The Nature of Demai

Demai (5:1) | Adam Korbl | 19 years ago

roduce bought from an Am ha’Aretz (an unlearned Jew who is lax in his Torah-observance) is referred to as Demai (“Da Mai?” roughly translates as “what is its status?”). Ma’aser Rishon, Terumat Ma’aser, and Ma’aser Sheni must be separated from this produce since a minority of Amei ha’Aretz cannot be trusted to have separated them before selling it. Trumah Gedolah, however, because of its stringency is presumed to have been separated.

This din of Demai that obligates one to be separate Ma’aser Rishon, Trumat Ma’aser, and Ma’aser Sheni requires deeper analysis. Usually we apply the Torah principle of following the majority and we are not concerned with what a minority of people may or may not do. Why is it that with regards to Demai, Chazal seem to be concerned with the minority of Amei Ha’Aretz that did not separate and therefore classify the produce of every Am Ha’aretz as being b’safek, in doubt?

The Achronim attempted to formulate the exact nature of the chiyuv of separating fruit of Demai. Reb Elchonon Wasserman in his Kobetz Ha’aros (75:6) suggests that there are two possible ways we can understand the nature of demai:

  1. On a biblical level we can assume that most amei ha’aterz separate all trumot and ma’asrot and are not concerned that perhaps the purchased produce is of the minority of amei ha’aretz who do not separate. However, on a rabbinic level we are concerned that perhaps this produce did in fact come from that minority who are not careful to be separate and therefore the produce is classified as being in a doubtful state.

  2. On a rabbinic level, we are not concerned that the produce stems from the minority, however, the Rabbis created a new chiyuv of hafrashas peiros demai that requires one to be separate Ma’aser Rishon, Trumat Ma’aser, and Ma’aser Sheni.

This chakira is a classic way of attempting to grapple with the nature of rabbinic decrees. Chazal were concerned with the possibility that a Jew would consume produce that may still require separation. The question then becomes – when Chazal created takanat Demai, did they integrate their reasoning into the takanah itself (as described in possibility ‘a’), or did their reasoning merely act as the impetus for the creation of the new chiyuv (as described in ‘b’).

The following Mishnah seems to indicate that the first possible rationale for the takanah of demai holds true. The Mishnah (Demai ) states:

If one separates (gifts) from one food that is Demai on behalf of another food that is Demai...It is Trumah, however, one must go back and separate again (on the other food).

If we assume, like the second possible explanation, that Chazal created a new chiyuv of hafrashas peiros Demai, why then would the Mishnah require one to repeat the hafrasha? The person already fulfilled their obligation of hafrashas perios demai. If however, on the other hand, Demai is based on the concern for the possibility that the peiros have not undergone hafrasha, as described in the first explanation of Reb Elchonon, then one can understand the need to repeat the hafrasha.


Weekly Publication

Receive our publication with an in depth article and revision questions.

Subscribe Now »

Audio Shiurim

Listen to the Mishnah Shiurim by Yisrael Bankier

Listen Now »