Matanot Ani’im - Free for All

Peah (8:1) | Yisrael Bankier | 17 years ago

The first Mishnah in the eighth and final perek teaches that once the poor have stopped taking the matanot ani'im, anyone can take the gifts, irrespective of their financial status. The Mishnah provides the indicators of when this happens for the different matanot ani'im. What halachic mechanism enables these matanot ani'im to be taken by anybody?

The Rambam writes as follows (Matanot Ani'im ):

It states by the gifts of the poor, “to the poor and the proselyte shall you leave them” [to imply] the entire time they request them [it must be left for them]. As soon as the poor stop asking and searching for them, the gifts are permitted to everybody. [Why?] Because they are not sanctified like trumah, and we are not required to give the poor its value because it does not write “give”, rather it writes “leave”. Furthermore there is no mitzvah to leave it for the animals and birds, only to the poor and there are none.

It appears that the source of this law is a gzeirat ha'katuv – a pasuk from the Torah. The position runs into difficulty as the Gemarah (Bava Metzia 21b) seems to suggest a different, more general reason. There the Gemarah bases this law on yi'ush. In other words, everyone can take the matanot ani’im because the poor have resigned ownership.4

Surely yi'ush alone would be enough to allow others to take the matanot ani'im (see Rashi Ta'anit 6b). Furthermore, the Rambam in the next Halacha also appears to use yi'ush as a measure of when the matanot ani'im are available to everyone. Why then does the Rambam need a pasuk?

The Rav z”l gives two different responses to this question (Igrot HaGri”d Matanot Ani'im ). He begins by explaining that the exposition from the pasuk the Rambam uses (i.e. “to the poor and the proselyte shall you leave them” and not to animals and birds) comes from another Gemarah (Chulin 134b) where Levi planted produce in an area where there were no poor people to collect the gifts. Rav Sheshet applied this exposition in this context. The Rav therefore explains that the pasuk teaches that when there are no poor people at all, there is no mitzvah to leave the matanot ani'im. The case in Bava Metzia however is where there were poor people, and they have stopped coming. Consequently, the mitzvah of leaving the gifts was initiated and the gifts have already become property of the poor. In this case, one needs yi'ush to enable anyone else to take the gifts.

The Rav bases his second answer on another Gemarah (Bava Kama 94a) which discusses R’ Yishmael’s opinion regarding peah flour that was used to make bread. The Gemarah concludes that in general R’ Yishmael holds that changing the form of an object (shinui) acquires the object, meaning that if the flour, eg, was stolen, he would need to return the value of the flour not the bread. In this case however peah is separated from the bread itself which is learnt from the superfluous word “you shall leave” included in the p’sukim. One should note that the Rambam rules according to this Gemarah (Gzeila Ve’Aveida 2:1, Matanot Ani’im 1:2). The Rav explains that this law teaches that the matanot ani’im are unique because the transfer to the poor people's ownership is not a one-off event, but can happen continually. Consequently, in our case, yi'ush alone is not enough to prevent it for become poor property once again. Rambam therefore required the pasuk to enable the matanot ani’im to prevent it from becoming poor property once again after yi’ush.

A final idea may be proposed. In the past few articles it has been suggested that matanot ani’im is much more than just an issue of ownership. There is also the biblical obligation of leaving these portions for the poor. Just like the Gra”ch (see issue 7) suggests that migo can only be applied in monetary issues and not for issurim, perhaps here as well, yi’ush can only solve the monetary component. Perhaps this is why the Rambam also required a pasuk to teach that once the poor have stopped collecting the matanot ani’im the issur is also removed.


4: The Gemarah raises this case in the context of a debate whether yi'ush shelo mi'da'at is considered yi'ush. In other word, if when someone finds out about the object (eg, that they lost) they would instantly resign ownership, is ownership already considered resigned? Initially, the Gemarah thinks that this is an example of such a case, since we assume yi'ush for all poor people, including those outside the city that have no knowledge about the status of the field. It rejects this as a proof, claiming that those outside the city resigned ownership from the outset as they assumed the local poor people would collect the gifts.

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