י״א באדר ה׳תשע״ה (March 2, 2015)

Ketubot 28a-b: Identifying a Kohen

The Mishna presents a list of statements about which an adult can testify based on what he witnessed as a child. For example, a person can say that he recognizes the signature of his father, his teacher or his brother. He is also believed to attest to the fact that someone would leave school to immerse in the mikveh so that he could eat teruma that is permitted only to a kohen, or that he received teruma that was distributed at the granary.

Our Gemara questions whether receiving teruma is a reliable statement that someone is a kohen. Perhaps that person was a slave whose master was a kohen, and he received the teruma on behalf of his master?

In clarifying the rules of a kohen and his servants, the Gemara relates a disagreement between Rabbi Yehuda and Rabbi Yosei. Rabbi Yehuda insists that such a person can only receive teruma in the granary if he is accompanying his master, the kohen. Rabbi Yosei allows the servant to receive teruma on his own, with the argument that he is deserving of the teruma, either on his own merit as a kohen, or else because he is owned by a kohen. The Gemara explains that this disagreement is based on different practices that existed in each of their communities. In Rabbi Yehuda’s community, receiving teruma was considered tantamount to proof that the recipient was a kohen; in Rabbi Yosei’s community it was not considered proof.

Rabbi Elazar son of Rabbi Yosei then relates that this difference almost led to a servant being accepted as a kohen. As explained by the Gemara, while in Rabbi Yosei’s community he saw someone receiving teruma. Upon testifying to this fact in Rabbi Yehuda’s community, the man was almost accepted as a kohen.

The Gemara is certain that ultimately no mistake had been made, arguing that “if no error can ensue from the activities of the animal of a tzaddik, certainly the actions of an actual cannot lead to error.” The source for this concept is a story that appears in Hullin (7a) where Pinhas ben Yair’s donkey refuses to eat food that had not been properly tithed. Although Rabbeinu Tam extends this idea to other areas of, as well, Tosafot on our page erase the discussion of this idea, arguing that it only applies to eating forbidden food, and not to other possible errors.

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