The early mishnayot of the ninth perek of Mashechet Taharot deal with the implications of liquids coming into contact with foods in the context of tumah and tahara. This situation is referenced in these early mishnayot using the specific example of olives. This is because olives ordinarily go through a number of processes prior to being pressed into oil and during these stages its juice will come into contact with the olives - resulting in questionable situations.
The fourth Mishnah states that an am ha’aretz who is completing the gathering of his olives should set aside one box and give it ‘le’enei’(literally ‘to the eyes’) of the kohen. The simple explanation is that the am ha’aretz should give the box of olives to the kohen prior to the completion of the gathering process to satisfy his obligation of separating terumah. The Mishnah holds that even if the olives were excreting oil, the determinant for susceptibility to tumah is whether the owner is happy for the olives to be moistened. Prior to the completion of gathering, the owner does not care whether the olives are moistened and gets no benefit from the oil that has escaped. Therefore, by receiving the box of olives from the am ha’aretz prior to this point, the kohen can be ensured that the olives have not reached a point of susceptibility to tumah, and he will be able to maintain these olives in a state of taharah.
The Siach Yitzchak poses a question. How can one rely on the am ha’aretz in order to be sure that the olives received before the completion of the gathering process are tahor? After all, there exists the possibility, especially with an am ha’aretz involved, that the produce came into contact with other liquids prior to being received by the kohen which would render the produce tameh. The Siach Yitzchak answers (by citing a Gemara in Chagigah 22b) that although an am ha’aretz cannot attest to something being tahor, we do believe him if he says that an item is not susceptible to tumah. Therefore, if the kohen claims that the olives have not been rendered susceptible to tumah, we are able to believe him.
The Mishna Achrona has a slightly different version of this text and cites that the am ha’aretz put aside one box in order to complete the work it in front of the kohen. The implication of this is that the am ha’aretz must actually complete the process by placing the final box in the gathering place in front of the kohen, so that the kohen can keep guard over the olives and ensure they maintain their state of taharah from that point under this watch.
There is yet another girsah of this Mishna(as cited in Masechet Chagiga 25a) which states that the am ha’aretz should provide the box of olives to an ‘ani’(i.e. a poor) kohen. According to the first explanation, this implies that since the am ha’aretz must give over one box of olives to a kohen prior to completion in any event it would be a midah tova for them to provide it to a poor kohen which would effectively fulfill their obligation for terumah as well as g’milus chasadim.
The Rambam provides another explanation why a poor kohen was explicitly mentioned in this context. He states that after the gathering season, it is assumed that all olives to be used for olive oil that belonged to an am ha’aretz would have been completed with the knowledge of the owner and come into contact with liquid (either from itself or other surrounding olives). It follows then, that a kohen would be unable to accept olive oil from an am ha’aretz after this point as all olive oil is assumed to be tameh. Therefore, the Mishnah states that the am ha’aretz should specifically take a box of olives and give it to a poor kohen. This box of olives does not have the assumption of tumah, as it was set aside and not used specifically for olive oil. It is also assumed that a rich kohen would not take olives as they would not bother to press it into olive oil, while a poor kohen would take whatever produce is available.
Interestingly the Tosafot(as cited in Chagigah 25a) is of the opinion that the girsah as quoted in the Mishnah(le’enei) is the correct interpretation of the Mishnah and states that those that have the other girsah (l’ani) are citing a corrupted version of the text.
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