Today’s daf gives us a small glimpse into the sociological makeup of the Jewish community in Israel in mishnaic times.
Let’s introduce the characters. First, there are priests, who were given gifts of grain, wine and oil (known as terumah) that had to be eaten in a state of ritual purity. Then comes the haver (literally “friend”), a term the Talmud uses to describe a class of people who are very careful with their observance of purity laws. And finally, the am ha’aretz (literally “people of the land”), which probably includes most everyone else. In some texts, am ha’aretz is used disparagingly to refer to someone ignorant or even antagonistic toward the rabbis. But as we’ll see, that’s not quite the case here.
These categories come into play as the Gemara continues its discussion of the laws of ritual purity. On today’s daf, we learn that some of these laws pertain differently to members of these various groups.
Here’s the mishnah:
In Judea, all people are trusted with regard to the purity of consecrated wine and oil all the days of the year. And during the period of the winepress and olive press, even with regard to the purity of terumah.
According to the mishnah, all people — not only the stringent haver, but even the less scrupulous amha’aretz — are trusted to protect the sanctity of oil and wine designated for use in the Temple. But for terumah, which is protected by a higher standard of purity, the amha’aretz is trusted only during the pressing season when the batches are fresh. At this time of the year, farmers purify their vessels for the new wine and oil so they can parcel out gifts for the priests. But over time, it’s likely that the average farmer will let down their guard and allow their produce to become impure.
Unlike the stereotype of the antagonistic am ha’aretz, the farmer described on today’s daf is mindful of purity laws. First, they maintain a high level of seriousness all year long for food destined for the Temple — so much so, the mishnah tells us later, that if the farmer claims to have mixed Temple gifts and priestly gifts, then the whole vat is considered pure, even for terumah. Second, in the cases described, the am ha’aretz willingly chooses to give these gifts to their neighbor the priest. These are signs that at least some farmers were quite engaged in Jewish life and had an awareness of purity laws, if not to the same scrupulous level of observance as the haver.
One more glimpse into this world comes from a case involving two brothers, one a haver and the other an am ha’aretz. This case speaks to a reality, familiar to many of us, in which family members are drawn into different camps. The question raised in the Gemara is this: Can the two siblings split their inheritance in such a way that the haver receives produce that is ritually pure, while his am ha’aretz brother receives that which is impure?
Rashi understands this case to be one in which the inherited produce has not yet been tithed. In order for the haver to give the priestly gifts according to the law, he might prefer to receive the pure produce, while the am ha’aretz brother might not care as much. But it’s also possible that the situation is one in which the haver prefers to eat pure foods himself. This reading supports a theory that the haver class were scrupulous about purity laws not only for tithes, but also for food they eat themselves, which they prefer to consume in a state of purity, mimicking the priests.
So can they split the produce according to its purity status? A mishnah quoted on our daf says they may do so only if the produce is the same — i.e. they may split their father’s wheat if part of it is pure and part impure — but they may not mix and match different types of produce, such as barley that is pure and wheat that is impure. In short, the haver may not benefit from a trade in impure produce nor from his brother’s different standard of behavior, even if the less stringent brother is willing.
The cases related on today’s daf all serve to show how interconnected these two communities were and the subtle dance required for them to coexist in mutually beneficial ways.
Read all of Chagigah 25 on Sefaria.
This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on March 6th, 2022. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.