to fulfill the pledge, in fact the donor may keep certain necessary items.  In short, what we have here is the halachah’s version of bankruptcy law. (This is not precisely parallel to modern bankruptcy.  If after selling all of the required property the donor still cannot pay the pledge in full, some donors may later have to make good the difference if those donors are ever in a financial position to do so.)

            All of the donor’s property is subject to seizure and sale to pay the pledge: land, clothing, utensils, slaves, livestock, etc.  To raise money to pay the pledge, the donor sells his or her goods at the time and place of the pledge, even if the donor could raise more money by delaying the sale or selling in a different location.  If the donor owns land, the donor advertises that the land is available for sale for 60 days and then accepts the best offer.  That land reverts to the donor in yovel. 

            The donor must sell everything the donor owns except for the following:

1.        Food for 30 days.

2.      Clothing for 12 months, but if the donor owns extravagantly fancy clothing or special clothing for Shabbat the donor must sell those and only keep ordinary clothes.

3.      Shoes

4.      T’fillin but not other sacred writings.

5.      A bed and mattress.

6.      If the donor is a craftsman, the donor may keep two of each tool necessary for his craft assuming the donor owns those tools already.  Exactly what qualifies as a work tool is complex.  The author gives examples:  a donkey driver does not get to keep a donkey; a boatman does not get to keep a boat; a teacher does not get to keep the books to teach from, so that students will need to provide their own books.  But a Torah scholar may keep one copy of the tractate currently being studied.

Even if the donor is obligated to support a family, the donor does not get to keep food or clothing for the family.  But food or clothing already purchased for family members is considered to belong to the family members and therefore not subject to collection to fulfill the donor’s pledge.  Even clothing that has been dyed for the family members but that they have not yet worn cannot be seized to pay the donor’s pledge.

This discussion only outlines the issues.  Each category needs careful definition.  But the overall concept is clear:  a donor who pledges more than he or she can afford gets to keep the absolute necessities even if the donor cannot pay the full amount of the pledge.

            Having outlined the rules for bankruptcy for a donor, the author raises the question of whether the same rules apply to someone who has run up too much debt some other way.  The author says that this is a bit of a tangent.  Rather than simply answering the question, our author takes the opportunity to paraphrase part of a complex Talmudic analysis that appears in Eirchin 114a.

            In that discussion, various authorities take differing positions about whether the bankruptcy procedure for a donor who runs out of money to pay an “eirechin” pledge is also used for an ordinary debtor who runs out of money. The Talmud then cites another authority who claims to have written to many Rabbis asking whether the procedure is used for an ordinary debtor but did not receive an answer.  The Talmud then tells the story of Rabbah ben Abbahu, who met Eliyahu in a non-Jewish cemetery and took that opportunity to ask about the issue of bankruptcy procedure for ordinary debtors.  Our author interprets Rabbah ben Abbahu to be assuming that the procedure does apply and asking Eliyahu for a source for that ruling.  Eliyahu explains that a parallel word is used in the verses that describe the two situations, a classic g’zerah shava technique. 

Based on that text most authorities, including the Geonim, hold that the same bankruptcy procedure applies.  Some authorities, including the ones cited in the Talmud and Tosafot hold that the bankruptcy procedure does not apply.  Presumably that means the debtor must sell all of his or her belongings to pay the debt and may not keep even the bare necessities.  Rambam holds that the procedure applies but that an ordinary debtor gets to keep less than an eiruchin donor.

The author mentions that Rabbah ben Abbahu met Eliyahu in a non-Jewish cemetery and asked this question.  That telescopes a long hilarious story. After asking this question and another question, Rabbah ben Abbahu interrupts Eliyahu’s answer to ask Eliyahu why his status as a cohen doesn’t stop him from wandering in non-Jewish cemeteries.  Eliyahu accuses Rabbah of ignorance of the laws of tumah; Eliyahu expects Rabbah to know that corpses of non-Jews are not a source of tumah.  Rabbah admits to having mastered only four of the six tractates of Mishnah.  Eliyahu then takes Rabbah to the Garden of Eden, and the story goes on from there, ending with Rabbah selling the clothes he wore in the Garden of Eden for an outrageous fortune.

This story raises obvious questions. I will cite just a few examples: Was Eliyahu alive or dead? Why did Rabbah choose the particular questions he did, and why didn’t he wait for Eliyahu to finish answering? Was Eliyahu a cohen?   May a cohen go to a non-Jewish cemetery? Etc.    Our author also says repeatedly that we know the bankruptcy procedure applies to an ordinary debtor because Eliyahu said so.  Chance encounters with dead prophets in cemeteries are not normally sources of halachah.  We saw earlier that for a g’zeirah shavah to be a source of halachah we have to have an ongoing tradition, something Rabbah clearly did not have.  When our author says that there is no doubting Eliyahu he is either being straight and serious, ignoring the anomalies, or he is speaking tongue in cheek.  Without an emoticon there is no way to know.

We noted earlier that in the first half of his work our author concentrated on giving us practice in making close distinctions and following up the consequences of those distinctions.  As we get further along, though, the author introduces us to more complex Talmudic analysis. The Talmud relates this question to issues of when a creditor who takes an object as collateral from the debtor has to return that collateral temporarily if the debtor needs the collateral item. But our author is trying to avoid those aspects of the discussion because he knows we are not yet familiar with the issues about collateral. We will see shortly that the author’s discussion what happens when a donor donates land and then wants to redeem it connects each case to what happens to that land when yovel comes.  Once we have the background information, our author expects us to use it, but where we do not yet have sufficient background our author is careful to avoid material we are not yet prepared to understand.

 

 

Current Applicability:

            All of the mitzvot in this group apply to men and women.  Although these mitzvot are focused on donations to the Temple, the author discusses how the various mitzvot about pledges to sacred causes apply nowadays.  We saw that unless the donor specifies otherwise, many of these pledges go for “bedek habayit,” the everyday expenses and upkeep of the Temple.  That is a problem because there is no Temple for the donor to donate to.  Thus the author warns us not to make such pledges.

But if someone makes such a pledge now, the pledge is binding. In mitzvah #350 the author explains that the item pledged must be destroyed in such a way that no one would use it by mistake, since items dedicated to the Temple are “assur b’hana’ah,” items that others may not benefit from.  In mitzvah #355 the author explains that one might think it would be wise to set the money aside so it could be donated to the Temple should the Temple be rebuilt.  But, he says, it is better to destroy the money lest others err by using it inadvertently for another purpose. He assures us that, when the Temple is rebuilt there will be enough income to support it.

If the item is an animal, the donor must let the animal starve to death.  Clothing and other items that deteriorate over time should be left to deteriorate. Money or metal utensils should be dumped into the Dead Sea where no one can retrieve them.  Since the consecrated item must be destroyed, there is no need for a cohen to appraise most items that would have been appraised in Temple times. However, someone who donates a house should have a cohen appraise it and then redeem it for the appraised value and dump the money in the Dead Sea.

But a position of the Talmudic sage Shmuel suggests another solution that is not so costly for the donor.  According to Shmuel, if a donor redeems a pledge of any value to the Temple for a p’rutah coin the redemption is effective. Recall that a p’rutah was the smallest coin in circulation, the equivalent of our penny. Thus, a modern donor who pledged a donation to the Temple when the Temple is no long extant could redeem the pledge for a p’rutah and dump the p’rutah in the Dead Sea.    Not all authorities accept that position, however.  And even Shmuel would not allow that underpriced redemption where the donor pledged support to the poor; that would have to be paid in full.

Rambam notes one situation where pledged property need not be destroyed.  If someone outside of Israel pledged moveable property by way of herem, or pledged land outside of Israel to the cohanim through a herem, the property should be given to a local cohen.  But someone who pledges land in Israel through a herem has done nothing, since the rubric for Israeli land under herem applies only when yovel is in effect.

 

Changing or rescinding a pledge:

            A donor who makes a pledge might want to change or withdraw the pledge for various reasons.  Several of the mitzvot in this series explain when the donor may rescind and when the donor may not rescind. Mitzvot #351, 352 and 356 regulate making changes when one has consecrated an animal.  Mitzvot #354 and 355 regulate making changes when one has consecrated real estate.

            The author discusses the shoresh of the mitzvot related to rescinding something a donor consecrated, and here he emphasizes the awe we should feel for the sacred so that when we make a pledge to donate or consecrate something we should take that pledge seriously. God graciously allows some donors to rescind gifts, but then the donor usually has to pay a penalty.

The author cites Rambam for a related point. In a moment of spiritual commitment a donor might pledge his or her best animal as a sacrifice or donation.  That donor may later be tempted to replace that fine animal with a lesser one, but that downgrade shows disrespect to the sacred.  Therefore various mitzvot make it hard for a donor to change or renege on a pledge.  In that context Rambam says that we must obey mitzvot because we are commanded to do so, but nevertheless we should seek reasons for mitzvot. Our author sees this statement as support for his enterprise of articulating a shoresh for each mitzvah.  We noted earlier that that enterprise is controversial.

            A donor who pledged an animal as a donation to the Temple or for a sacrifice might want to swap that animal for a different animal. Mitzvah #351 prohibits that swap, and #352 requires that, if the donor tries to make the swap both animals should be treated as consecrated. Thus, a donor who attempts to exchange a consecrated animal for another animal has violated mitzvah #351 and now has two consecrated animals according to mitzvah #352. There is no special verbal formula for this attempted swap; the donor will violate #351 with any statement that makes the intention to swap clear.

            In the dinei hamitzvah section of mitzvah/essay #352 the author outlines definitional questions.  The prohibition on swapping a consecrated animal applies only to mammals, not to birds or meal offerings. A donor who tries to swap a consecrated sheep for a goat, a male animal for a female animal, or one animal for many animals violates mitzvah #351 and has consecrated all the animals. Let’s say a donor consecrated an animal to be a sacrifice and tries to swap it for an animal that is not eligible to be a sacrifice, for example a camel or donkey, a mixed breed animal, an animal that is a treifah, or an animal of indeterminate gender.  Since the second animal cannot be an offering the second animal is not consecrated and the donor cannot be punished for attempting to make the swap.  But if the replacement animal cannot be a sacrifice because it is blemished, the attempted swap violates mitzvah #351, both animals are considered consecrated and the donor is punishable. If a donor tries to swap the donor’s consecrated animal for an another that belongs to someone else, the donor violates mitzvah #351 if the owner of the second animal consents but does not violate mitzvah #351 is the owner of the second animal does not consent. 

If a donor attempts to swap a consecrated animal for a second animal, and then attempts to swap that second animal for a third animal, the first exchange violates mitzvah #351 and consecrates the second animal but the second exchange does not violate mitzvah #351 and does not consecrate the third animal.  But if the donor tries two consecutive swaps for a consecrated animal, trying to swap that animal for a second animal and then trying to swap the original animal for a third animal, the donor has violated mitzvah #351 twice and all three animals are consecrated.

            A donor who makes a statement attempting to swap one consecrated animal for another is punishable for the verbal attempt.  This is a bit startling, as it seems to violate several of the principles of punishment that we have learned thus far.

Normally, someone who violates a mitzvah only by speaking but not by other action is not punishable. The author mentions that speech is not considered action even though the speaker moves his or her lips and vocal cords.  And the author lists several other exceptions to the rule that someone whose only action is speech is not punishable.  Although someone who violates mitzvah #351 is punishable, someone who violated mitzvah #356 is not punishable. 

Normally, when someone violates a mitzvah but the violation is rectified by obeying a positive mitzvah the violator is not punishable.  Our author gives two reasons why that general rule does not apply to the donor trying to swap a consecrated animal for another animal.  First, there are cases where a donor can violate this mitzvah but the rectification does not automatically occur.  For example, partners who jointly own an animal and consecrate it are prohibited from trying to swap it out, but if one of the partners makes a statement trying to swap out the consecrated animal the substitute animal is not automatically consecrated.  Second, this is not an example of one prohibition which is rectified by one positive mitzvah.  Rather, the prohibition on swapping out for the consecrated animal is repeated twice in the Torah whereas the rectification of treating both animals as consecrated is only stated once.  The one positive rectification statement does not cancel out two prohibition statements.

            The author discusses several other cases of a donor who is punishable for breaking mitzvah #351.  Consider a case where the donor makes a statement attempting to swap out the consecrated animal but fails to state the case accurately.  For example, the donor says, “Substitute this animal for the animal I consecrated as an olah,” when the donor had previously consecrated the first animal as a shlamim.  The donor is punishable because the donor intended a swap and spoke to try to accomplish a swap.

            But distinguish that error from a case where the donor makes a statement attempting to swap out a consecrated animal under the mistaken impression that such a swap was permissible.  That donor is not punishable.  This is a classic case of shogeg. The donor could not be punished without a warning, and here there obviously was no warning.  Had there been a warning, the donor would have known the swap was prohibited.

            Mitzvah #356 prohibits a donor who consecrated an animal for one purpose to switch the same animal to another purpose.  The donor who consecrated an animal for a shlamim may not switch to using it as an olah.  A donor who consecrated an animal for bedek habayit may not switch to using it as a sacrifice.  A donor who consecrated an animal for upkeep of the Temple may not switch to using it only for upkeep of the altar.  The donor should not consecrate a pregnant animal for one purpose and then consecrate its unborn young for another purpose; the first consecration applies to the fetus as well as the mother.  The owner who tries to repurpose a consecrated animal is not punishable.  The author does not say whether the animal is ultimately used for the first purpose or the second purpose.

            The source verse for this mitzvah, Lev. 27:26, specifies that no one should consecrate a first born animal.  We learned in mitzvah #22 how the owner of a domestic animal must treat the first born male offspring of that animal.  The owner brings the animal to Jerusalem, where the cohanim offer it as a sacrifice and eat the meat that is not burned on the altar.  Thus, the first born animal is consecrated for a specific purpose at its birth, and the owner is prohibited from changing that purpose.  The midrash halachah extends the prohibition on changing the purpose to all consecrated animals, relying on the extra words “among the animals” in the source verse.  (Here we have an example of midrash halachah doing something entirely reasonable through a close reading of the verse.)

            But in one way the rules for a first born animal are different from the rules for an animal consecrated voluntarily by the donor. (We have seen our author begin to introduce us to more sophisticated halachic arguments, but don’t think he’s done giving us practice in making close distinctions and following up the implications.) As we noted earlier, when a donor consecrates a pregnant animal, the fetus takes on the consecration purpose of the mother and this mitzvah prohibits the donor from changing that purpose.  But if the mother animal is pregnant with a first born, the situation is different.  That first born animal will be consecrated if it is a male, and that will happen automatically when it is born.  But until it is born it is just an ordinary fetus and the owner can consecrate the fetus for some purpose other than use as a first born. The owner could, for example, consecrate it as an olah.  But there is a limit.  If the fetus is male, it is destined to be sacrificed as a first born, and the owner cannot consecrate it as anything of lesser holiness than a sacrifice as a first born.  For example, the owner cannot consecrate it to be a shlamim sacrifice.  It can be an olah because the extra holiness of the olah is that it is entirely burnt on the altar.  The first born sacrifice is eaten by the cohanim.  But the shlamim is less restricted and therefore at a lesser level of holiness; it can be eaten by the owner and his guests.

            Mitzvot #354 and #355 govern what happens when a donor wants to rescind a pledge of land.  The rules for these mitzvot are related to the rules for land reverting to original owners in yovel, and so the mitzvot only apply when yovel is in effect.  Our author expects us to recall what he taught us earlier.

            Mitzvah #354 applies to someone who consecrated a house and now wants to rescind.  The wife or heirs of the donor would also be entitled to redeem the house under the same conditions as the donor. Similar procedures apply when someone donates moveable goods or an animal of a species unfit for sacrifice.

A cohen appraises the house. The cohen opens the appraisal process by asking the donor how much the donor would pay for the property. The donor may redeem the house by paying the appraised value plus a penalty.  The penalty is described as 1/5th of the appraised value.  We have seen that in halachic literature fractions are often expressed as the portion of the whole including the additional value; we would express the penalty as ¼ of the appraised value.

Our author specifies how all this fits with the rules of land reverting to its original owner in the yovel year.  If a house in a city was donated, the owner or his heirs can redeem it from Temple ownership at any time. If the house was in a walled city and someone else bought it and kept it for 12 months, the house irrevocably belongs to that buyer.  But if the house was in an unwalled city and someone else bought it, when yovel came the house would revert to its original owner.

            Mitzvah #355 regulates how a donor can redeem consecrated fields.  The Torah prescribes different procedures for purchased fields and inherited fields. 

A donor who consecrates purchased fields can redeem purchased fields from consecration at the market value of that field; the purchaser need not pay an additional penalty.  The money goes for bedek habayit.  At yovel, the purchased field reverts to the owner by inheritance whether it is still owned by the Temple or even if the Temple sold it to someone else. The purchaser can only consecrate what the purchaser owns, and the purchaser only owns the right to use the land until the next yovel.

The owner of an inherited field may redeem the field from consecration by paying a fixed redemption price based on the area of arable land in the parcel plus a penalty. An inherited field that is consecrated and not redeemed before yovel, or an inherited field that was purchased from the Temple by someone else and was not redeemed by the original owner, does not return to the original owner.  Rather, cohanim buy it.  The money goes to bedek habayit, and the cohanim retain ownership forever.  Our author does not say which cohanim get to buy the land.

Our author provides a detailed and complex explanation of how much the donor has to pay to redeem the inherited field.  To follow this discussion we will need to brush off our high school algebra.  (If this seems difficult, remember that the author was doing this algebra without our modern algebraic notation.  Instead of equations the author used sentences.)

The equation for calculating the value is: , where A=the area of land, Y=the years until the next upcoming yovel and V=the cost per year. That calculation determines the number of shekel the owner must pay to redeem the land from consecration. To explain in more detail:

1.        First, measure the arable land within the parcel.  Ignore the part of the land not appropriate for planting.  (If none of the land is arable, the field is redeemed at its market value.)

a.      In the ancient world, land was measured in units that reflected how much of a particular type of seed could be planted on that amount of land. The arable land in this case is measured in a unit called a “chomer.” A chomer is the amount of land needed to plant a volume of barley called a chomer or a kor.   The author says that is equivalent to 75,000 square cubits, but I don’t know how much that helps us get a sense of it.  The area of arable land measured in chomer is “A” in the equation.

2.       Multiply the measure of arable land by 5/4th.  This increase represents the penalty the owner pays for redeeming the land from consecration.

3.      Multiply all that by “Y,” the number of years between the redemption and yovel.

4.      Last we need to calculate “V,” the price per year. The Torah says that the field can be redeemed for 50 shekel. Lev. 27:16. If the field was consecrated right after yovel and the donor wants to retrieve it immediately that 50 shekel has to be prorated over a period of 49 years, the period until the next upcoming yovel. That means the land is valued at 1 1/49 shekel per year. The rabbis said the yearly amount was valued at 1 sela plus 1 pundyon. The author explains in detail how 1 1/49th shekel equals 1 sela plus 1 pundyon.

a.      Originally a shekel was silver weighing as much as 320 grains of barley.

b.      At some point the rabbis raised the value of the shekel to the weight of 384 grains of barley.  That way the shekel matched the value of a common coin called a “sela.”

c.       Changing the unit of measure, 1 sela = 4 dinari, 1 dinar = 6 ma’ah, 1 ma’ah = 2 pundyon.  Multiplying that out, 1 sela = 48 pundyon.

d.      Calculating the sela as 48 pundyon works if someone had all that coinage available.  But most people would have needed a money changer.  The money changer would have charged a fee of 1 pundyon, so the real life cost of a sela was 49 pundyon.

e.      Recall that the redemption price is 50 shekel prorated over 49 years.  So the redemption cost per year would be 1 sela plus 1/49th of a sela, or one pundyon. That is the amount the person redeeming the field has to pay per year.

            These redemption options are available to someone who consecrates city land or fields. The owner may redeem that property from Temple ownership at any time. The Torah does not explain whether any special rules apply when someone consecrates inherited city land.  The author says people did not consecrate inherited city land and the Torah does not legislate about unusual cases.  Presumably the owner could redeem that inherited city land under the same rules as an owner could redeem any other inherited city land.

            Property pledged by way of herem generally cannot be redeemed.  That property irrevocably belongs to the recipient cohen.  Mitzvah #358 says someone who designates real estate as herem may not sell that real estate.  Mitzvah #359 says someone who designates real estate as herem may not redeem that real estate.  The same applies to moveable property. If herem property was designated for bedek habayit, it can be redeemed, the proceeds going to bedek habayit.

 

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