ל׳ בניסן ה׳תשע״ט (May 5, 2019)

Bekhorot 18a-b: First Among Twins

What if an animal gives birth to firstborn twins, whose heads present simultaneously?

The Mishna (daf 17b) teaches that there is a disagreement among the tanna’im regarding this case. Rabbi Yosei HaGelili rules that they both are considered firstborn, and both must be given to the priest. 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 Ḥiyya bar Abba quotes Rabbi Yoḥanan as teaching that Rabbi Akiva meant that the kohen gets the leaner of the two animals, but he asks how that can possibly be true, given Rabbi Akiva’s statement in the Mishna that me-shamnin beneihem – which he understood to mean that they must divide the value of the animals equally. Rabbi Yoḥanan responded by saying: “While you were  eating dates in Babylonia, we explained Rabbi Akiva’s statement from the latter part of the Mishna.”

Rashi explains that this is an expression of scorn: While you were living a life of luxury, eating dates in Babylonia – which was known for its dates – here in Israel we already explained this passage. Tosafot point out that the dates mentioned by Rabbi Yoḥanan were inferior dates, which offer neither pleasure nor luxury. They argue that Rabbi Yoḥanan 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’aḥ, Rabbi Mordechai Shimon Rubinsky suggests that the dates were unripe dates and that Rabbi Yoḥanan was hinting that Rabbi Ḥiyya bar Abba reached a poorly thought-out conclusion, and that he should have patiently waited until the end of the Mishna where it would have been clear that he misunderstood Rabbi Akiva’s position.