Demai, Chapter Seven, Mishnah Eight



In this mishnah a person has ten rows of jugs each containing ten jugs of wine, and he wants to tithe them.  However, he makes an unclear statement as to which of the jugs will be tithe, leaving the mishnah (and subsequently us) to try to figure out which row or which jugs he might have meant. 


Mishnah Eight

1)      One who had ten rows each containing ten jugs of wine, and said: “One exterior row   shall be tithe,” and it is not known which row [he meant], he must take two jugs [each from the ends of] a diagonal line.  

2)      [If he had said:] “One half of one exterior row shall be tithe” and it is not known which half row [he meant], he must take four jugs from the four corners.  

3)      [If he had said:] “One row shall be tithe,” and it is not known which row [he meant], he must take one [whole] row in a diagonal line.  

4)      [If he had said:] “Half of one row shall be tithe,” and it is not known which half row [he meant], he must take two rows in a diagonal line.  

5)      [If he had said:]  “One jug shall be tithe,” and it is not known which jug [he meant],he must take from every jug.



Section one:  In this case he declared that one of the exterior rows should be tithe, but since there are four exterior rows, we can’t be sure which he meant.  The problem is that if he doesn’t take out the terumat maaser, he can’t drink any of the wine.  This holds true for all five scenarios in the mishnah.

What he must do is take two jugs that are at the corners, that is at the end of the diagonal lines crossing the square.  Each jug at the end of the row counts as the end of two rows because it is at the corner. Thus, if he takes the northwestern jug and the southeastern jug, he has taken at least one jug from each of the rows.  He can sell these two jugs to a priest for the price of one jug, because one jug, which is terumat maaser, he has to give to the priest for free. 

Section two:  In this case he said that one half of one exterior row should be tithe. Evidently, there are some jugs on the outside rows that are twice as big as those inside, so that five of them can cover tithes for the whole lot. The problem is that there are eight half rows. In this case, he has to take four jugs, one jug from each corner, to make sure that he has covered all eight half rows.  Again, he can sell the four to a priest, subtracting the price of one for the terumat maaser that he owes the priest in any case.

Section three:  In this case, he makes one row tithe, but we don’t know which. What he must do is take one diagonal row of ten jugs in order to make sure that he gets at least one from each horizontal or vertical row. He sells them to the priest, again subtracting the price of one.

Section four: If he says half of one row, he will have to make two diagonal lines (an X), one going from the northwest corner to the southeast and the other from the northeast to the southwest.  This way he can ensure that he gets one jug from each half row.  He sells the twenty jugs to a priest, subtracting one.

Section five: The worst case scenario is that he has made one jug tithe but he doesn’t know which one it is.  Now there is potential terumat maaser in any of the jugs, so they must all be sold to the priest, who will end up paying less than their market value.  As in all other cases, one of the jugs must be given to the priest for free. 


Congratulations!  We have finished Demai!

It is a tradition at this point to thank God for helping us finish learning the tractate and to commit ourselves to going back and relearning it, so that we may not forget it and so that its lessons will stay with us for all of our lives.

I admit—this was not an easy tractate. The laws of demai are connected to the laws of terumah and tithes, which we haven’t even learned yet, making a difficult tractate even more difficult.   What I thought was very interesting in this tractate was the ways in which the rabbis used the issue of properly tithing to separate those who observed these laws from those who did not, yet still made sure that these groups could live together in the same society.  As firmly as they believed in upholding the Torah’s laws, they did not want to see Jews completely unable to live in the same communities.  They also believed that a person has a responsibility to make sure that his actions don’t cause others to transgress. That is why one cannot sell untithed produce to a person who is known not to tithe. While we may not be so aware of these laws today, the problems that the rabbis faced may not have been all that different.   

Tomorrow we begin Tractate Kilayim.