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Meilah – A Pit and its Contents

Meilah (3:6) | Yisrael Bankier | 9 days ago

The Mishnah (3:6) teaches that if one consecrates an item, whether or not it is fit for use as an offering or for the upkeep of the Beit HaMikdash, the prohibition of meilah applies. Even if it is not fit for either, its monetary value still attains hekdesh bedek habayit.

Amongst the cases listed is a pit filled with water. The Mishnah teaches that if the pit was filled when consecrated, then the prohibition of meilah applies to both the water and the pit. If however the pit was empty when consecrated, the prohibition of meilah does not apply to the contained water if it filled later.

The first question to ask is how one can violate the prohibition of meilah regarding the pit alone. The Rashbam explains that hiding something inside it would qualify. Rabbeinu Tam disagrees. He explains that we learnt that if one consecrates an eved the prohibition of meilah is not violated when using his hair since avadim are legally associate with land and one does not violate the prohibition of meilah with things attached to land.

Rabbeinu Tam suggests that detaching some of the dirt from the pit and using it would constitute the violation. Alternatively the Ramban suggests that one could also violate meilah if the pit’s walls where constructed with stones. This would answer Rabbeinu Tam’s question. Even thought the stone are now attached to ground, since they were initially detached, the prohibition of meilah applies.

Another question raised by the Rishonim is why the water does not automatically become the property of hekdesh when the pit later fills. We know that one’s chatzer (courtyard) can acquire objects in its area for the owner, so why is this case different?

There is a discussion (Bava Metzia 10) regarding how one’s chatzer acquires. One understanding is that chatzer acquires in the same manner as one’s hand (yad). The Bartenura explains that since there is no yad for hekdesh the pit does not acquire.

The Tosfot Yom Tov asks, that the Gemara concludes that even though the chatzer was included as a means of acquisition because it acts as a yad, it should be no worse than shelichut (agency). The Gemara teaches that the kohanim act as shluchei shamyim. That being the case, if the gizbar(treasurer) is standing by the pit ensuring it is protected, since shelichut can apply to hekdesh, one would think that the pit could acquire based on this mechanism. He leaves the question unanswered.

The Tifferet Yisrael cites the Tosfot (Bava Batra 54a) who explains that it is true that one’s (protected) chatzer can acquire on his behalf even without the owner’s knowledge. This is however only referring to where the owner is unaware of the object’s presence. If however the owner is aware and does not intend to acquire it, it is not acquired. The Tifferet Yisrael explains that regarding hekdesh, the gizbar is not obligated to stand by the chatzer and declare that it acquires for hekdesh. Consequently it is as if hekdesh intended that the pit shall not acquire.

The Ramban however explains that the chatzer or pit does indeed acquire for hekdesh. However becoming the property of hekdesh does not imply it is kadosh and that the prohibition of meilah applies. The Ritva adds that meilah only applies when hekdesh arises through verbal declaration and not only by transfer of ownership.

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