The Mishnah (4:1) teaches that if one separates some terumah with the intention of removing the remainder later, he is able to do so. The example we will use is if he separated one seah from one hundred as terumah gedolah, leaving a further one seah needing to be separated later. Whether one can separate terumah from this pile to satisfy the requirements for another pile of tevel is the subject of debate. R’ Meir maintains that he can, while the Chachamim disagree. We shall try to understand this debate.
The Bartenura explains that even though one can continue to separate terumah for the same pile, when separating for another pile, we are concerned the person might be separating from the “fixed” part. In other words, some of the terumah has already been separated, this means that some of the food remaining in the pile is already patur (exempt). Since we cannot separate from that which is patur to cover the requirement of that which chayav (obligated) there is a concern that this rule might be violated. R’ Meir however does not differentiate; just as it is not a concern when separating for itself, it is not a concern when separating for other produce.
The Tosfot R’ Akiva Eiger ask why there is a difference according to the Chachamim whether one is separating for the same produce or other produce. The same concern should apply. He adds that even if we say “yesh bila”, meaning that if we mix the remainder, the proportion of chayav and patur are considered evenly distributed, it would still be difficult. Using our example, instead of an additional one seah, he would be required to separate two as it would be an equal mixture of half chayav and half patur.
The Tifferet Yisrael explains that according to the Chachamim since on a biblical level, there is no minimum amount one must separate for terumah gedolah, after he has separated a small amount it is already considered exempt. This would mean that according to the Chachamim one would not even be able to separate from another pile to satisfy the remaining terumah. R’ Meir however argues on two points. The first is that since the owner intended to separate more, the biblical requirement of separating terumah has not yet been discharged. Furthermore, unlike the Chachamim, R’ Meir maintains the principle of berierah (retroactive selection). In other words, there is no issue with separating terumah from the pile because we say that which was taken is the chayav part.
The Mishnah Rishona however provides a different explanation. The concept that on a biblical level a single kernel could exempt the entire pile is only when the owner intends for that result. If however he intends to separate a larger amount, then the biblical obligation has not been discharge until that amount has been separated. Unlike the Tifferet Yisrael, this is principle held be both opinions.1 However much like the Tifferet Yisrael, the Mishnah Achrona (citing the Raavad) explains that the debate is based on whether or not we maintain the principle of bereirah in this context. Since the Chachamim do not, one cannot separate terumah from this pile for another as he might be separating the exempt part.
That being the case, we find ourselves back to the original question. If the Chachamim do not maintain the principle of bereirah and the pile is now a mix of patur and chayav on a biblical level, how can the remaining terumah be removed from that pile. Citing the Rosh, the Mishnah Rishona explains that this is exactly how separation works. It is mostly impossible to separate all the required terumah from a large pile in one motion - it is always separated bit by bit. Consequently, pauses in the process, even for the duration of days, are not problematic, provided that he is still engaged in the process. It is as if it is one protracted act of separation. Separating for other produce however, would be considered a break. At that point it would be a mix of patur and chayav and separating from it for other produce would therefore be prohibited.
1 According to this understanding, unlike the Tifferet Yisrael, the Chachamim would agree that one can separate from other produce to satisfy the remaining terumah. See the Tosfot Yom Tov that cites a slightly different version of our Mishnah - “*mi’makom acher”. He explains this is the source for the opinion that the Chachamim argue in both cases, and is debated by the Rambam and Raavad*.
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