Talmud Tips

For the week ending 15 June 2019 / 12 Sivan 5779

Bechorot 56-61

by Rabbi Moshe Newman
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The Carrotless Mother

We learn in a beraita, “The mothers of the young animals would be placed outside the gate of the corral, and their offspring would yearn for their mothers and exit through the gate on their own.”

This is the correct manner described in our sugya for enticing the animals to move in order to be counted when the owner is fulfilling the mitzvah of ma’aser beheima.

The Torah states: “Any tithe of cattle or of the flock; all that pass under the rod — the tenth shall be holy to G-d.” (Vayikra 27:32) This verse teaches the command for a person to count and separate a tenth of the new additions of his new sheep, goats and cattle each year. Each tenth animal is sanctified and is called ma’aser beheima, meaning a tithe of the animals. Just as in the agricultural realm a person tithes his new crops each year, so too must he likewise do so with his yearly “animal harvest.” He takes this tenth to the Beit Hamikdash and its blood and sacrificial parts are put on the Altar. Afterwards, all of the meat of the animal is eaten by the owner in ritual purity in Jerusalem. Just like the mitzvah of ma’aser sheini for his grain and fruits. However, if the tenth animal — the ma’aser beheima — is blemished and unfit to be brought as an offering, it may be eaten in any place and even in ritual impurity.

We are taught in a beraita on our daf how to correctly perform the procedure of how to count and designate each animal that is considered ma’aser beheima. All of the new animal candidates for that year are put into a corral with a narrow exit passage in order to prevent more than one animal from going out at a time. As each one exits the owner counts it. When he reaches the number ten he takes his rod and marks that animal with a streak of vermillion (a red dye). In this manner it is clearly recognizable which ones are ma’aser beheima. These are holy and to be offered as sacrifices in the proper manner.

Since the Torah states “all that pass,” we are taught that that the animal must pass through the exit on its own and not be driven out by the owner. Our gemara discusses the preferred and correct manner to ensure that the animal passes and is not driven out.

One method that is entertained is to placesome food for the animal on the outside of the gate, which would spark their interest and appetite to pass through the gate without being forced out. However, Rav Huna teaches that this technique is not acceptable due to a Rabbinical decree. Food would also attract “undesirables” — i.e. animals that are exempt from tithing — such as ones whose mothers had died before they were born or those that were purchased after the age of seven days.

The correct method which our Sages insisted be followed was to position the mothers of the recently born animals outside of the corral. In this way their offspring would be drawn to them and pass of their own volition through the gate to be counted. The mother served as a type of maternal magnet for their children. And why is this method better than dangling a carrot outside of the gate? Using this maternal method would help ensure that the owner would not include any offspring which never had a mother in his counting. In addition, the owner would remember not to wrongly include purchased animals when he would tithe his young animals (since the majority of young animals which are purchased are purchased without their mothers – Rashi’s manuscript).

  • Bechorot 58b

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