The beginning of the fourth perek lists several activities that are koveah for maaserot. Recall that this means, after that point, the produce is considered tevel and any consumption is prohibited prior to separated maaserot. One of those listed is melicha – salting.
The Mishnah later (4:3) records a debate related to melicha. The case is where one wishes take some olives that have been left in a vat to soften prior to pressing. The first opinion is that one may take, salt and eat one at a time. If however he salts a few and places them in front of him, then it would be koveah. R’ Eliezer however maintains that if we are dealing with a person who is tameh, then it depends whether the vat itself is tameh. Only if it is tahor, which would mean that he would not return any of the remaining (now tameh) olives, would it be koveah. Otherwise, since he would return any leftover olives, then the salting would not be koveah.
The Bartenura explains that according to the Chachamim, salting is only koveah when we are metzaref (combine) a few together. The Mishnah Rishona notes that this makes melicha equivalent to a chatzer (courtyard) or mechira (sale). For all three, if the produce has not reached gmar melacha (finished being processed)1, they are only koveh when one is metzaref. In other words, according to this understanding, our Mishnah is qualifying the statement in the earlier one, that for melicha to be koveah it requires tziruf. Indeed, this understanding appears to align with the Yerushalmi where it asks why in our Mishnah both tziruf and melicha are necessary. The Yerushalmi answers that “it is through this and through this” - implying that both are necessary.
The Tifferet Yisrael however explains that Chachamim differently. He explains that when the Mishnah teaches that melicha is koveah, that is when the foodstuff is left resting for some time in the salt – the purpose of which is to soften the food. The early Mishnah however is not referring to where one simply dips food into salt momentarily prior to eating, in order to flavour it. He explains that that is why our Mishnah does not use the terminology metzaref like it does elsewhere. Instead, the Mishnah explains that if one dips it into salt – tovel – then it is not koveah. The Tifferet Yisrael explains that this is because even if one dipped a number at a time, it would not be koveah. The Mishnah however continues that if however he salts – malach – a number and place them in front of him leaving them to rest for a few moments, then it would be koveah since this activity would constitute melicha. According to this understanding, the Mishnah is defining the act of melicha that was listed in the earlier Mishnah.
How do we understand the Yerushalmi based on this understanding? The Tosfot Chadashim cites an opinion that also differentiates in a similar why to the Tifferet Yisrael. Furthermore he would understand the Yerushalmi like that Pnei Moshe that when it states “it is through this and through this” to mean that either tziruf or melicha is koveah.2 In other words, regarding melicha – proper salting – it would be koveah even one at a time. If however one only dipped these olives in salt, then since it is not considered melicha it would only be koveah when one is metzaref.3
1 The Chazon Ish (Maaserot 4:11) explains that the reason that melicha is koveah even prior to gemar melcha is not because it has the capacity to be koveah prior to gemar melcaha, but rather once a number are separated and salted it is considered as if they are separate from the rest of the pile and it is considered, for them, as if they have reached gemar melacha.
2 See the Pnei Moshe inside for his reading of our Mishnah.
3 The Tosfot Chadashim continue that on this point R’ Eliezer argues. In a case where on will return the remainder, then taking more than one at a time is not considered metzaref. The Chachamim in general agree with this point, as we learn in the next Mishnah. However, dipping is salt is an exception.
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