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The Essential Nature of Bikkurim (2)

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The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

Special Holiday Shiur



Bikkurim as a Sacrifice

By Rav Moshe Taragin


In last year's Shavuot shiur ("The Essential Nature of Bikkurim"), I itemized various halakhot which indicate that bikkurim enjoy the status of a korban (sacrifice). Although the fruits are not actually placed upon the altar, and no laws govern the location in which they must be eaten, several other factors indicate that bikkurim possess a pseudo-status as a korban. This shiur will explore further manifestations of this principle.


There are several disqualifications normally reserved for korbanot which bikkurim might share. For example, the gemara in Pesachim presents the halakha known as "mashkeh Yisrael:" any substance brought upon the altar must be permissible for consumption. This halakha is derived from a verse in Yechezkel (45) discussing korbanot (see Pesachim 48a), and it naturally applies only to actual korbanot. Yet, the gemara in Zevachim (88) extends the principle to bikkurim (at least according to Rashi's explanation), further attesting to its korban status.

Another unique korban disqualification is the halakha of "etnan zona." Based on a verse in Ki Tetze, one cannot offer as a korban anything that was tendered as wages for prostitution. According to the Yerushalmi (Bikkurim 1:6), this same halakha applies to bikkurim.

Yet another korban disqualification which pertains to bikkurim is the law of "ma'us" (literally, "repugnant"). Certain items may not be offered as korban even though no halakhic provision prohibits deriving benefit from them, because they are simply repugnant (either due to physical features or to having been used in the context of idolatry). For example, the gemara in Avoda Zara (46-47) disqualifies for use as korbanot anything which was worshipped as avoda zara, even if it did not thereby attain the status of assur be-hana'a (something from which it is forbidden to derive benefit).

The Yerushalmi (Bikkurim 1:2) debates the application of the law of ma'us to bikkurim. Ultimately, the Yerushalmi determines that its application hinges on the dispute between Rabbanan and Rabbi Yehuda as to whether bikkurim possess the status of "kodshei mizbei'ach" (items dedicated as korbanot). As discussed in the previous shiur, the Rabbanan require that bikkurim be distributed to the shift of Kohanim serving during its delivery, in the same manner as korbanot are distributed. As the Yerushalmi records, Rabbanan view bikkurim as kodshei mizbei'ach. Rabbi Yehuda, however, does not require this distribution scheme, ostensibly because he does not view bikkurim as a form of korban. According to the Yerushalmi, the question of the applicability of ma'us to bikkurim depends on this very same dispute.


Several mishnayot in Masekhet Bikkurim discuss the status of bikkurim brought from stolen fruits. In 1:2, for example, the mishna addresses the situation of one who steals land. He cannot recite the parasha of bikkurim ("Arami Oved Avi"), since he cannot declare that these fruits come from "the land You gave me." He does, however, bring the bikkurim themselves, since land cannot be legally stolen. Fruits that grew on "stolen" land do not bear any halakhic defects, since the land is not legally considered stolen.

The gemara (Bava Batra 81a) cites an opinion (disputed by others) that one brings bikkurim even from purchased fruit, and not just from fruit which one personally grows. According to this opinion, what happens if a person actually steals fruit? The Ramban (ibid.) explicitly invalidates such bikkurim on the basis of "mitzva ha-ba'a ba-aveira:" a mitzva which was performed through the agency of a sinful act is invalid. Yet, according to several Rishonim, the principle of "mitzva ha-ba'a ba-aveira" applies only to mitzvot bearing halakhic resemblance to korbanot (either korbanot themselves, or mitzvot such as lulav and etrog which are likened to korbanot). Accordingly, if "mitzva ha-ba'a ba-averia" applies to bikkurim, we might view it as well as a form of korban.

In truth, however, the proof from the Ramban can easily be challenged in light of his own view regarding "mitzva ha-ba'a ba-aveira," applying it to all mitzvot (see Ramban to Pesachim 35). In general, though, the relevance of the "mitzva ha-ba'a ba-aveira" principle would further confirm bikkurim's status as korban.


The mishna (Bikkurim 1:10) claims that bikkurim cannot be brought prior to Shavuot. We might have understood this as a special halakha governing the timing of the mitzva of bikkurim. Indeed, the Rambam (Hilkhot Bikkurim 2:6) cites a special verse indicating that this is a local halakha.

By contrast, the Rash mi-Shantz, in his commentary to this mishna, attributes this halakha to the general rule forbidding the offering of any korbanot prior to the bringing of the "shtei ha-lechem" (two loaves) on Shavuot. Since bikkurim are a korban, they, too, are bound by the general provision prohibiting the offering of korbanot before Shavuot.

Conceivably, this question as to why bikkurim cannot be brought prior to Shavuot would affect women's obligation in bikkurim. On the surface, we would classify the obligation of bikkurim as a "mitzvat asei she-ha-zeman gerama" (time-bound mitzva), from which women are normally excused. After all, it cannot be brought before Shavuot. The Turei Even, however, claims that since this limitation is not inherent to the definition of bikkurim, but rather a consequence of the pre-"shetei ha-lechem" rule, we cannot consider bikkurim a "zeman gerama" and therefore women might be obligated.


Finally, the gemara (Bava Batra 81b) discusses the situation of safek bikkurim (fruits whose status as bikkurim is uncertain). The gemara is concerned about the delivery of these fruits to the Temple. If they are not real bikkurim, then they lack the status of hekdesh (sanctified items), and there is a biblical prohibition against bringing non-hekdesh items into the Temple.

Tosafot take this concern literally, and note that since bikkurim are brought before the altar, this korban-type prohibition would apply to them. The Rashbam, however, cites an opinion that this prohibition does not really apply, and the gemara's only concern involves a rabbinic decree disallowing the treatment of safek bikkurim as bikkurim. It is possible to understand that Tosafot and the Rashbam debate the degree to which bikkurim can be viewed, and hence treated, as a korban.




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