As we have learned on the last two dapim (=pages), when a female animal is purchased from a non-Jew, we must find ways to ascertain whether or not the first offspring born to that animal has the sanctity of a firstborn.
What if the animal is purchased from a Jewish person? How can the animal’s status be determined in that case? The Gemara on today’s daf offers three opinions on this question:
- Rav says that we can be certain that the first offspring has the sanctity of a firstborn, for if the female animal that was sold had already given birth, the seller would have certainly spoken of that with pride.
- Shmuel says that we cannot be certain of the status of the first offspring, for the seller may have assumed that the purchaser was buying the animal to slaughter it for its meat and did not intend to keep it long enough for it to give birth.
- Rabbi Yohanan says that we can be certain that the first offspring does not have the sanctity of a firstborn, since the seller – being a Jew – would be sure to inform the purchaser that the animal had never given birth before, since he is aware of the halakhic ramifications of a firstborn animal. Since he said nothing, we can assume that the animal had already given birth once.
With regard to Rav’s reasoning, Rashi explains it as being connected to the laws of the firstborn. The seller would have used the fact that the purchaser would not need to give away the first offspring that was born as a “selling point” during negotiations. This also explains why the argument applies only to Jews, since non-Jews would not know that this would be a “selling point.” Others suggest different explanations for Rav’s statement, that he is simply saying that the owner points proudly to the fact that the animal is fertile (Rabbenu Gershom), that an animal that has successfully given birth once is more likely to have safe births in the future (Tosafot), or that it is already giving good milk, making it a more valuable purchase (Levush). According to these approaches, such information can, in theory, be gained from a non-Jew, as well, but Tosafot say that we fear lest they are embellishing the truth in order to make the sale, so we cannot rely on them for the laws of bekhor.