Talmudic pages

Pesachim 40

Wet wheat.

Passover flour, which is destined to become unleavened bread, is guarded from the time of its harvest to ensure that it does not come into contact with water (or any other liquid) — otherwise, it cannot be used to make matzah. But accidents happen. So what do you do with a load of wet wheat right before Passover? Today’s daf tackles that question, apparently on the basis of a real life incident:

There was a certain boat carrying wheat which capsized before Passover in the Hishta River. Rava permitted its owners to sell the recovered grain to gentiles.

Although the water-logged grain cannot be used for Passover, Rava says you can sell it to a non-Jew (who can use it on Passover) and thereby avoid financial loss.

But wait, not so fast, Rabba bar Levai objects to Rava’s opinion based upon the following beraita (early rabbinic teaching): 

With regard to a garment in which diverse kinds, a prohibited mixture of wool and linen, has been lost (i.e., a wool garment into which a linen thread was sewn or vice versa) one may not sell it to a gentile…

Mixing wool and linen is forbidden in the Torah — garments must be made of a single kind of fiber. In this beraita, a garment that is accidentally spoiled by a thread of the wrong fiber may not be worn by a Jew but also may not be sold to a gentile because there is a concern the non-Jewish merchant might resell the garment to a Jewish client. Since the forbidden mixture of wool and linen is not detectable, a Jewish purchaser will be using a forbidden garment unaware that they are violating the rules. 

Similarly, Rabba bar Levai reasons, once it is dry, there is no way to tell that grain has fallen into a river. If such grain is sold to a non-Jewish merchant, we should also be concerned that the merchant might sell it to a Jew who will then use it on Passover, unaware that it is forbidden.

Rava accepts this objection and changes his position:

Rava then said: He should sell this wheat one kav at a time (i.e., in small measures) each to a different Jew, so that all of it will be used before Passover. 

New plan: You can still sell the wheat to your Jewish clients, but you should do so in small quantities to ensure that they use it up before Passover.

It’s clear that despite the concerns, Rava was looking to find a way to permit the sale of this grain even though it fell into the river so close to Passover. While his first suggestion does not stand up to Rabba bar Lavai’s objection, but his second one does. In changing his approach, he models the creativity of Jewish legal thinking and finds a path for you to make a sale.

By the way, you may want to know that post-Talmudic halakhic authorities adjust the requirements a bit, as the Shluchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 467:1) reports:

“It is forbidden to eat or maintain possession of grain that fell in the river or became wet before Passover. Rather, one should sell it to a Jew, notifying the buyer that it should be consumed before Passover. If it is sold to non-Jews before Passover, it should be sold to individuals in small quantities, to ensure that it will be used before Passover alleviating the concern that the non-Jew might resell it to a Jew.”

Read all of Pesachim 40 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on December 31st, 2020. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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