The beginning of masechet Terumot discusses separating terumah gedolah – the first gift removed from produce and given to the kohanim. Specifically, the Mishnah begins by discussing who is able to separate terumah and the manner in which it must be done. Many of the Mishnayot discuss separating terumah from one pile or type of produce to satisfy the requirements of another. One case discussed (2:2) is separating terumah from a tameh pile of produce for a tahor one. The Mishnah forbids such practice. If one nonetheless does so, the Mishnah explains that if it was a mistake (be’shogeg), e.g. he did not know it was tameh, then it is considered terumah. If however he acted deliberately, then “he has done nothing”. We shall try an understand this law.
The Bartenura explains that we must understand that in this Mishnah the produce was tameh after the point it because obligated in separating maasrot. If however it became tameh prior to that point, then even it was be’shogeg that separation would be ineffective. This is because on a biblical level, terumah separated from such produce would not be considered terumah and one cannot separate from something that is exempt from terumah for tevel produce.
The Mishnah Rishona directs us to Pesachim (33a) that learns this from the passuk: “The first of your grain, wine, and oil… shall you give to him.” (Devarim 18:4). The Gemara understands that you must give it to him, but not to “his fire”. In other words, terumah is meant to be given to the Kohen for his consumption. Since tameh terumah can only be burnt, it is not included in this pasuk. The Gemara understands that this exclusion only applies if the terumah did not have a “shaat kosher”, meaning that it was never able to have become tahor terumah.
How do we understand the rule of our Mishnah that is against separating terumah tameh for tahor?
The Tosfot (Yevamot 89a) first citesthe Rivan that cites the above pasuk as the source. The Tosfot reject this based on the Gemara cited above which explains that the cases derived from the pasuk would not be terumah at all, even be’shogeg.
The Tosfot therefore brings three answer. First they cite Rashi who explains that the Chachamim forbad it since it would result in a loss for the Kohen. Had the person separated from the tahor pile, the Kohen would have received edible produce. Since however the requirement was separated from tameh produce, the Kohen can only burn it and therefore loses out. Consequently, the Chachamim ideally prevented such practice.
Second they suggest that perhaps the Chachamim instituted a gezeira including these cases where there was a shaat kosher because of the issue with cases where there was no shaat kosher. In other words, due to the potential for confusion between these two cases, the Chachamim prohibited both.
Finally, they cite the Ri who explains that the pasuk requires that one ideally selecte the best of the produce to be terumah. As we have already learnt, this is the requirement of separating “mi tov al ha’rah”. Separating from tameh for tahor would be acting against this instruction. They continue, that even though when one separates from bad for good, even deliberately, it is effective1, this case is worse. Unlike the lower quality produce, tameh produce cannot be consumed at all. The Tosfot cite the Mishnah in the beginning of the third perek as another case treated in the same way based on this logic. There, the Mishnah discusses a case where one separated a cucumber as terumah and later discovered it was spoiled. There, the Chachamim require him to separate terumah again. The same logic applies – even though it was technically mi rah al ha’tov, since it not edible, the Chachamim require him to separate terumah again.
1 The fact that it is still effective is source in Temurah (5a) based on the pasuk: “You shall not bear a sin because of it when you raise up its best from it…” (Bamidbar 18:32). The fact that one would a bear a sin implies that the Terumah is effective.
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