The previous chapters of Masechet Zevahim focused on the various types of sacrifices and the differences between them, e.g. the place and time of the sacrifices and when and how they are eaten. Given the wide variety of sacrifices, the Sages felt a need to begin to discuss how to deal with situations when they become mixed up in one way or another. This is the main focus of Perek Kol ha-Zevahim, which deals with situations where valid and invalid sacrifices become mixed together, where sacrifices become mixed with ordinary animals and even general issues of mixtures of forbidden and permitted foods. Many of the early commentators – the rishonim – refer to this chapter as perek ha-ta’arovet – “the Chapter of Mixtures.”
This discussion is essential because the ordinary workings of the Temple made it difficult to avoid situations of mistakes and confusion.
At the time when animals are consecrated as sacrifices and brought to the Temple, there are bound to be many animals there –
– some already consecrated and some ordinary animals,
– some perfect animals together with animals that are invalid to be used in the sacrificial service,
– animals belonging to different people,
– animals that have already been consecrated for different sacrifices,
all in close quarters.
Similarly, at the time when the animals are slaughtered and butchered, the kohanim are working with many different animals simultaneously, and the various sacrifices have different halakhic statuses, belong to different people and are at different stages of preparation for sacrifice.
This reality leads to questions of how to deal with mixtures, as well as questions of how to rule in situations of halakhicdoubt.
This chapter deals mainly with these questions as they apply to sacrifices brought from animals (i.e. cattle), while a separate tractate is devoted to these questions as they apply to sacrifices brought from birds (Masechet Kinim) and another to these questions as they apply to menahot – meal offerings (Masechet Menahot).