Talmud

Kiddushin 53

Son of a snatcher.

Yesterday, we learned from a mishnah that:

A priest who betroths a woman with his portion (of offerings), whether offerings of the most sacred order or whether offerings of lesser sanctity, she is not betrothed.

As we know, a woman can be betrothed with any item valued at greater than one peruta, including foodstuffs. But what about food that priests receive collectively as part of their work in the Temple? Can a priest betroth a woman with his portion of the offerings? The mishnah is unequivocal that he cannot, but the Gemara brings a beraita in which Rabbi Yosei and Rabbi Yehuda disagree about the matter. The former agrees with the mishnah while the latter allows a priest to betroth a woman in such a manner.

As the disagreement is unpacked, the Gemara cites another beraita that sheds some light on how the priests would divvy up food in the Temple. 

(When the priests receive their portion of the shewbread each week), the modest ones withdraw their hands and the gluttons receive shares. 

The shewbread were loaves that were kept in the Temple at all times. They were replaced each week, at which point the priests were permitted to eat the old ones. But from this beraita, it appears that, like today, challah was popular in Temple times. And when it came time to divide it up, it was something of a free-for-all. The gluttonous ones secured a portion, but those who chose not to engage went home empty handed. 

A fuller version of this story in Tractate Yoma (39a) provides a bit more context. 

And a blessing was sent upon the offering of the omer; and to the two loaves and to the shewbread. And each priest that received an olive-bulk, there were those who ate it and were satisfied, and there were those who ate part of it and left over (the rest).

From then onward, a curse was sent upon the omer, and to the two loaves, and to the shewbread. And each priest received the size of a bean. The discreet ones would withdraw their hands, and the voracious ones would take and eat it. 

When things were good and the food in the Temple was blessed, there was enough bread for each of the priests to receive an olive bulk, which the rabbis considered enough for a meal. In fact, it was so filling that some priests didn’t even need to finish their portion to be satisfied. But alas, the good times did not last. When portion sizes decreased, some priests had a hard time coping. The ravenous ones rushed forward to claim what they could, if only a bean-sized portion. Others, knowing that the smaller portion would not satisfy them, held back and stayed out of the fray. 

The well-behaved priests get a nod of approval for their restraint and are labeled modest, a virtue for the rabbis. Those who left their civility at the door are called gluttonous, and the Talmud tells us that the worst among them could not shake the reputation they had earned:

An incident occurred involving one who snatched his share and his colleague’s share, and they called him ben Hamtzan (son of the snatcher) until the day he died.

For those who feel that getting a small piece of challah is a curse too heavy to bear, let this be a cautionary tale. Consider making due with a smaller portion and avoid being known as a snatcher’s son for the rest of your life.

Read all of Kiddushin 53 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on October 5th, 2023. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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