Class Notes - Class #22

Mitzvah #509 requires the cohanim and levi’im to serve in the Temple according to a specific schedule.  In David’s time the cohanim and levi’im were divided into twenty-four groups called “mishmarim.”  Each mishmar served in turn, and each mishmar served for two one-week terms twice a year.  All cohanim and levi’im served during pilgrimage holidays, when the work load at the Temple was greatest.  The source verses, Deut. 18:5-8, describe the levi’im coming to serve, but the midrash halachah explains that the cohanim are included among the levi’im.   

The source verses, Deut. 18:6-8, also seem to say that the levi’im can come serve whenever they want, but the midrash halachah describes the different groups of levi’im bartering among themselves to establish a predictable schedule.  That notion is the source of the shoresh our author provides.  Complex jobs need to be done by many people. But everyone knows that when many people are responsible, often nothing gets done.  For the Temple to function properly there needs to a schedule that identifies who is responsible to accomplish each required task.  That avoids misunderstanding, laziness and disputes.  The pilgrimage holidays, though, require all hands on deck.

Our author describes the system in detail.  One leader was appointed over each mishmar.  That leader divided the mishmar into sub-groups, batei av, each of which was responsible for one day of that mishmar’s week.  The head of each beit av assigned specific tasks to specific individuals.  The mishmar served from one Shabbat to the next.

On pilgrimage holidays, when every cohen and levi could serve in the Temple, some tasks stayed with the designated mishmar, specifically the communal sacrifices and ordinary individual sacrifices.  Some tasks could be done by any cohen, specifically the special individual holiday sacrifices.  Any cohen could eat the lehem hapanim and the special minchah on

An individual cohen could process his own personal sacrifice at any time, even if a different mishmar was on duty at the time.  If a cohen brings a personal sacrifice, he gets to keep the skin.

There was a group of ordinary Jews, called a “ma’amad,” corresponding to each mishmar.  Honest, upstanding worthy people were chosen to represent the entire Jewish people.  They would witness the communal sacrifices, since it seemed disrespectful for a sacrifice to be brought on behalf of someone who did not show up and pay attention.  Each ma’amad had a leader.  Members of the ma’amad on duty in a given week would come to the Temple to witness the sacrifices if they were in Jerusalem, and gather to pray, read the Torah and fast if they were not in Jerusalem.  That provided yet another mechanism to bring a connection with the Temple ritual to parts of Israel far from Jerusalem.

Our author cites Ramban, who does not see this as a distinct mitzvah grounded in the verses Rambam cites.  According to Ramban, the requirement to organize cohanim and levi’im into mishmarim is halachah l’Moshe miSinai, and began with Moses rather than in David’s time.  Permission for the cohanim to negotiate to divide the work is implicit in the source verses, though.

The cohanim receive twenty-four different allocations.  Some of these come from sacrifices and the cohanim eat them in the Temple, so these support the cohanim currently serving in the Temple.  Since these are parts of sacrifices, they consist of meat, oil and breads.  Cohanim may eat some other gifts within Jerusalem but outside the Temple, for example firstborn domestic kosher mammals and first fruits, bikkurim.  We have already encountered many of the other allocations that go to the cohanim:  ma’aser min ha ma’aser given by the levi’im, hallah, money for redeeming a firstborn son, the redemption of a firstborn donkey, herem items where the recipient is not specified, inherited fields dedicated to the Temple and not redeemed in yovel.  Cohanim also get property stolen from a convert that is returned after the convert died if the convert died without heirs, and cohanim get the skins of some of the sacrifices. Cohanim must be tahor to eat some of the food allocations, and families of the cohanim can share some of the allocations.  Mitzvot #506 – 508 define the last three allocations to cohanim.

According to mitzvah #506, when a domestic mammal is ritually slaughtered for ordinary food, the owner of the animal is required to give a cohen the right front leg up to the shoulder, the cheeks and tongue, and the fourth stomach.  Our author explains that this gift to the cohanim was allocated because of the zeal of Pinhas, grandson of Aaron, described in Num. 25.   Some of the Jews had followed the Moabites into idol worship and God ordered Moses to kill those Jews. As the people were mourning those who were killed, a Jewish man had sex with a Midianite woman publically.  Pinhas risked his life to stop them, catching them in the act and running them through with his spear.  God praises Pinhas for his behavior. The cohanim get the leg, cheeks and stomach of animals as a reward for Pinhas’ act.  This is a problematic precedent.  Pinhas may have behaved properly, but unleashing vigilantes to kill anyone they think is misbehaving is inimical to a peaceful, settled society.  The problematic precedent is intrinsic in the Biblical text, not a product of rabbinic interpretation.

The requirement to give the specified animal parts to a cohen applies to animals for ordinary food, not to sacrificial animals.  It applies to domestic mammals but not to wild mammals. That suggests various borderline cases, giving our author the opportunity to get us to practice making close distinctions and to review material we have seen before and see that material in a new context.

The source verse, Deut. 18:3, says the cohanim get the particular enumerated parts of animals “whether an ox whether a sheep.”  That is understood to include goats, the other variety of permitted domestic mammals.  Does this obligation apply to an animal that may be a domestic species or may be a wild species?  The halachah considers such an animal, a “koi,” and decides that the owner of such an animal is required to give the designated parts of a koi to a cohen. This is based on the expansive repetition of the word “im,” “whether,” in the source verse.  Does the obligation apply to a mixed breed animal where both parents are domestic permitted mammals, for example an animal with a goat as one parent and a sheep as the other parent?  The other use of the word “im” is understood to include such a mixed breed.

Does the obligation apply to a mixed breed animal where one parent is a domestic permitted mammal and the other parent is a wild permitted mammal?  That depends on which parent is which.  Earlier we saw a dispute about whether the nature of the father of an animal is relevant to determining the status of the offspring. We have also seen the principle that someone claiming property from someone else doesn’t get the property unless the claimant can prove he or she is entitled to the property.  With those principles in mind, let’s look at the possibilities. If the mother is a domestic mammal and the father is a wild mammal the offspring is at least half a domestic mammal so the owner is obligated to give half the leg, cheeks and stomach to a cohen.  If the mother is a wild animal and the father is domestic animal, things get complicated.  Based on the mother’s status, the half of the animal we know about for sure, the offspring is not subject to the obligation in this mitzvah. The whether the father’s role counts is in dispute.  The owner of the animal could claim that it is up to the cohen to prove he is entitled to the animal, and the owner need not offer the designated parts of the animal unless the cohen can prove entitlement.  Whether the cohen can do that depends on whether the person deciding the case would consider the role of the father or would not consider the role of the father.  If the person deciding the case considers the role of the father animal, the cohen would get half the designated parts based on the father animal being domestic rather than wild. Our author reminds us that his own opinion, following Rif, is that the father does not affect the status of the offspring, so if the case came before our author the owner would get to keep the meat.

There are several unusual features of this allocation to cohanim.  Cohanim get to keep the designated parts of their own animals. Although the cohanim are entitled to the fat around the stomach, the cohanim did not take that fat. The source verse says the cohanim get the designated animal parts from “the people.” Since there is doubt about whether the levi’im are included in “the people,” the cohanim did not take these parts of animals from levi’im. With other agricultural products subject to types of taxation, the produce before the taxes have been allocated is considered tevel and the owner may not use the produce until the taxes have been set aside.  But these animal parts are distinct and easy to identify, almost allocated by their very nature, so the owner of the animal may eat the rest of the meat before giving the designated parts to a cohen.  Our author mentions a contradictory opinion, though. 

Also, the obligation to give the designated animal parts to a cohen falls on men and women.  Our author mentions that the designated animal parts can be given to a male cohen or a female cohen.  The family of the cohen may eat the meat, so if someone gives the designated parts to a woman whose father is a cohen, her family may share the meat even if they are not cohanim.  If there is no cohen available to the owner to take the designated animal parts, the owner may buy back the designated parts for money, eat the designated parts and give the money to a cohen when the opportunity arises.

Our author says there is debate about whether this mitzvah still applies.  He does not say what would prevent it from applying now according to those authorities who think it does not apply.  Our author follows Rif and Ramban, who think the mitzvah continues to apply.  But our author says it is impossible to convince the butchers to comply.  We can almost hear our author sigh in frustration.  The author does not say whether this mitzvah applies only in Israel or elsewhere, but his discussion of when the mitzvah applies seems to imply that the mitzvah applies everywhere.

Someone who owns at least five sheep and shears those sheep for wool is obligated by mitzvah #508 to share the wool with the cohanim.  Cohanim did not get agricultural land or a portion of the spoils when the Jews conquered Israel. Cohanim deserve support from the rest of the Jews to enable the cohanim to devote time to the Temple and to the spiritual needs of the people.  Other gifts include food and money.  Because of this mitzvah, the cohanim are also provided with the raw material from which to make clothing. 

There is no set limit d’oraita for how much the owner of the sheep has to give, but d’rabanan one should give 1/60th  of the total fleece.  The owner can distribute the wool among several cohanim, but must give each cohen enough to make a small garment. Any less would be too trivial an amount to constitute a respectable gift. The owner need not clean or card the wool; the wool can be given in raw form.  The owner need not give wool to a cohen if the wool is too coarse to use for clothing, although the sheep owner must gift a cohen with wool no matter what color the wool is.  This mitzvah applies only in Israel.

Mitzvah #507 requires Jews to set aside a portion of agricultural crops and give that portion to cohanim.  We discussed t’rumah in our overview of agricultural taxes, and now we have the mitzvah in more detail.  The shoresh for this mitzvah reflects what the author has said about elsewhere, that gifts to the cohanim and levi’im allow them to devote more time to spiritual leadership and Temple service.  The people who provide that support are reminded that their sustenance comes from God.

As we saw earlier, d’oraita there is no minimum amount of t’rumah; the farmer can fulfill the obligation by giving even a tiny portion of the crop to a cohen.  D’rabanan the farmer still has discretion on how much to give, but an average person will likely give 1/50th of the harvest.  Other agricultural taxes are measured precisely, so that ma’aser going to levi’im is 10% of the produce remaining after t’rumah has been removed. But the farmer allocating t’rumah should not measure precisely, but should estimate how much is allocated.  The farmer ought not place the t’rumah in a vessel with a known volume, as in doing so the farmer would be measuring the t’rumah.  But the farmer may use those known-volume vessels if the farmer only fills them part way.

A farmer may designate part of the crop as t’rumah even if the farmer is not in the same place as the crop.  And the farmer may designate another Jew or an eved c’na’ani as an agent to allocate t’rumah and other agricultural taxes from the farmer’s crops.  If t’rumah gets mixed up with other food, the t’rumah is only batel if there are more than 101 parts of other food to the amount of t’rumah.  The author does not discuss the complex questions related to the status of ordinary food mixed with too much t’rumah for the t’rumah to be batel.

D’oraita the obligation of t’rumah applies to grain, wine and olive oil.  The rabbis extended it to other cultivated human foods.  The author outlined this in more detail in mitzvah #395.  By now we have learned to expect issues that define the limits: what if a crop serves as both human food and animal food?  If the crop is eaten by people in times of famine but not at other times?  If the crop was planted for some other purpose but the farmer later decided to use it for food?  If the crop was planted for seed rather than for food but the seed would later be used to grow food?  If a food plant grew wild but once it started growing the farmer protected and tended it? If some parts of the plant are used for food but some parts are used for other purposes?

Once the farmer give the t’rumah to a cohen, the t’rumah may be eaten by the cohen and all members of the household, adults and children, children-in-law, slaves, even domestic animals.  Again there are predictable definitional issues:  May a wife who has returned to her birth family eat the t’rumah?  May a run-away slave eat the t’rumah?

As with many other mitzvot we have seen, the d’oraita obligation of t’rumah only applies in Israel when all the tribes of the Jews are settled there.  What area counts as Israel turns out to be a very complicated question.  There are lots of possibilities:  the land promised to the Jews by God, the land Joshua hoped to conquer, the land Joshua actually did conquer, the land conquered by David and/or Solomon and incorporated into their kingdoms, the land conquered by David and/or Solomon but not incorporated into their kingdoms, land conquered by local groups of Jews but not by the nation as a whole, the land occupied when the Jews returned to Israel in Ezra’s time. 

Our author works hard to clarify what land is considered Israel and what isn’t.  He quotes Rambam for the position that Israel is defined for the purpose of agricultural taxes in relation to the area conquered by Joshua.  Those same borders will be definitive in messianic times when the Jews reconquer Israel. Later in this essay the author says that Israel includes land which a king, judge or prophet conquered with the support of the majority of Jews.  He specifically excludes areas conquered by a sub-group of Jews, without national support, even if that land was within the land area promised by God to Abraham.  And even later the author says that Israel consists of the territory Joshua allocated to the tribes. Even if the Jews did not conquer that land in the initial invasion, the land later conquered by sub-groups would nevertheless be included.

The land was “sanctified” as officially Israel by Joshua. But the Jewish chain of possession of Israel was interrupted by the Babylonian exile.  When Ezra led some Jews back to Israel they reinstated the sanctification for the areas they settled.  The author says that sanctification remained continuous since then.  This is a halachic construct, not a historical claim.  But the Jews under Ezra did not resettle the entire area that had been conquered earlier by Joshua. But d’rabanan the agricultural taxes and shmittah remained in effect in those areas.  Our author says that was a rabbinic attempt to make sure there was enough to support poor people.

David conquered some land not included in the land God promised Abraham.  He conquered that land without having conquered all the land included in that original promise.  That land is grouped under the name Syria, and includes areas in Syria, Iran and other places.  This land has an intermediate status, treated as Israel for some halachic purposes but treated as foreign lands for other purposes.  Our author notes that had David fully conquered the land promised to Abraham and then conquered more land, that land would have become part of Israel for all purposes.

 The rabbis extended the obligation to allocate t’rumah and ma’aser to geographical areas beyond Israel.  Babylonia (Iran) was included because there was a large Jewish population there and Jews often travelled between Babylonia and Israel.  Areas near Israel were also included: Egypt, Moab, Ammon.  The rabbis also extended the obligations of agricultural taxes to “Syria.”

The author ends his discussion of this topic with a detailed description of the border of the land of Israel in Joshua’s time, from Rekem to the Mediterranean and from Acco to Ashkelon.  This is no theoretical GPS map-based description.  Rather the author envisions someone walking on a road with the land to the right foreign territory and the land to the left part of Israel.  Despite the details, though, the definition of Israel is obscure.  It is hard to reconstruct place identification from antiquity. There are too many rules, potentially in conflict, to lead to a clear definition. Those rules reflect a disparity between what the Jews hoped and expected would happen and what actually happened. This complexity has implications for issues of agricultural taxes.  Some think it also has implications for political issues about the borders of the modern state of Israel.  We should not mistake this for a clear-cut simple definition.

Rambam also holds that d’oraita the mitzvah of t’rumah is no longer in effect, if only because the Jews were not living in Israel. But the author quotes Rabbi Avraham ben David who disagrees with Rambam and thinks that d’oraita the mitzvah of t’rumah remains in effect in Israel.  The author says Rabbi Avraham follows Rabbi Yohanan in Talmud Yevamot 81a, who says that the mitzvah of trumah is still in effect.  But the author does not explain Rabbi Avraham’s opinion in enough detail for us to know his exact reason for disagreeing with Rambam.  But under Rabbi Avraham’s approach several mitzvot our author said no longer apply d’oraita would be considered still in effect: various mitzvot about t‘rumah, ma’aser rishon and tevel, and the mitzvah that requires allocating agricultural taxes in the proper order.  The author says he agrees with Rabbi Avraham but, as usual, he follows Rambam’s formulation.  In explaining why he follows Rambam, our author says that is was Rambam’s careful and systematic count of the mitzvot that inspired our author in his own writing.