Demai for the Poor

Demai (3:1) | Yisrael Bankier | 8 years ago

The Mishnah (3:1) teaches that one is able to feed demai produce to the poor. In other words, the requirement of separating terumot and maasrot from demai produce is lifted for an ani (poor person). The Mishnah continues that this leniency was also afforded to the achsanya. The Bartenura explains that this refers to Jewish soldiers that passed through from town to town. By force of law, the people of each town were made responsible to feed them. Why are these people excluded from the gezeirah of demai?

Rashi (Eiruvin 17b) explains that whether or not one is truly required to separate terumot and maasrot from demai is doubtful – it is a safek. Furthermore, most Amei Haaretz separated everything that was required anyway. The law of demai is itself a stringency. Consequently, these cases, the Chachamim were lenient allowing them to consume demai without any separation of maasrot.

The Rambam (Peirush Mishnayot) however explains that the Chachamim were lenient in the case of the ani to the ease the obligation of tzedaka (charity). In the case of the achsanya, it was to ease the mitzvah of hachnasat orchim (hosting guests). In other words, unlike the Rashi who understands that the focus of this leniency is the receiver, the Rambam understands the focus is the giver. Is there a practical difference between these understandings?

The Rambam notes that later in the Mishnah we learn that if the receiving ani is a chaver, one needs to inform him that he is receiving demai. If the ani is permitted to eat demai why does he need to be informed? Recall that the Rambam explained the leniency was motivated to ease the mitzvah of tzedaka. Consequently, the leniency is only afforded to the ani in that context - when one feeds an ani. If, however the ani receives a good portion as part of a tzedaka distribution and takes it home, then he is obligated to separate Demai. He explains that that is why the Mishnah used to word “ma’achilin” (feed) and not “ochlin” (eat) when teaching this exemption, since it is only in the context of feeding the ani that he is exempt. This would also explain why the Mishnah only records the requirement of informing the ani in the case of a tzedaka distribution but not in the case of feeding aniim demai.

The Tosfot Yom Tov, however notes that the Rambam appears to have retracted from this position. In his Mishnah Torah (Maasrot 10:11) the Rambam rules that in both cases we simply inform the ani that is a chaver that he has received demai and it is his discretion whether he separates maasrot.1

Does this mean the Rambam also retracted from his understanding of the focus of this leniency? That is not necessarily true. The Tifferet Yisrael explains that the reason we inform the ani that the produce is demai is precisely because the focus of the leniency on the giver. The receiver is still exempt as a result of the leniency, but since the receiver was not the focus of the leniency, he may nevertheless wish to separate maasrot. Furthermore, the use of the term “maachilin” is not for the legal implication as understood by the earlier Rambam, but simply to demonstrate that the focus of the leniency was on the giver or “feeder” and not the receiver.

1 Whether an ani chaver must separate demai appears to be debate between the Yerushalmi (Demai 3:1) and Bavli (e.g. Eiruvin 31a).


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