The first Mishnah in the new masechet, Masechet Taharot, discussed the specials laws that apply to a neveilat ohf tahor – the carcass of a bird from a kosher species. One such law is that in order for parts of the carcass to be susceptible to tumah it requires machshava – intent for human consumption. What is the requirement for machshava?
Ordinarily food does not require machshava to become susceptible to tumah (as opposed to hechsher). In Masechet Uktzin (3:3) the Tana clarifies our Mishnah stating that the requirement for machshava for neveilat ohf tahor is only in the villages where they were not eaten. In the cities however machshava was not required. The Bartenura explains that since neveilat ohf tahor is prohibited it is not assumed ready to be eaten and therefore requires machshava. In the cities, where a majority of people consumed them, machshava was not required. The Mishnah Achrona however argues that the main issue is whether the birds were eaten and not whether they are assur. Note that the Mishnah Achrona, based on Rashi, understood that in the villages they did not eat birds at all, whether neveilah or slaughtered, due to their poverty.73
Rav Aharon Lichtenstein shlita explains that there are two points to consider: there is food that is edible and there is food that is for eating. If a particular object, like a stone, is neither, then machshava will never help. If a food is both, for example an apple, then there is no requirement for machshava. If however the object is edible but not eaten, like in the case of neveilat ohf tahor, then machshava is required.
Rav Lichtenstein continues that this requirement is learnt from the pasuk from which we learn about the susceptibility to tumah of food: “of any food, that is edible…” (Vayikra 11:34). There are two ways to understand the above derivation. The first is that the pasuk begins by including anything that is defined as food – “of any food” – even if it is animal feed. It then continues to limit the scope to only that food that is eaten by people - “that is edible”. Importantly, the pasuk takes the definition of food that is shared elsewhere and then restricts it.
The second way of understanding the pasuk is that the second part, “that which is edible”, comes to define the first, “of any food”. In other words a functional definition of food is being applied to the word of tumah and tahara. Indeed the definition of food could also be restricted according to this understanding. Yet for some cases the Torah could be even be expanding on the regular definition of food.
Rav Lichtenstein explains that a practical difference between these two understanding is possibly expressed in another debate regarding food of poor quality. Just as foodstuff must be defined as food in order to be susceptible to tumah, food that is tameh can lose its tumah if it degrades to a state of no longer being defined as food. According to the Rambam there are separate definitions of food for each of the above two laws. For food to be susceptible to tumah it must be edible to humans (Tumat Ochlin 2:14). It can only lose its tumah however if it degrades to being inedible for animals (2:18). The Ra’avad however does not differentiate between when the food becomes susceptible and when it loses its tumah. The distinction he draws is instead regarding the original definition of that food when it became tameh. If it is animal food then it is not susceptible to tumah even if a dog is licking it. If however it is food for humans, then the point at which it becomes susceptible or loses its tumah is when it is fit for animal consumption.
HaRav Lichtenstein explains that Rambam may understand the derivation the way it was first explained. The definition of food for tumah and tahara is the same as other categories of law. However the Torah restricted this definition when discussing the susceptibility to tumah (“it is edible [to humans]”). The Ra’avad may however understand the derivation in the second way. In other words, the pasuk does not use the objective definition of food when dealing with tumah and tahara. Instead the definition used is “that which is edible” which can be expanded to food that is only fit for a dog to eat.
73 The Mishnah Achrona adds that the reason why the Mishnah only includes neveilot and not slaughtered birds is that slaughtering the bird would be equivalent to machshava. Note that the Mishnah Achrona suggests another explanation that combines both reasons. In other words the requirement of machshava is when the food is both assur and not eaten in general.
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