Nedarim 58

Snack time.

As we lead into today’s daf, the Gemara is in the process of exploring a mishnah about the applicability of vows not to partake of produce to the seeds and bulbs that grow from that produce. This in turn leads to a discussion that tells us more about onions than we’d ever need to know, including when it’s OK to eat onions and similar produce that have grown at least in part during a shmitah year.

And then we get to the all-important subject: snacks. In particular, what counts as a snack, and what counts as a full-fledged meal?

One who weeds hasayot with a Samaritan may eat a casual meal from them (without tithing). And (when he completes the labor on the hasayot and places them into a pile), he tithes them. 

To begin with, you know a word must be fraught when Steinsaltz edition declines to translate it and just leaves it in the original. What is this thing they’re snacking on? Jastrow defines hasayotas “peeling plants, alliacea, leek plants.” This is the plant family that includes garlic and onion too, all of which must be peeled before its eaten. Frankly, I’d much rather have a granola bar, but when you’re weeding onions, maybe you take what you can get. 

The question this teaching seeks to answer concerns tithing, the biblical requirement that a portion of all produce be given as a gift to the priests, the Levites and the poor. We actually encountered a similar situation back on Eruvin 32, where we learned that a hired laborer harvesting figs, some of which were eaten as part of a casual meal (i.e., a snack) while working, doesn’t need to tithe them. But if the employer specified an amount the worker was permitted to take for a regular meal — say, a basketful — then there’s some doubt whether the produce in question had been tithed already or needed to be. As a result, this produce was classified as demai because of its uncertain status.  

Here, there’s no assumption that the Samaritan employer would have tithed the produce. This shifts the harvested produce from demai (we don’t know if it’s been tithed) to definitely not tithed. As a result, the produce does not need to be tithed for a snack and must be tithed if it’s going to be consumed as part of a proper meal. 

For the purposes of snacks, it appears to make little difference whether the employer is Jewish, as they presumably were in Eruvin, or Samaritan, as they are here. But our passage here provides a clear distinction between a snack, which is exempt from tithing, and a regular meal that requires tithing: When your labor is complete, and the produce is piled up, that’s when the serious meals take place.  

Want greater detail on when something is a snack or a meal? The Rambam gets even more granular. For example, if produce is going to be sold, it’s OK to snack from it without tithing until winnowing is complete and the pile of grain is straightened. But if the produce is for personal consumption, you can snack on it until you walk through the door into your home. Beyond that, it’s a meal, and tithing is required.

Now, it might not matter so much to you whether something’s a snack or a meal — as far as I’m concerned, carrots are just as delicious whether they’re on my dinner plate or taken directly out of the fridge to tide me over until suppertime. But when it comes to tithing, there’s a critical difference between the two, and it’s important to make sure we’re paying attention to context so we know.

Read all of Nedarim 58 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on December 22nd, 2022. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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