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Bechor - positive or negative?

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1 Bechor - positive or negative? on Sun Jan 01, 2017 10:24 pm

In the time of the Beis Hamikdash, a bechor beheimah was always a positive. If it was a tam, the Cohen brought it as a korbon. If it was a ba'al mum, he could shecht it and eat it.
The only problem case was some kind of a partial mum. A mum oveir or something like ne'evad, muktzeh or esnan can neither be brought as a korbon nor shechted outside; you had to wait till it got a real mum.

Once there was no Beis Hamikdash, every bechor needs to get a mum, which can take a long time.

Even if the animal does get a mum, since a cohen is chashud, he must bring witnesses that the mum happened by accident. That sounds hard; what if no one was watching at that moment? If he was smart enough to have someone else watch it, at least they would be able to testify. It might be enough to testify that the owner wasn't around.

Most mumim need to be seen by a mumcheh, a real expert. According to the Rambam (perek 3, halacha 1) he needs to have been given special permission by the nasi in Eretz Yisroel - true s'micha. But according to Tosefos (36b d"h shlosha), he just needed to be an expert like Rav Nachman or Rav Ashi.

But, says Tosefos there (d"h p'sak), in our days it would seem that there is no one who is called such a mumcheh.

So according to the Rambam, we are in the same boat as Bavel in the time of the gemara. According to Tosefos, we are much worse off than them.

If there is no mumcheh, you can only matir a bechor with three "bnei knesset" (according to the Aruch Hashulchan, people somewhat learned but not talmidei chachamim), and only those mumim that are "gluyim muvhakim" (Rambam) - completely obvious. The poskim discuss which mumim fall into this category, but it definitely drastically restricts their number. Most mumim don't qualify.

So there has been an evolution with time: Beis Hamikdash (basically no problem), no Beis Hamikdash but mumcheh (difficult), no mumcheh (very difficult). The Rambam and Tosefos seem to have a machlokes whether the third category was already present in the time of the gemara.

By the time you get to the Shulkhan Arukh, we see discussions of "What if the cohen doesn't want the bechor?" What if he's not a farmer? What if the Yisroel gives it to him in order to hurt him? It has the potential to be much more trouble than it's worth.

Tosefos (28a d"h ad, 53a d"h v'i) says that the owner is not allowed to be machnis l'kipah, put the bechor into a room and just let it die. (See there if they imply that Rashi's reading of the gemara disagrees, and see Tosefos 13b d"h noel that sounds that they disagree too, and there are other Rishonim.) They bring as proof, דלא מישתמיט בשום דוכתא למתני הכי גבי בכור - we never find it in the mishnayos concerning a bechor.

I'm not sure that's convincing: according to Tosefos, we don't have mumchim like in the gemara - so unlike us, maybe no one in the gemara would want to. Of course, they may have assumed that having to wait for a mum was enough of a negative, regardless.

The gemara does say that one can avoid having a bechor in the first place by giving it a mum before it is considered born. Or, when we are no longer skilled enough to do that (Tosefos), by selling part of the mother or child to a non-Jew before birth.
But the gemara gives a very different reason for doing that - takalah: it isn't safe to keep a bechor around, since someone might work it or shear it. The gemara doesn't mention the idea that no one wants one.
But that might be because it is after all a mitzvah. The Shulkhan Arukh brings that a Cohen is not generally allowed to refuse to take it, it would be zilzul of matnos kehuna.

See also what I mentioned from Bechoros 35b, that the P'rishah uses the idea that a desperate Cohen might want to get out of the obligation to watch his bechor till it gets a mum: this was even in the time of the gemara.



Last edited by MichoelR on Sun Jan 22, 2017 12:35 am; edited 2 times in total

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2 Re: Bechor - positive or negative? on Wed Jan 04, 2017 10:01 pm

I also noticed in Yoreh Deah 310(3) from Bechoros 28b: If someone who isn't a mumcheh matirs a bechor - and as a result the shechted animal must be buried - he has to pay the owner back a half (or a quarter). Rashi explains the "half" as a compromise: maybe it would have gotten a mum and maybe it never would. I guess it's just a gezeirah and not an actuarial calculation. In any case, it's brought by the poskim unchanged, even though the actuarial situation has gotten worse since the time of the gemara.

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3 Re: Bechor - positive or negative? on Fri Jan 06, 2017 6:23 pm

Truth is that the Tur brings almost all of the mumim in siman 309. Unlike the Rambam, he holds that there are only a few mumin that you really need the mumcheh for (dukim b'ayin, chavarvar,...) Almost all of them can be judged by 3 "b'nei knesset". According to that, there has been not much change from the time of the gemara, or from the time of the mishnah, till today: we don't have a mumcheh but it doesn't matter so much.
Whereas, according to the Rambam, there's a drastic change from the time of the Mishnah, when we had mumchim in Eretz Yisroel and could judge all mumim, till the time of the gemara and till today, when there are only a few mumim we could judge.

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