When a farmer harvests his crop, the Torah obligates him to offer a series of tithes to the kohanim and levi’im as well as to the poor.
Among these tithes we find:
- Teruma gedola– contribution to the kohen, which biblically can be any amount (the Sages recommended 1/40, 1/50 or 1/60 of the harvest)
- Ma’aser rishon – one-tenth of the remaining crop, which is given to the levi
- Terumat ma’aser – the levi gives to the kohen one-tenth of the ma’aser rishon that he received
Although teruma gedola does not need to be measured, since it can be any amount, how is one to measure the harvest in order to assure that the correct amount is distributed for ma’aser rishon and terumat ma’aser? The Talmud Yerushalmi offers three acceptable options:
- Good: Moneh – the number of bushels harvested are counted
- Better: Moded – the harvest is measured
- Best: Shokel – the harvest is weighed
Our Gemara brings the opinion of Abba Elazar ben Gimmel who quotes the passage in Bamidbar 18:27 and interprets it as meaning that there are two types of teruma, both of which can be distributed based on estimation and intent. This opinion is accepted as the halakha by the Rambam (Hilkhot Terumot 3:4), who rules that it is a mitzva to distribute teruma gedola based on estimation rather than by weighing or measuring it. The Me’iri applies this ruling to terumat ma’aser, as well, arguing that it is the responsibility of the levi to be sure that he estimates generously so that the kohen will receive no less that 10% of the ma’aser rishon that the levi received.
This teaching of Abba Elazar ben Gimmel is the only one that has been preserved, although due to its importance it appears several times in the Talmud. In the Sifrei the name appears as Abba Elazar ben Gamliel and the contraction to “Gimmel”, “Gomel” and “Gamla” (as it appears in other sources) appears to be a nickname of sorts. He appears to have been a contemporary of Rabbi Akiva; during that period the title “Abba” was the honorific title given to a number of Sages.