Talmud pages

Kiddushin 58

One strike and you're out.

On today’s daf, we encounter a mishnah that teaches the following: 

One who betroths a woman with terumot, or with tithes, or with gifts (to priests), or with the water of purification, or with the ashes of purification, she is betrothed, and even if (the man betrothing her is) an Israelite.

According to the mishnah, a man can betroth a woman with terumah, tithes or gifts designated for priests even if he is an Israelite — i.e. a non-priest. On its face, this is a curious law. Non-priests have no rights to these items, so it’s hard to understand why a non-priest would be allowed to use them for the purpose of betrothal. 

The Gemara is confused by this as well, and its first assumption is that the mishnah is talking about the right of discretion — that is, the right to direct tithes to a particular priest. This right has a value and it is that value that the non-priest is using to betroth the woman. Remember, betrothal can be done with anything worth more than a peruta, the smallest unit of currency in mishnaic times. So while the value of discretion might not seem like much, it doesn’t have to be for it to be used in betrothal. 

If this sounds familiar, that’s because we countered this concept back on Nedarim 84, where the Gemara tried to figure if discretion actually has value or not. Today’s daf is going to go over some of this same material, but first the Gemara notes that this understanding of the mishnah presents a problem for Ulla, who holds explicitly that the benefit of discretion does not have a monetary value. How then does Ulla understand what the mishnah is saying?

Here (the case is) with an Israelite who came into untithed produce from the household of his mother’s father, a priest, and (the mishnah) holds that gifts that have not been separated are considered as though they have been separated.

Ulla’s contention is that the mishnah is dealing with a situation in which the non-priest has inherited the items in question from his maternal grandfather, who was a priest. (The priesthood is passed down through the paternal line, so while his mother was born to a priestly family, he does not inherit that status from her.) The non-priestly grandson cannot eat the produce, but he can sell it — or use it to betroth a woman. 

Enter Rabbi Hiyya bar Avin, who inquires of his teacher Rav Huna if the benefit of discretion has value or not. Rav Huna replies that Rabbi Hiyya should know the answer to that question, since it was learned in the mishnah that a non-priest can betroth a woman with items set aside for priests, which indicates that in fact discretion does have value. Rabbi Hiyya then asks about Ulla’s contention that the mishnah is talking about a case where a non-priest inherits produce from a priest. This prompts a terse reply from Rav Huna: 

You’re out. 

Rashi suggests this means that Rav Huna is telling Rabbi Hiyya that he is outside the bounds of the conversation — that is, he’s wrong. But Rashi also notes that the word hootza’ah (from the Hebrew root meaning “exit”) can refer to the thin leaves of a palm tree, which might have been Rav Huna telling his student that he’s a lightweight. Either way, the Gemara tells us that Rabbi Hiyya was embarrassed by this comment, which prompts Rav Huna to quickly try and recover. 

Rav Huna said to him: This is what I said: Rav Asi, from the town of Huzal, stands in accordance with your opinion.

Rav Huna tells Rabbi Hiyya that he wasn’t insulting him, but merely indicating that his opinion is the same as Rav Asi, who hails from the town of Huzal, which sounds a bit like the word for exit/palm leaf. Whether that’s actually true or just some quick thinking on Rav Huna’s part to save face (or protect Rabbi Hiyya’s feelings), we can’t really be sure. 

What we can be sure of is that Rabbi Hiyya (and apparently Rav Asi from Huzal) aren’t wrong at all. The Talmud goes on to tell us that everyone agrees discretion has no monetary value, and that the mishnah is indeed talking about a case of inheritance. Rabbi Hiyya’s question was the right one. He was definitely not “out.” 

Read all of Kiddushin 58 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on October 10th, 2023. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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