Kiddushin 54

Betrothal with a consecrated ring.

As we will discuss in great detail later in our Daf Yomi journey, items that have been consecrated for Temple use are off-limits and it is forbidden to derive personal benefit from it. But since consecrated items (which can include food, money, animals, utensils and more) aren’t always labeled “for the Temple” with a black Sharpie, it is plausible for people to accidentally use them for other purposes — including betrothal.

Back on Kiddushin 52b, we saw dueling opinions from Rabbi Meir and Rabbi Yehuda in the mishnah: Rabbi Meir says that intentionally betrothing a woman with consecrated Temple property takes hold (even though you shouldn’t do this, the betrothal succeeds), but doing so unintentionally does not; Rabbi Yehuda says the exact opposite. As it sometimes does, the Gemara expresses uncertainty over which position was actually held by Rabbi Meir and which by Rabbi Yehuda, leading to a deeper exploration of this topic: When is misused property desacralized? When does it remain consecrated? And what are the consequences of misuse? We can’t reproduce the entire discussion here, but we’ll take a look at a snippet.

According to Rav, part of the logic behind Rabbi Meir’s position is that Temple property that is intentionally misused, as would be the case if it were knowingly given in betrothal, is automatically desacralized. As a result, the betrothal is effective. To support this assertion, we are given the following tradition:

Ulla said a different opinion in the name of bar Padda: Rabbi Meir would say: Consecrated property is desacralized if misused intentionally; it is not desacralized if misused unwittingly. And they said that consecrated property that is misused unwittingly is desacralized only with regard to an offering (i.e., the one who misused it is liable to bring a guilt-offering for his action) but the property remains consecrated.

According to Ulla through bar Padda, Rabbi Meir teaches that if the misuse was intentional, the property is desacralized, with relevant compensation and consequences imposed. If the misuse was unintentional, Rabbi Meir says it’s not desacralized (and presumably can be returned to the Temple), and the rabbis agree, but add that a guilt offering is required. No intention, no desacralization (but perhaps you need to bring an offering).

The Gemara is a tad confused by the rabbis’ additional penalty:

But since it is not desacralized when misused unwittingly, for what reason is he rendered liable to bring an offering, as the action had no effect?

It’s a fair point. No harm, no foul, right? So if you haven’t desacralized anything, why do you need to bring an offering? What guilt exactly are you atoning for?

Ravin, who came about a generation after Ulla, offers a clarification and correction:

Rather, when Ravin came from the land of Israel he explained it this way in the name of bar Padda: Rabbi Meir would say: Consecrated property is desacralized if misused intentionally; it is not desacralized if misused unwittingly.

And they said that consecrated property that is misused unwittingly is desacralized only with regard to eating.

If one ate consecrated food, thereby consuming it completely, he is liable to bring an offering. If he merely misused consecrated money it retains its sanctity and is not desacralized, and he is not liable to bring an offering.

Ravin agrees that Rabbi Meir’s ruling boils down to no intent to misuse, no desacralization, but adds an exception: It’s not desacralized unless you’ve eaten it, in which case it’s desacralized regardless of your intent, and you have to bring an offering as atonement. There’s a subsequent discussion about whether “eating” is meant literally or refers to any activities that make the item unreturnable: Rashi says literal eating, while the Rashba and the Ramban say anything that destroys the item. (Rashi seems to have the upper hand in this argument.)

So where does this leave us with regard to kiddushin and sacralized items? The Gemara goes on for a bit more, but ultimately, later authorities conclude that kiddushin is valid if the item was used without knowledge of its sacred nature (with appropriate compensation and atonement required), but not if it was intentional. This feels like a just conclusion. After all, imagine how much it might disturb relationships if you thought you’d gotten betrothed only to find out later that your relationship was void because of a misunderstanding.

Read all of Kiddushin 54 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on October 6th, 2023. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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Kiddushin 52

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