Shul Lighting with Terumah

Trumot (11:10) | Yisrael Bankier | 2 months ago

The final Mishnah in Terumot explains that one can use terumah oil that has become tameh (shemen sreifah) for lighting shuls, batei midrash, dark alleyways and for a sick person "bereshut kohen". What does berushut kohen mean? Furthermore, what is unclear is whether bereshut kohen is a requirement for all the cases in the Mishnah or only the case of a sick person.

The Bartenura explains that bereshut kohen means that there must be a kohen preset at the time. The reason is "ner echad, ner lemeah" - one candle can benefit many people equally.

The Rambam however understands that bereshut kohen means with the kohen's permission. The Tosfot Anshei Shem explains similarly, because of the following question. The Yerushalmi teaches that if a kohen came to a yisrael's house to perform some accounting, the yisrael can fuel the lights with shemen sreifa and continue to benefit from the light after the kohen leaves. The Tosfot Anshei Shem argues that if for mundane matters one is allowed to benefit from shemen sreifa in the presence of a kohen, then surely one can do so for the sake of a mitzvah. What then is the novelty of the Mishnah according to the Bartenura's understanding? The Tosfot Anshei Shem therefore explains that he is gifting the oil to the kohen and getting permission to use it in these locations.

The Mishnah Rishona however notes that the next case in the Mishnah discusses a bat Yisrael who marries a kohen and can thereby consume terumah. The Mishnah teaches that if she is frequently at her father's house, then he can light candles with the shemen sreifa "birshuta". The context seems to suggest that it requires her presence, not just her permission. The Mishnah Rishona suggests that the first cases in the Mishnah are different since they are tzorchei rabbim -- they serve a public need. Even so, how can one be lenient in that case?

The Tosfot Anshei Shem notes that the Yerushalmi explains that the presence of a kohen is required where it is used for a sick person. This implies that in the other cases, in the shuls, batei midrash and alleyways, the presence of a kohen is not required. Again, the difference being that these cases have a public need. Why can we be lenient in those cases? The Tosfot Anshei Shem suggests that in these environments one can assume that a kohen will inevitably benefit from the light. He argues that if however, it was not for the need of a mitzvah, then both permission and the presence of a kohen would be required.

The Melechet Shlomo also understands that the requirement of "bereshut kohen" is only when used for a sick person. He however understands, that for the other cases that satisfy a public need, no permission is need at all! He assumes that it is based on the principle that one would be happy for another to use their property for the sake of a mitzvah and therefore no permission is required.

The Rambam (Hilchot Terumot 11:18) rules that one can use shemen sreifah to light shuls, batei midrash and dark alleyways, without the permission of a kohen. The Rambam adds that one could even use shemen sreifa to light channukah candles if they have no other oil, without the permission of a kohen. The addition of the case of the channukah candles seems to support the Melechet Shlomo's explanation, that it is not just for the public need, but also for the sake of a mitzvah.

The Tosfot (Pesachim 34) however argues that bereshut kohen, the presence of the kohen, is required in all the cases listed in the Mishnah. What is behind this debate?

The Mishnah LeMelech understands that the Rambam and Tosfot argue regarding the prohibition of a non-kohen deriving benefit from (but not eating) terumah as it is being used up -- hanaat kilui. Everyone agrees it is prohibited. The Tosfot however understands that it prohibited biblically. Consequently, no matter the need, it is prohibited. The only way a non kohen can benefit from it, is alongside a kohen. The Rambam however understands that hanaat kilui is prohibited rabbinically. Consequently, the Chachamim permitted the benefit where there is a public need.

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