What if an animal gives birth to firstborn twins, whose heads present simultaneously?
The Mishnah (daf, or page, 17b) teaches that there is a disagreement among the tanna’im regarding this case. Rabbi Yose HaGalilee rules that they both are considered firstborn, and both must be given to the priest. The Sages say that they cannot both be viewed as firstborn, and only one belongs to the priest. Rabbi Tarfon rules that the priest can choose the better one; Rabbi Akiva says me-shamnin beneihem – we compromise between them.
The Gemara on today’s daf explains that Rabbi Tarfon’s reasoning is that we can assume that the stronger one came out first. Rabbi Akiva’s ruling is unclear and is the focus of discussion on today’s daf. Rabbi Hiyya bar Abba quotes Rabbi Yohanan as teaching that Rabbi Akiva meant that the kohen gets the weaker of the two animals, but he asks how that can possibly be true, given Rabbi Akiva’s statement in the Mishnah that me-shamnin beneihem – which he understood to mean that they must divide the value of the animals equally. Rabbi Yohanan responded by saying: “While you were not yet eating date-berries in Babylonia, we expounded Rabbi Akiva’s statement from the latter part of the Mishnah.”
Rashi explains that this is an expression of rebuke: While you were living a life of luxury, eating dates in Babylonia – which was known for its dates – here in Israel we were struggling to make sense of this passage. Tosafot point out that the date-berries mentioned by Rabbi Yohanan were bad dates, which offer neither pleasure nor luxury. They argue that Rabbi Yohanan was saying: You would have been better off coming to study with me in Israel, rather than eating “bad dates” in Babylonia. In his Shemen Roke’ah, Rabbi Mordechai Shimon Rubinsky suggests that the date-berries were unripe dates and that Rabbi Yohanan was hinting that Rabbi Hiyya bar Abba reached a poorly thought-out conclusion, and that he should have patiently waited until the end of the Mishnah where it would have been clear that he misunderstood Rabbi Akiva’s position.