There are significant milestones in agricultural production that are important for trumot and maasrot (maasrot for short). Once food products reach a particular stage in their development, one can no longer consume them as part of a fixed meal. The masechet began by listing this first stage for various different foods (1:1-4). One can however still eat a small amount as a snack. There comes a point however where even snacks are forbidden until all the terumot and maasrot are separated – this is referred to as keviyut le’maasrot. That time however varies with the intended use of the food. If one wishes to sell the food then, in general, the point is when the required processes are complete (g’mar melacha). If however one wants to take them for personal use, the keviyut is even later; when the food is taken home.1
With the above principles in mind, one Mishnah at first appears difficult. The Mishnah(2:1) teaches that if an am ha’aretz was passing through the market and offers a chaver some figs, he may eat them without separating any maasrot. Now recall, that if one were to purchase food from an am haaretz it would be treated as Demai and a number of matanot would need to be separated prior to consumption. This Mishnah however teaches that nothing needs to be separated. What exactly are the circumstances in this Mishnah?
Matters become further complicated if we ask what the am ha’aretz was doing in the market place. If he is coming from his field to sell the products, then, as stated above, the products are already kavuah lemaasrot and considered tevel! The Bartenura explains that this am ha’aretz is not a selling the product, and the figs also have not been taken into his house yet.
The Mishnah Rishona however is uncomfortable with this assertion. How do we know that they have not been taken home first? Furthermore, perhaps the am ha’aretz initially wanted to sell the figs and only later changed him mind. In both cases the figs would be tevel. How then can the Mishnah rule leniently in a case of doubt that involves the biblical prohibition of tevel?
The Mishnah Rishona answer that the Mishnah in Machshirin (2:10) teaches that if one finds produce in the street, whether on can consume them as a snack without separating maasrot depends on what the majority of field owners do with such produce. If the majority sell them, then they are considered tevel. If however the majority simply take them home, then one can eat them as we can safely assume that they have not reached the original owners home yet. In our case as well, we must say that a majority people that grow figs simply took them home. Since the am ha’aretz is passing through the market with these figs, we can safely assume that they too have not entered the owner’s house yet.
The Mishnah Rishona however is not satisfied. Perhaps the am ha’aretz separated maasrot early, particularly as he might be concerned that those that take his gift might eat the figs in a fixed manner (which is prohibited). The Mishnah Rishona therefore explains that the case in our Mishnah is where he only handed over a small amount that would normally be eaten there and then in the market.
With this we understand the end of the Mishnah. We have explained the first case is when the am ha’aretz hands over a small number of figs of a type that most growers simply take home. One can assume that the figs are not kavuah le’maasrot and the am ha’aretz has not pre-emptively separated anything. The end of the Mishnah however explains that if the am ha’aretz said “take them home with you” when handing the figs over, then they should be treated as demai. The Mishnah Rishona explains that by him saying “take them home”, the am ha’aretz is embellishing the gift implying that there is no need to separate anything as it has all been taken care of. Consequently the chaver must treat the gift as demai, albeit with many thanks and gratitude.
1 Note there are other cases that are koveh as well, e.g. a sale or Shabbat.
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