This week we began masechet Challah. Challah refers to the portion that one must separate from dough and give to a Kohen.
Since the Torah refers to challah as terumah (Bamidbar 15:19) the Mishnah (1:9) lists the laws that both challah and terumah share. It begins by explaining that if a non-Kohen deliberately ate either, the violation would be punishable with mitta bidei shamayim. The Mishnah then adds that if a non-Kohen inadvertently ate either terumah or challah they would be required to replace it and add chomesh (an additional twenty-five percent of the value). The Mishnah however then adds that both terumah and challah are forbidden to anyone who is not a Kohen. Having already taught the punishments associated when a non-Kohen consumes challah, the Mishnah then teaching that a non-Kohen is forbidden to consume challah appears unnecessary.
The Bartenura explains that the statement can be explained according to the opinion of R’ Yochanan. To explain, prohibitions generally have a minimum shiur (measure) associated with its violation. For example, a non-Kohen is liable if he eats a kezayit (olive-size) of challah. There is a debate regarding if consuming less than that measure is prohibited on a biblical level. R’ Yochanan maintains that it is, whereas Reish Lakish maintains that the prohibition is rabbinic. The Bartenura explains that the statement is necessary according to the opinion of R’ Yochanan to teach that less than the minimum shiur is prohibitted to a non-Kohen.
The Tosfot Yom Tov finds the Bartenura’s comment difficult. While it is true that the Yerushalmi teaches that this statement is necessary to teach the law of chatzi-shiur (half measure) why is it only important for the position that chati-shiur is prohibited on a biblical level? The Mishnah would be equally important to teach that it is prohibited on a rabbinical level. Furthermore the Mishnah teaches other laws that are also rabbinic (e.g. the requirement of washing hands prior to handling them). Indeed, the Tosfot Yom Tov cites the Tosfot (Bava Metzia 53a) who explains that it was necessary to teach the chatzi-shiur is prohibited, whether on a biblical or rabbinic level. What then forced the Bartenura to say that is relevant for only one side of the debate?
Before answering this question, we need to ask another one. The law of chatzi-shiur is relevant for all prohibitions, not just terumah and challah. According to both understands so far1, why was it necessary for the Mishnah to teach the law of chatzi-shiur here. The Ramban (as cited by the Shita Mekubtzet) answers that the opinion that maintains the prohibition is biblical derives it from the verse “from all forbidden fats”. One might assume that a chatzi-shiur is only prohibited regarding those types of prohibitions that are equally forbidden to everyone. Since challah and terumah are permitted to kohanim one might think that chatzi-shiur is permitted. Consequently, it was necessary to teach that chatzi-shiur is prohibited here as well.
The Rishon Letzion however explains why it was necessary to teach the law of chatzi-shiur specifically according to the opinion of R’ Yochanan. In other words, he answers both our questions. If chatzi-shiur is only rabbinically prohibited, he reasons that there would be no reason to think challah and terumah should be any different. If however it is prohibited on a biblical level, then one might think that for challah and terumah the law of adding chomesh should also apply. Therefore, it was necessary to teach that a chatzi-shiur is “only” prohibited, and the laws of mitta and chomesh do not apply.
1 There are other explanations for this statement. See Rashi, Rosh and Ramban (Bava Metzia 53a)
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