While the first chapter of Tractate Me’ilah focused on the laws dealing with someone who derives forbidden benefit from a disqualified sacrifice, the second chapter, which begins on today’s daf (=page) discusses how the laws of me’ilah affect korbanot that are not disqualified and are sacrificed on the altar. The first Mishnah opens with the laws of a sin-offering brought from a bird. Once the bird is consecrated as a sacrifice, the laws of me’ilah will apply, and these laws remain in force even after it is slaughtered by means of melikah. Only after the blood is placed on the altar, which permits the kohanim to eat its meat, do the laws of me’ilah cease to apply.
What was involved in the service of melikah?
According to the Gemara in Zevahim (daf 64), Rav Zutra bar Tuviah quotes Rav as teaching that the kohen would hold the wings with two fingers and the legs with two fingers stretching out the bird’s neck, and the bird would be killed by means of the kohen‘s thumbnail. According to the baraita, the bird’s body was held in such a way that it was outside the hand of the kohen, and – while holding the wings with two fingers and the legs with two fingers – the kohen would kill the bird with his thumbnail.
According to Rav Ovadiah mi-Bartenura, as well as the Rambam, the kohen would hold the bird in his left hand according to one of the two opinions, and would perform melikah with the thumb of his right hand. This parallels cases of slaughter in the Temple, where both hands are used. The Shittah Mekubetzet quotes Tosafot as suggesting that the entire melikahservice was done with the right hand (as depicted in the above illustrations). According to this approach we can easily understand why the Gemara considers this service to be the most difficult one, since the bird had to be held and killed with a single hand.