The Mishnah (4:7) records a debate regarding one that redeems maaser sheni without explicitly stating so. R' Yossi maintains that it is sufficient, and the maaser sheni is redeemed. R' Yehuda however argues that the redemption does not work unless one declares "this is the redemption for the maaser sheni". The debate is extended to cases where the money used for kiddushin or a get (divorce document) is handed over without any declaration. We shall try to understand the debate.
The Gemara (Kiddusin 6a) explains that the debate regarding kiddushin (and geirushin) is only if they were already discussing the matter of kiddushin. If however they were not discussing the topic, then everyone would agree that the kiddushin would not work, since the woman would need to be aware of what she was receiving. Interestingly the Yerushalmi presents the opposite position. If they were discussing matters of the kiddushin then everyone would agree that kiddushin would work even without articulating why the money was handing over. The debate is only if they were discussing other matters.
While the simple understanding is that the Bavli and Yerushalmi argue regarding the nature of this debate, the Rash Sirilio appears to resolve the two. He explains that when the Yerushalmi explains that the debate is when they were not discussing kiddushin, it means that they were still however discussing matter around the kiddushin, e.g. the dowry. If however they were discussing matter completely unrelated to the wedding, then since the woman would not know why the money was being given to her, everyone would agree that the kiddushin would not work.
The Rash explains that this would be true for maaser sheni also. In other words, following the Bavli's understanding, the debate is only if the person was engaged in matters related to maaser sheni.
The Tosfot Yom Tov however disagrees arguing that gittin and kiddushin are different. In the case of kiddushin there are two parties involved and we need the da'at (understanding) of the recipient. For redeeming maaser sheni that is not the case -- only the one redeeming the maaser sheni is involved. Consequently, even if he the owner was not engaged in matters related to maaser sheni, R' Yehuda and R' Yossi would still argue whether a declaration is required.
The Derech Emuna (Biur Halacha 4:1) cites the Tosfeta that explains that we find the same debate regarding the separation of terumah and maaser. It is clear that for R' Yehuda, machshava (thought) alone is insufficient.
The Derech Emuna continues that there is a fundamental difference in the understandings of the Bavli and Yerushalmi. Recall that according to the Yerushalmi, everyone agrees that if they were engaged in matters related to kiddushin, the kiddushin would work without a declaration. This means that R' Yehuda agrees that if one is engaged in the matter, then it is equivalent to articulation. R' Yossi however who argues that the kiddushin works even if they were not engaged in the matter, understands that machshava alone is sufficient -- just like for the separation of teruma.
According to the Bavli however the debate is only if they were engaged in matters related to kiddushin. If we explain like the Rash above, that even for maaser sheni it only works if he was engaged in matters related to maaser sheni, then even R' Yossi agrees that machshava alone is insufficient for the redemption of maaser sheni -- speech is required. The debate in this Mishnah is whether being engaged in the matter, makes the action equivalent to speech.
The Mishnah Rishona agrees with the Tosfot Yom Tov that one does not need to be engaged with matters related to maaser sheni for the separation alone to be enough. The debated regarding the redemption of maaser sheni is the same as the debate regarding the separation of terumot and maaserot. According to R' Yossi, just like with hekdesh, stipulation "in one's heart" is sufficient. He explains that this is true even for kiddushin. The reason why the Bavli required that they be engaged in the matter of kiddushin is so that all the parties, including the witnesses, are aware of what is occurring. He explains that once that is the case, R' Yossi understands that kiddushin is like hekdesh for which machshava is sufficient. R' Yehuda however understands that the Torah uses the work "kicha" -- taking -- when describing kiddushin, which for people, can only be performed through words.
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