Bikkurim, Chapter Three, Mishnah Twelve

 

Introduction

This mishnah, the last of the chapter, discusses the ramifications of the fact that the bikkurim belong to the priest and they are his property, a rule we learned in 2:1.

 

Mishnah Twelve

1)      In what respect did they say that bikkurim are the property of the priest?

a)      In that he can purchase with bikkurim slaves and land and unclean beasts, and a creditor [of his] may take them for his debt, and his wife for her ketubah.

2)      As may be done with a Torah scroll.

3)      Rabbi Judah says: bikkurim may be given only to [a priest that is] a haver (an associate) and as a favor.

4)      But the sages say: they are given to the men of the mishmar, and they divide them among themselves as [they do] with all other consecrated objects.

 

Explanation

Section one: The priest can sell or barter his bikkurim as he pleases. He can buy anything he wants with them. They count as his money and therefore if he owes money to a creditor or to his wife to pay off her ketubah, the creditor or wife can collect from bikkurim that were given to the priest. Of course, even after he sells them or gives them to a creditor the rules governing the eating of bikkurim still apply. Only priests could eat them, and they would need to be eaten in a state of ritual purity.

Section two: Technically, a Torah scroll may also be sold in order to buy something else or used in the collection of a debt. However, the rabbis said that anyone who sells a Torah scroll will never see a blessing. Perhaps the mishnah also wants to make that negative comparison with selling a Torah, as if to say, yes, one can sell bikkurim, just as one can sell a Torah, but one who does so will never see a blessing.

Another reading of this mishnah says not “as may be done with a Torah” but “and a Torah scroll.” This would mean that one can use bikkurim to buy a Torah scroll. However, it is unlikely that this version is original. After all, if you can use bikkurim to buy slaves etc., then why would you think you couldn’t use them to buy a Torah scroll.

Section three: Rabbi Judah says that one can give bikkurim only to a priest known to scrupulously observe the purity laws. Such a priest is called a “haver” which in rabbinic terminology is the opposite of an “am haaretz,” one who is suspected of not observing the purity laws or properly tithing his produce.

Rabbi Judah also holds that one can choose which priest he gives his bikkurim to. When he gives the bikkurim to this priest, the priest may consider it a favor, and perhaps return the favor at some later point. However, the priest may not pay for the bikkurim.

Section four: The other rabbis disagree as to how bikkurim are divided among the priests. In their opinion bikkurim are divided in the same way as are other consecrated objects—whatever mishmar, priestly watch, is on duty in the Temple at that time receives them. A person does not have a choice as to which priest receives his bikkurim. The mishmar would decide which priest is trustworthy to eat the bikkurim while in a state of purity, just as they do with other consecrated objects such as sacrifices.

 

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