Talmud pages

Bava Kamma 110

24 gifts for the priests.

Yesterday, we learned that if a thief steals from a convert who has no heirs, then lies about it and wishes to make restitution after the owner has died, the thief’s only recourse is to take the value of the stolen item plus one-fifth and give it to the priests of the Temple. The thief must, in addition, bring a guilt offering.

Today’s daf explores many possible questions that arise from this scenario. For example, what if the thief dies before giving the money to the priests — do his children inherit it? (Yes.) And what if the thief is himself a priest — can he keep what he stole? (No.) Must the priests split the windfall evenly? (Yes, it’s equitably shared among all priests on duty.) Lastly:

Rava raises a dilemma: What is the status of priests with regard to the restitution for robbery of a convert? Are they considered heirs of the convert or are they recipients of gifts?

What, asks Rava, is the legal status of the money that the thief hands over: Is it a gift or is it an inheritance? (The latter possibility is ironic in light of the fact that the thief is only giving money to the priests because the convert has no heirs.)

You might be wondering why this even matters. The rabbis ultimately decide that the primary nafka mina — practical difference — between declaring the payment has the status of a gift or the status of an inheritance is that gifts do not require the recipient to separate a tithe

Like the other questions on today’s daf, this one too has a clear answer: It’s a gift. The rabbis easily derive this from a beraita (an early teaching) that says such payments are one of 24 different kinds of gifts that priests receive.

In all, this is a satisfyingly decisive daf insofar as the questions raised are answered, and in fairly short order. It’s less satisfying, perhaps, since the scenarios are so dizzyingly specific that the given answers are exceedingly unlikely to ever require application. In the end, it’s the beraita which lists the 24 gifts given to the priests, also found in Tosefta Challah 2:7–10, that grabs my attention. 

The gifts are arranged according to the places the priests are allowed to eat them. Ten are so sacred they are consumed only in the Temple, four in the holy city of Jerusalem, and the final ten anywhere in the promised land. The beraita provides details for all 24 gifts, from various kinds of animal and grain offerings to firstfruits to the showbread of the Temple to firstborn animals. The last item on this list is, of course, payment for robbery of a convert who died without heirs. 

The sheer abundance of gifts is also a reminder of just how busy the Temple was in ancient times, with myriad sacrifices that served individual and communal needs. It was, in its day, what religiously sustained the entire Jewish community and its relationship to God. This list, in miniature, supports a larger claim we find at the beginning of the beraita:

Anyone who fulfills the mitzvah of giving the gifts of the priesthood is considered as if he fulfills the entire Torah … and anyone who violates the mitzvah of giving the gifts of the priesthood is considered as if he violates the entire Torah.

Famously, elsewhere in rabbinic literature we encounter enthusiastic claims that Torah study or prayer or gemilut chasadim (good deeds) can replace the bygone Temple sacrifices. Here we see an opposite claim: The Temple sacrifices can substitute for the entire body of mitzvot. Turns out, there are many paths to divine service.

Read all of Bava Kamma 110 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on February 20th, 2024. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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