Masechet Zevachim 65a-71b

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Turtle Dove
13 Jan 2011

The Coming Week’s Daf Yomi by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim (original ideas) of Talmudic scholar Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, as published in the Hebrew version of the Steinsaltz Edition of the Talmud.

Zevachim 65a-b: Only a kohen can perform melikah

On yesterday’s daf we learned that birds brought as sacrifices were not slaughtered in the ordinary manner, but were killed by means of melikah – a unique method where the kohen would hold the bird in his hand and kill it with his thumbnail.

The Gemara on today’s daf quotes a baraita that derives these requirements from the passage in Sefer Vayikra (1:15) where the Torah emphasizes that this unique slaughtering must be done by a kohen and cannot be done with a knife as is the case with ordinary slaughtering.

The baraita suggests that were it not for the Torah’s emphasis regarding these laws, we would have thought otherwise, based on a comparison with sacrifices brought from animals. In all other animal sacrifices, the slaughter need not be done by a kohen, since anyone can slaughter a sacrifice. Nevertheless, the slaughter must be done in a specific place in the Temple courtyard – the northern part of the courtyard. I might have thought that since sacrificial birds are not limited to the northern part of the courtyard, it might indicate that they can certainly be slaughtered by anyone, so it was essential that the Torah emphasize that melikah can only be performed by a kohen.

Similarly, other animal sacrifices are slaughtered with a knife, even though the slaughter can be done by anyone. I might have thought that sacrificial birds that must be killed by a kohen could certainly have a knife used in their slaughter, so it was essential that the Torah emphasize that melikah cannot be performed with a knife.

Rabbi Akiva objects to the method that the baraita uses to determine these halakhot. According to the Shittah Mekubetzet, Rabbi Akiva believes that it is obvious that someone who is not a kohen could not be permitted on the altar to slaughter the bird. The Torah’s emphasis that the kohen do the melikah comes to teach us that the slaughter of sacrificial birds can only be done be-atzmo shel kohen – with the very essence of the kohen himself, that is, with his thumbnail and not with a separate implement, e.g. a knife.

Zevachim 66a-b: Bringing a sacrifice from a turtledove or a pigeon – I

We have learned that when a chatat ha-of – a sin-offering brought from a turtledove or a pigeon – is brought, that the blood of the sacrifice will be placed on the bottom half of the outer altar. The bottom half of the altar is the area under the chut ha-sikra – the red line that divided the altar into two parts specifically for this purpose.

The first Mishnah of the seventh perek begins on today’s daf, and it opens by teaching that a chatat ha-of that was done properly, on the bottom part of the altar with the proper intention, is valid. This stands in contrast with a chatat ha-of that is brought in the wrong place (e.g. on the upper part of the altar) or with the wrong intention (e.g. with the intention of bringing it as a burnt-offering), which would be invalid as a sacrifice.

Two things stand out as unusual in the wording of the Mishnah. Why is it necessary to state that a hatat ha-of that was done properly is valid. Is this not obvious? Furthermore, the ruling that it is “valid” usually denotes that it is valid after the fact. In this case, however, it is not merely valid; this is the ideal way of making this sacrifice!

While Tosafot suggest that this statement is superfluous and comes only by way of introducing other, problematic cases, many of the commentaries explain why this sentence is necessary. According to the Sefat Emet this case teaches about a situation where there is some problem with the sacrifice, for example where the kohen’s intention was for a sin-offering, but for a sin-offering brought from an animal, not from a bird. Even in such a case, the sacrifice would be valid. In his Commentary to the Mishnah, the Rambam suggests that this is a case where the melikah was not done properly, for example if the kohen did not hold it in the proper fashion (see above, daf 64 for a description of melikah).

Zevachim 67a-b: Bringing a sacrifice from a turtledove or a pigeon – II

The Gemara on today’s daf quotes a Mishnah that appears in Masechet Kinim (“nests”, that is, the tractate that deals specifically with sacrifices brought from fowl – turtledoves and pigeons). The Mishnah (3:6) teaches that if a woman takes an oath that she will bring a nest of birds as a sacrifice should she give birth to a boy, should she, in fact, give birth to a boy, she will be obligated to bring two “nests” – one that she is obligated to bring upon giving birth (see Vayikra 12:6-8), and the other as fulfillment of her oath. The kohen who receives the birds from the woman must bring three of them on the upper part of the altar, above the hut ha-sikra (see yesterday’s daf), and one on the lower part. If the kohen did not discuss the matter with her and brought two on the upper part of the altar and two on the lower part, she will have to bring one more bird to be brought on the upper part.

The issue dealt with in this Mishnah is the requirement to bring a sin-offering on the lower part of the altar and a burnt-offering on the upper part. The woman’s obligation upon giving birth is to bring one of each type of sacrifice. In the Mishnah’s case, the woman accepted upon herself an obligation to also bring two more burnt-offerings, which must be done on the upper part of the altar.

Most sacrifices of fowl in the Temple came in pairs, which is how they were sold in the Jerusalem marketplace as a single nest with two birds in it. Nevertheless there were, on occasion, situations where a single bird was brought, as described in the Mishnah, or, for example, in a case where a prosperous woman might choose to bring a lamb as her burnt-offering and a pigeon or turtledove as her sin-offering.

It should be noted that both men and women could bring sacrifices from fowl, although the Mishnayot in Masechet Kinim all discuss situations of women bringing these korbanot, since the majority of these types of sacrifices were brought by women who had given birth.

Zevachim 68a-b: Determining the identity of turtledoves and pigeons

According to the Torah (Sefer Vayikra 1:14), the two types of birds that can be brought as sacrifices are torim and bnei yonah – turtledoves and pigeons. The tor that is referred to is identified as Streptopelia turtur, while the yonah is identified as Columba livia domestica. These birds are consistently referred to differently, the former are called torim, while the latter are called bnei yonah. This is understood by the Sages to mean that a tor is only qualified to be brought as a sacrifice when it is an adult bird, while the yonah can only be brought when it is young, before it reaches adulthood. According to the Mishnah in Masechet Hullin (1:5), these two periods are mutually exclusive, and what would be an appropriate sacrifice in a pigeon would be inappropriate in a dove, and vice versa. The cut-off point between the two is just four or five days after hatching, when the bird’s body becomes covered with plumage – gold in the case of torim and yellow in the case of bnei yonah.

The ruling of the Mishnah is that torim that are too small and bnei yonah that have already reached adulthood cannot be brought as sacrifices and therefore performing melikah on them (see daf 64 for a description of melikah) would not be effective in any way. Because of this a bird that was killed by means of melikah would simply be non-kosher and would, in fact, lead someone who ate the meat of a bird that was killed this way to be ritually impure. This would also be true of other situations where melikah was done improperly or inappropriately, for example if melikah was done with a knife rather than with the kohen’s thumbnail or if the melikah was done on a non-sacrificial bird in the Temple, or a sacrificial bird outside the Temple. The Mishnah teaches, however, that there are cases where the melikah will not be appropriate for technical reasons, but the bird will not ritually defile someone who ate its meat, like a case where melikah was done at night or where the kohen performed melikah with his left hand.

Zevachim 69a-b: Limiting the scope of an a fortiori argument

In the Mishnah on today’s daf Rabbi Meir attempts to derive a halacha about the ritual status of a treifah – an animal that had an injury that would cause its death – that was discovered after being killed by means of melikah (see above, daf 64), by means of a kal v’chomer (usually translated as an a fortiori argument) from ordinary kosher slaughter. Rabbi Yossi objects, claiming that the kal v’chomer would not extend to the case of melikah, which is an extrapolation beyond the parallel case of shechita.

Limiting the conclusions that can be reached by means of a kal v’chomer in this manner is called dayyo – “enough.” It is enough to learn a parallel halacha from a kal v’chomer, but not more than the original law itself.

The Gemara quotes a baraita that explains that the concept of kal v’chomer – and dayyo – are biblical in origin. They stem from the story of Miriam who spoke inappropriately about her brother Moshe (see Bamidbar 12). As punishment, she was struck with tzara’at (biblical leprosy), and was forced to leave the encampment for seven days. The Torah explains that had her father banished her, surely she would have been embarrassed for seven days – now that she was banished by God, she will have to be removed for that length of time. Although logically banishment because of God’s anger should have lasted 14 days, dayyo limits the punishment to the same amount of time that she would have been embarrassed by her father.

One question raised by the rishonim is why logic would lead us to conclude that Miriam should have been banished for 14 days. Why not 8 days? Or forever?

Rabbeinu Tam is quoted as connecting this with the idea that there are three partners in the creation of a person – his mother, his father and God. Thus God is the equivalent of both mother and father and offense against Him deserves double banishment.

Rabbeinu Chaim HaKohen suggests that Miriam deserved just a little extra banishment, but the minimum time that someone suffering from tzara’at is banished is a week, so any additional banishment must be for a full extra week.

The Ramban argues that no explanation is necessary, since this is merely the way the midrash halakhah speaks; that since she deserves more the expression is that she needs twice as much.

Zevachim 70a-b: Mixing and matching sacrifices

The eighth perek of Masechet Zevachim begins on today’s daf.

The previous chapters of Masechet Zevachim focused on the various types of sacrifices and the differences between them, e.g. the place and time of the sacrifices and when and how they are eaten. Given the wide variety of sacrifices, the Sages felt a need to begin to discuss how to deal with situations when they become mixed up in one way or another. This is the main focus of Perek Kol ha-Zevachim, which deals with situations where valid and invalid sacrifices become mixed together, where sacrifices become mixed with ordinary animals and even general issues of mixtures of forbidden and permitted foods. Many of the early commentators – the rishonim – refer to this chapter as perek ha-ta’arovet – “the Chapter of Mixtures.”

This discussion is essential because the ordinary workings of the Temple made it difficult to avoid situations of mistakes and confusion.

At the time when animals are consecrated as sacrifices and brought to the Temple, there are bound to be many animals there –

all in close quarters.

Similarly, at the time when the animals are slaughtered and butchered, the kohanim are working with many different animals simultaneously, and the various sacrifices have different halakhic statuses, belong to different people and are at different stages of preparation for sacrifice.

This reality leads to questions of how to deal with mixtures, as well as questions of how to rule in situations of halakhic doubt.

This chapter deals mainly with these questions as they apply to sacrifices brought from animals (i.e. cattle), while a separate tractate is devoted to these questions as they apply to sacrifices brought from birds (Masechet Kinim) and another to these questions as they apply to menahot – meal offerings (Masechet Menahot).

Zevachim 71a-b: Clarifying confusion in the Temple

As we learned on yesterday’s daf the eighth perek of Masechet Zevachim focuses on mixtures, and specifically on animals that are mixed together in the Temple.

One example from the first Mishnah that appears on today’s daf is where animals that have been consecrated by two different people for the same korban are mixed up and we do not know which animal belongs to whom. In this case the Mishnah rules that the kohen should sacrifice each animal for one of the owners. Rashi teaches that this means that the kohen should announce “this animal is being brought for its owner” without offering any specifics. Tosafot argue, however, that there is no need for that, since the priests are instructed to refrain from identifying the owner whenever sacrifices are brought, lest a mistake be made (see above, daf 2).

Some rishonim question whether this case may shed light on a question that is dealt with throughout the Talmud – yesh bereira or ein bereira. The question of bereira is whether when there is a question about the status of a given object, can an act that takes place later clarify the status retroactively. In this case, might we be able to conclude that yesh bereira – that the later sacrifice clarifies for us which animal belonged to whom in the beginning? Tosafot ha-Ri”d and Tosafot ha-Rosh both argue that this case is not a case of bereira at all, since we are certain that at the beginning one animal belonged to each of the two people who consecrated them; we do not have a case where it is unclear to us how to divide a mixture that is owned jointly by two people. Since each animal belongs to a specific individual, when the animal is brought without attribution, it simply reverts automatically to its original owner.

In addition to his monumental translation and commentary on the Talmud, Rabbi Steinsaltz has authored dozens of books and hundreds of articles on a variety of topics, both Jewish and secular. For more information about Rabbi Steinsaltz’s groundbreaking work in Jewish education, visit or contact the Aleph Society at 212-840-1166.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.