Talmud pages

Pesachim 32

Valueless gifts.

Undoubtedly, the most referenced law in all of tractate Pesachim is the Torah prohibition on eating hametz on Passover (Exodus 12:15). And because the Gemara loves to draw comparisons, other prohibited foods are also frequently discussed in this tractate as well, among them terumah: food given to the priests (kohanim) that non-priests are forbidden to eat (see Leviticus 22:10).

Leviticus 22:14 states that if a non-kohen (non-priest) were to inadvertently eat terumah, they would be required to repay the kohen the value of the terumah they ate plus an extra fifth. But what if the terumah also happens to be hametz and was eaten on Passover? This would appear to be a double violation — eating both hametz and terumah — so you might think that the repayment is larger to match the more significant crime. The Mishnah seems to think, however, the repayment is the same. The Gemara thinks perhaps it is less. Here’s a bit of the discussion from today’s daf:

If you say that he must pay according to the measure of terumah that he ate, it is well. 

However, if you say that he must pay according to the monetary value of the terumah, this is difficult, for is leavened bread on Passover of any monetary value? 

The rabbis reason as follows: When the Torah tells us that the terumah eater must repay the priest the value of the terumah plus an extra fifth, does this mean the thief pays back 125% of the volume and substance of terumah, or 125% of the monetary value of the terumah? (It’s 125% and not 120% because the penalty amount is supposed to be 20% of the total repaid, not the principle.) If the former, then it is easy to calculate what the priest is owed. Steal five loaves of bread, pay back six. But if it is the latter, we now have to consider whether hametz that was worth something before Passover but is now forbidden has suddenly lost all value during the holiday. Rabbi Yossi HaGalili believes that hametz does not cease to maintain value on Passover, while Rabbi Akiva is of the opinion that hametz is valueless on Pesach. And if the hametz does lose value, as Rabbi Akiva asserts, do we repay according to what it was worth before or during Passover? And if the latter, how do you even repay 125% of the value of something that is valueless?

Later commentators were left to duke it out. Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki, 1040–1105), in his commentary on the Mishnah, says that payment is not measured according to the value of the food, but is instead a payment that expresses regret and reparations. Therefore, even if the leavened terumah had no value, payment is still necessary to show remorse.

However, Maimonides (Rabbi Moses ben Maimon, 1138–1204) disagrees, and in his codification of the laws (see Terumot 10:6), he rules according to the opinion of Rabbi Akiva as found in today’s daf that “when a person eats terumah that is hametz on Passover, whether willfully or unknowingly, whether it is ritually impure or pure, they are exempt from financial liability … since it is forbidden to benefit from it, it is of no value whatsoever.” No repayment necessary.

As one might expect, the fact that Maimonides rules in direct conflict with the mishnah (which states that payment is required) ruffled many feathers, including with his contemporary and commentator the Ra’avad (Rabbi Abraham ben David of Posquières, 1125-1198).

The deeper question of whether hametz retains its value and worth on Passover remains open in the Talmud. On today’s page, the major “nafka mina” (halakhic consequence) is whether one must repay the value of accidentally stolen terumah that happens to be hametz. In a post-Temple world, this is not a problem any of us will encounter directly. But it is interesting to consider how these two positions might change our experience of Passover. How is the experience of abstaining from hametz on Passover different if we consider that hametz to be completely without value?

See you tomorrow!

Read all of Pesachim 32 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on December 23rd, 2020. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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