Yevamot 75

Packed with meaning.

At this point in our journey through Daf Yomi, we know that the rabbis believe that every word in the Bible is coming to teach something important and distinct. So when the Torah gives a biblical command multiple times, the rabbis ask what different halakhot these redundancies are really coming to teach.

Leviticus 22 describes some of the laws of terumah, the portion of produce that farmers are required to give to the priests. This portion is sacred, and must be eaten in a state of purity. Leviticus states this at some length:

No man of Aaron’s offspring who has an eruption or a dischargeshall eat of the sacred donations until he is pure. If one touches anything made impure by a corpse, or if a man has an emission of semen … the person who touches such shall be impure until evening and shall not eat of the sacred donations unless he has washed his body in water. As soon as the sun sets, he shall be pure; and afterward he may eat of the sacred donations, for they are his food. (Leviticus 22:4–7)

Three times in these verses we are told that the priest must be pure and cannot be impure when eating terumah. On today’s daf, the rabbis conduct a series of thought experiments, exploring what the halakhah would have been if only one of the verses in Leviticus had been stated.

If, for example, only Leviticus 22:4 (“He shall not eat of the holy things until he be pure,”)was stated, then:

I would not have known by what.

Some purifications require only immersion in a mikvah, some require an additional sacrifice, and others require waiting until the sun sets — or some combination of the above. Leviticus 22:4 doesn’t state exactly which ritual is necessary, which, opines the Gemara, is why we need Leviticus 22:7 to tell us the person who immerses must wait until sunset.

What then does Leviticus 22:4 add? 

The Gemara says that if we only had Leviticus 22:7, we might have thought that:

This applies only to one who does not require an atonement offering, but as for one who requires an atonement offering, one might say until he brings his atonement.

In those cases where an atonement offering is also required, in addition to immersing and waiting until sunset, perhaps the priest must also bring his atonement offering in order to eat terumah? 

Here the thought experiment gets more complicated. To answer this question, the rabbis look to a specific example of an atonement sacrifice brought on account of impurity: childbirth.

The Merciful One writes: “She shall touch no hallowed thing, nor come into the Temple, until the days of her purification are completed.” (Leviticus 12:4)

Childbirth causes ritual impurity and requires an atonement sacrifice after the mandated waiting period — one week for a boy and two for a girl. However, the woman is considered pure when the waiting period is over, even if she hasn’t yet brought her atonement offering (which is a good thing considering that a postpartum person who lived in the Diaspora would have had to travel to Jerusalem immediately after giving birth in order to offer a sacrifice at the end of the period of impurity). 

The rabbis then draw a verbal analogy, based on the word “until,” between the verse about the postnatal mom and Leviticus 22:4: 

And had the Merciful One written only: “Until the days of her purification are completed,” I would say purified even without immersion. Therefore, the Merciful One writes: “Until he be pure.”

Leviticus 22:4 thus comes to teach us that even though the priest doesn’t have to offer an atonement sacrifice before eating terumah he must immerse himself, and so too the new mother must immerse herself at the end of her period of impurity. What appears redundant is actually completely packed with meaning, meaning that spills out beyond the confines of the laws of terumah to reach the laws of childbirth, and then later on in today’s daf, touching sacred things and entering the Temple itself.

Read all of Yevamot 75 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on May 21th, 2022. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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