Class Notes - Class #18

Earlier in our study we saw a mitzvah that requires us to set aside agricultural taxes in the required order.  The first of those agricultural taxes is “t’rumah,” also called “t’rumah g’dolah.”   The farmer gives the t’rumah g’dolah to a cohen of his or her choice.  Many members of the cohen’s household may eat the t’rumah.  T’rumah g’dolah must be kept tahor.  Mitzvot #279 – 284 cover some of the rules of t’rumah g’dolah.

 The author has an extended discussion of t’rumah g’dolah in mitzvah #507.  There he explains what produce is subject to t’rumah g’dolah, where produce subject to t’rumah g’dolah grows, and how these mitzvot work in the absence of the Temple.  Thus, his discussion here is spotty.  (The author says in mitzvah #284 that he plans to cover the topic in full later. That confirms again that he has planned ahead for the rest of the work.)

            These are agricultural taxes a farmer must pay:

1.        T’rumah g’dolah goes to a cohen of the farmer’s choice.

2.      “Ma’aser rishon” goes to a levi of the farmer’s choice.  The levi gives a portion of the received ma’aser rishon a cohen; this is called “ma’aser min hama’aser” or “t’rumat ma’aser.”

3.      In certain years of the seven-year shmittah cycle, the farmer takes “ma’aser sheni.”  As we saw earlier, the farmer must take the ma’aser sheni to Jerusalem and eat it there.  In other years of the shmittah cycle, the farmer takes “ma’aser ani,” which the farmer gives to poor people.  No agricultural taxes are taken from food that grows during shmittah.


When a farmer harvests produce, that produce is called “tevel.”  Mitzvah #284 prohibits anyone from eating tevel until all the agricultural taxes have been set aside.  This is analogous to the payroll taxes that are taken off an employee’s pay before the employee gets the rest of the pay to spend; the taxes come off the top.

Someone who eats a k’zayit of tevel is punishable with “death at the hands of heaven” if the t’rumah g’dolah or t’rumat ma’aser has not been allocated.  If those two have been allocated but the ma’aser rishon, ma’aser sheni or ma’aser ani has not yet been allocated, the farmer is punishable by malkos. Someone who eats a k’zayit of tevel d’rabanan is punishable with makat mardut.  (We will find out later what produce is subject to agricultural taxes d’oraita and d’rabanan.)  The rules for punishment for eating liquids extruded from tevel produce are complex and are better left for later as well.

In general when a small amount of some forbidden material gets mixed into a large amount of permitted material, the small amount will be batel and will not contaminate the entire mixture.  But tevel is one of three exceptions; we are forbidden to eat a mixture of produce that contains even the smallest amount of tevel.  (The other two exceptions are hametz on Passover and wine from which a libation to an idol has been poured.) The rabbis derive this by analogy to the basic rule of t’rumah g’dolah: the farmer can fulfill the obligation to give t’rumah g’dolah from even a huge amount of produce by giving even the tiniest amount to a cohen.  Since a tiny amount of t’rumah g’dolah fulfills the mitzvah, the smallest amount of tevel also contaminates even a huge amount of produce.

The author says the agricultural taxes are applicable to produce grown in “Israel when the Jews are there.”  If produce grown in Israel is exported without the agricultural taxes having been taken, a Jew who wants to eat that produce must take the taxes even though that person is not in Israel.  The author will define the boundaries of Israel in mitzvah #507.  The author cites Talmud K’tubot 25a for the notion that “all the Jews are there” means all, not just some of the Jews live in Israel.  Our author does not expand on what that means.  It is hard to fathom how that rule could be taken literally.

The author also says this mitzvah applies to all Jews, men and women, cohanim, leviim and ordinary Jews.  We will wait to see if he describes in a later mitzvah/essay how cohanim and leviim did these mitzvot.  Later in the essay the author says that d’oraita the prohibition on eating tevel only applies when the Temple is functioning.  But he says other authorities disagree. 

The author considers several doubtful cases.  In this passage the author gives us more practice in distinguishing cases of d’oraita and d’rabanan, and of various issues of safek:

In areas that are safek erez yisrael, where there is doubt about whether the area is or is not part of Israel, we rule strictly and require farmers to allocate agricultural taxes.  This is a case of safek d’oraita, and our author has been drilling us on that rule for a while now.

In areas that are safek erez yisrael, the rabbis required farmers to take agricultural taxes that were imposed d’rabanan.  This violates the general rule that we decide doubtful cases leniently if the rule at stake is d’rabanan,safek d’rabanan l’kuah.”  Since this is rabbinic law, the rabbis can construct the rule any way they want.


Mitzvah #507 requires us to take t’rumah g’dolah from produce and give it to cohanim.  The author saves his detailed discussion of t’rumah for that essay. The remaining mitzvot in this series tell us what happens after that.  Most of these mitzvot define categories of people who may not eat the t’rumah.  The author is not as consistent as he usually is about keeping information about a given mitzvah in the essay about that mitzvah.  In mitzvah #280 the author explains who may eat t’rumah that has been given to a cohen:  the cohen, his wife, his children (sons and unmarried daughters), non-Jewish slaves he has purchased, and the cohen’s domestic animals.  We will refine these categories as we get go through this series of mitzvot.

Mitzvah #280 prohibits anyone who is not a cohen or a designated member of a cohen’s family from eating the t’rumah.  The author says the same rule applies bikkurim.

We get more information in this essay about which members of the cohen’s family can eat t’rumah.  The family members need not be at home; a slave or wife who runs away may still eat t’rumah.  D’oraita, a woman who has undergone eirusin with a cohen but not nissuin counts as the cohen’s wife and may eat t’rumah.  D’rabanan, though, she may not eat t’rumah until nissuin.  Mitzvah #281 teaches that an eved ivri of a cohen may not eat t’rumah. But an eved c’na’ani who was purchased by the cohen may eat t’rumah.  If that eved c’na’ani himself buys an eved, that second eved may also eat t’rumah.

Even within those categories there are sub-groups of people who may not eat t’rumah.  Mitzvah #282 says a male who is not circumcised may not eat t’rumah or other holy foods.  That is true whether a man is choosing to ignore the mitzvah that requires circumcision or even if the man is required to remain uncircumcised, for example where the man’s older brothers died because of circumcision.  A man who is circumcised but appears to be uncircumcised may not eat t’rumah, but that is a rule d’rabanan.  A person of indeterminate gender may not eat t’rumah either.

There is no specific verse that articulates this prohibition. The author explains two possible sources for a Torah prohibition.  He cites Rabbi Akiva, who interpreted the repeated word “ish ish,” “every man,” in Lev. 22:4 to prohibit an uncircumcised man from eating t’rumah.  That is a bit odd, since that verse prohibits a cohen who is tamei from eating t’rumah.  Our author also quotes Rambam at length for his explanation that the prohibition is derived by g’zeirah shavah to the verse that prohibits a man who is not circumcised from eating the Passover sacrifice. 

The author points out, as he has several times before, that Rambam’s general principles object to enumerating something derived through a g’zeirah shavah as a distinct mitzvah.  This seems to be another exception based on traditions identified in earlier sources.  The author says yet again that Ramban objects to Rambam’s position. Despite the fact that our author clearly sides with Ramban, he never does explain the substance of Ramban’s position.  There is little new content in this passage.  But the author’s attitude is striking.  He says Ramban has seven full pages of refutations for Rambam’s position, and seven pages hand written on parchment is a big deal.   He says that the Rambam’s opinion about what counts as a mitzvah is overwhelmingly correct, “sweet and delightful.”  Rambam’s rule about not counting things derived by g’zeirah shavah and other standard interpretive tools seems to be a “forced approach.” But the author stops short of affirming that position out of respect from so great and respected a scholar.  Although he thinks Rambam is wrong on this point, he speaks carefully about the erroneous opinion of a scholar he respects so thoroughly. 

Mitzvah #283 prohibits a woman who is a halalah from eating t’rumah even if she is otherwise qualified to eat t’rumah because of her place in a priestly family.  She also may not eat the parts of a shlamim sacrifice that ordinary Jews are required to give to a cohen. If the woman was the daughter of a cohen who married a non-cohen, she may not eat t’rumah or the designated parts of a shlamim while she is married; while married to a non-cohen she loses her status as a cohenet.  That fits with a patrilocal society where wives typically live with and become part of their husbands’ families. If she is divorced or widowed, she may resume eating t’rumah but still may not eat the designated parts of a shlamim. 

Finally, mitzvah #279 instructs that a cohen who is tamei may not eat t’rumah.  Even within a priestly family, only those who are tahor at any given time may eat t’rumah.  If members of a particular priestly family get a substantial amount of food in the form of t’rumah, that family will have an incentive to be tahor whenever they can.

The author reminds us that in most cases the cohen does not become tahor on immersing in a mikvah, but only at nightfall.  He lists questions for further study that involve a cohen who is in danger of becoming tamei while eating t’rumah and whether the rules for cohanim eating t’rumah are different in Israel and outside of Israel.  Further, the author recognizes that tumah and taharah are extremely complex and many otherwise observant Jews might not have mastered all of the details.  Even poorly educated cohanim might not know how to distinguish tumah and taharah.  Thus, the author says, farmers should give their t’rumah to cohanim who are well educated about those topics.

The author makes a careful distinction in discussing the punishment for breaking this mitzvah.  He says that a cohen, male or female, who voluntarily eats t’rumah when he or she is tamei is punishable by death at the hands of Heaven.  That cohen is also punishable with malkos.  Distinguish that, though, from a tahor cohen who eats t’rumah that has become tamei.  That cohen is not punishable at all.


Mitzvah #286 requires that all sacrificial animals be free of blemishes. Like other aspects of the Temple and its rituals, physically perfect animals contribute to the overall atmosphere.  The author says people will take sacrifices less seriously if the people feel they can bring inferior animals.  The author relies on the discussion he provided about physical defects in cohanim to explain relevant defects in animals.  The rules for defects in birds are much more lenient than the rules for defects in mammals.

 Mitzvot #285, 287 – 290 and 292 play out that notion as a set of prohibitions:

#285 prohibits consecrating a blemished animal as a sacrifice.  When someone designates a specific animal as a sacrifice, that act of designation limits what the owner can do subsequently with that animal; once the animal is designated as a sacrifice it maintains that status.  This mitzvah prohibits even designating a blemished animal.  This mitzvah applies to men and women at all times, so it continues to apply now.  One would normally expect that violating this mitzvah would not be punishable since the violation consists only of speech, but the author says Rambam considers this an exception and thinks it is punishable by malkos.

When someone has consecrated a non-blemished animal, mitzvah #287 prohibits us from making a blemish in that animal.  The author says such an action would be showing disrespect to the Temple ritual.  We noted earlier that once an animal has been consecrated as a sacrifice it stays consecrated.  The author notes here that if someone tries to exchange the consecrated animal for a different animal, both animals end up consecrated.  Thus, one could violate this mitzvah by making a blemish in the “exchange” animal as well.

Mitzvah #289 prohibits ritually slaughtering a blemished animal with the intent for the animal to be a sacrifice.  Since the Temple is no longer extant, this mitzvah does not apply now.

Mitzvah #288 prohibits sprinkling the blood of a blemished animal on the altar.  Mitzvah #290 prohibits burning the emurim of blemished animals on the altar.  These mitzvot only apply when the Temple is extant. Only cohanim would normally have done those two tasks, so it would seem these prohibitions apply only to cohanim.  But the author does not specify: he might think that if a non-cohen did those actions that non-cohen would break these mitzvot.

Mitzvah #292 prohibits bringing a blemished animal as a sacrifice on behalf of a non-Jew.  Non-Jews were welcome to bring voluntary sacrifices in the Temple, and as to blemishes those sacrifices follow the same rules as sacrifices of Jews.  The author says this mitzvah applies to cohanim, whose job it is to process the sacrifices, when the Jews are settled in their land and when the Temple is functioning.

Yet again we have an analysis that lays out how someone can bring a blemished sacrifice and end up being subject to four sets of malkos.  That applies if a cohen consecrated a blemished animal, slaughtered that animal as a sacrifice, sprinkled its blood on the altar, and then burned its entrails.




The next several mitzvot also relate to animals.

Mitzvah #291 prohibits castrating male people or animals.  Although the source verse, Lev. 22:24, would seem to limit this prohibition to Israel, the midrash halachah reinterprets the Biblical language so that the prohibition applies everywhere.

            The author relates this mitzvah to the very first mitzvah, “p’ru u’r’vu,” “be fruitful and multiply.”  Castration makes it impossible for a man to fulfill that mitzvah and thus shows disdain for God’s plan for the world He created.

            This mitzvah clearly prohibits castrating males; a woman can violate this mitzvah by castrating a male.  It also prohibits surgically sterilizing women.   The author says a woman may take an oral medication to make her sterile.  (Other authorities disagree with our author on this point.)  Connecting to the shoresh, the author says this prohibition is grounded in the mitzvah to be fruitful and multiply and, as we have seen, that mitzvah does not apply to women.  It is possible the author would rule differently under modern conditions, but he does not say anything that would lead to that conclusion. 

            Any method of castration violates this mitzvah; the author gives several clear examples.  If two people both participate in the act of castration, both are liable.  But the author distinguishes between someone who does a direct castration, who is punishable for violating this mitzvah, from someone who does an indirect castration, for example using drugs, who is not punishable.

Jews are prohibited from asking non-Jews to castrate an animal for them, or even to hint that they want the non-Jew to do that.  However, if a non-Jew castrates an animal a Jew may get benefit from that animal.  That has practical impact: if a Jew wants to buy a male pet and would like that pet to be neutered, buy a pet that is already neutered.  The author says a Jew who drops hints that motivate a non-Jew to castrate an animal is doing something only worthless cheats would do.  Further, the Jew is subject to a penalty.  The Jew may not keep the animal.  Instead he or she must sell the animal to another Jew, although the sale can be to any adult even a close relative.

            You may have noted that when the author refers to Talmudic passages he refers to the tractate and chapter of that tractate.  If the edition you are using has page numbers, the page numbers have been added by the editor.  Standard pagination of the Talmud was a product of printing, so our author did not have uniform page numbers to refer to.

            Mitzvah #293 requires that all sacrificial animals be at least eight days old.  The implication is that it is forbidden to bring an animal less than eight days old as a sacrifice. A sacrifice of an animal less than eight days old is invalid.  This is a “lav haba b’chalal aseh,” a prohibition implied by a positive mitzvah.  We have seen this category before, and the author reminds us that someone who violates this mitzvah is not punishable.

            The author says this requirement is another aspect of the perfection of all Temple rituals.  We are not sure a newborn animal will survive, so sacrificing that animal does not meet the required standard of perfection.

            The same rule applies to birds as to mammals, and the author explains that birds that are too old are also disqualified.  Sacrificial animals must be born normally rather than by Caesarian section or by being removed from the mother after the mother has been slaughtered.  

            The author says this mitzvah applies to cohanim, since they offer up sacrifices.  He also quotes Rambam, who thinks this mitzvah prohibits consecrating an animal that is too young as well as sacrificing that animal.  This is parallel to the case of someone consecrating an animal with a temporary blemish.  If this mitzvah prohibits consecrating an underage animal, then the mitzvah applies to all Jews as well as to cohanim.