The Mishnah provides three opinions regarding how one deals with teruma whose purity is in doubt. R’ Eliezer maintains that the teruma should continue to be guarded from tumah and moved or sealed to ensure its protection. R’ Yehoshua takes the opposite stance and, while agreeing that one cannot actively make the teruma tameh, one can or should2 place it in an open area such that it will definitely become tameh. Rabban Gamliel however understands that the teruma’s location should not be changed whether it is currently in a protected or open area.
The Gemara in Bechorot (33b-34a) looks at the debate between the two extreme opinions: R’ Eliezer and R’ Yehoshua. The obligation to guard teruma is learnt from the following pasuk: “Hashem spoke to Aharon: and I – behold! I have given you (lecha) the safeguard of my heave-offerings (trumotai)…” (Bamidbar 18:8). The Gemara explains that R’ Eliezer understands that since terumotai is a plural word, the obligation of guarding teruma applies to both tahor and talui(doubtful) teruma. R’ Yehoshua however understand that only the teruma that is fitting for you (lecha) requires active safekeeping. Since, in our case, the teruma cannot be consumed, no protection is required. The Gemara concludes that R’ Eliezer could respond that this doubtful teruma may not be lost indefinitely, as Eliyahu might come and clarify the matter.
How do we understand the intermediate position of Rabban Gamliel, that the status quo must be maintained? The Bartenura explains that while he does not require shimur (protection), one cannot cause the teruma to become tameh – even indirectly. Importantly, the Bartenura also explains that Halacha accords with the position of Rabban Gamliel.
The Tosfot R’ Akiva Eiger points us in the direction of Masechet Challah (3:2). The Mishnah there rules that if there is a doubt regarding the purity of dough that requires the removal of challah,one must continue preserving its purity and not make it tameh. The Bartenura explains that challah is like teruma and “teruma teluiya (teruma whose purity is in doubt) requires protection.” The Tosfot Yom Tov notes that this explanation seems to align with R’ Eliezer in our Mishnah. Since the Bartenura rules like Rabban Gamliel, his explanation should have been that one must maintain the dough’s purity because “it is forbidden to indirectly cause teruma teluiya to become tameh.”
With great caution, perhaps we may offer an answer. Rabbeinu Gershon (Bechorot 33b) explains that Rabban Gamliel agrees with R’ Eliezer as he too is concerned that Eliyahu might come and clarify the matter. If that is the case, the why does Rabbeinu Gershon not completely agree with R’ Eliezer and require quality shemira?
Recall that another law is learnt from the above pasuk. The Gemara in Shabbat (10a) teaches that we learn that one can get benefit when burning tameh teruma. The two terumot referred in the pasuk from which a kohen can get benefit are tahor and tameh teruma.3 Note however that even though the pasuk teaches that the kohen can get benefit from both tameh and tahor teruma, the means of benefit are very different in both cases.
Perhaps here too there are two types shemira. The first, classic form required for tahor teruma, takes measures to protect it and to make sure it does not become tameh. The second is to ensure that you do not cause the teruma to be tameh. Perhaps Rabban Gamliel does require “shmira” for teruma teluiya, but only this lower form; what the Bartenura is referring to in Masechet Challah.4
Yisrael Yitzchak Bankier
**^^1 Ordinarily a doubtful case of tumah that occurs in the public domain is treated as definitely tahor, while in the private domain it is treated definitely as tameh. The Bartenura explains that this case is where there are two barrels of teruma and a sheretz touched one of them and it is not know which one. In that case the Torah does not make both barrels tameh. Consequently the debate is regarding both these barrels. See the Tosfot Yom Tov for more details.
2 The Tifferet Yisrael understands that R’ Yehoshua maintains that one should do, so that one does not make a mistake and consume the questionable teruma.
3 The Tosfot explain that both law can be learnt from the same pasuk as the word terumotai (which is in plural) reflects back on both the words mishmeret (guarding, ie, our law) and lecha (the source for gaining benefit from teruma). See also Torah Temima on this pasuk.
4Support for this suggestion can be found in Rashi(Niddah 6a) when he explains the Mishnah in Challah: “… it is forbidden to cause the challah to be tameh is it is written, ‘… I have given you the safeguard of my heave-offering’ and it is expound in Bechorot, two trumot are imply, tahora and taluiya and the pasuk states: guard it.”
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