Choosing Chumeros

As I write this, it’s a few hours before Rosh Chodesh Elul. For many people, a time for choosing chumeros, stringencies in those areas of our lives that could use that extra attention.

The Daf Yerushalmi Yomi recently learned Shevi’is 20a (in the Vilna edition) 7:20. The gemara is citing a Tosefta (Maaseros 1:2):

התני הסיאה והאיזוב והקורנס שהובילו לחצר אבל אם היתה שניי’ נכנסת לשלישית שלישית מששית לשביעית ששית הכא את מני לחוריה וכא את מני לקומיה אמר רבי יוסי שלישית וששית אע”פ שאין בהן מע”ש יש בהן מעשרות שביעית אין בה מעשר כלל לא כן אמר רבי אבהו בשם רבי יוחנן לית כאן מששית לשביעית ששית אלא שביעית מן ברשות בעלים ברם הכא ברשות עני הן מוטב ליתן ליה אחד בודאי ולא שנים בספק

Doesn’t it say in the [Tosefta], “Si’ah, hyssop and qornos [three herbs that general grow wild] that were brought into the yard: If they were [plants] of the second [year of the shemittah cycle] going into the third [and now they are brought into the yard], they are of the third year [in terms of tithing]. If they were from the sixth year going into the seventh [sabbatical] year, they have the law of the sixth.” — this [case] one counts to the later [the third year], and here one counts to the earlier [sixth] year???

Rabbi Yosi said: The third and sixth [years] even though they do not have maaser sheini [a tithe eaten by the owner but only in Jerusalem], they do have maaser [– they have the tithe given to the poor]. The seventh year does not have maaser at all.

Didn’t Rabbi Avohu say the same in the name of Rabbi Yochanan? “From the sixth going into the seventh [ie sabbatical year] is not of the sixth year but of the seventh — that is only with respect to the control of the owners, however here it is about the control of the poor. It is better to give that one with certainty, that two give two [for the earlier and later year] in doubt.

After terumah is given to the kohanim, and maaser rishon, the first tenth, is given to the leviim, the second tenth has different dispositions depending on which year it is in the shemittah cycle. In the first, second, fourth and fifth years, it is eaten by the owner in Jerusalem. In the third and sixth years, it is given  to the poor. (In addition to the other parts of the crop which are given to the poor as well as the usual obligation of tzedaqah.) On the seventh, shemittah, year, the crops are holy, ownerless, and thus there is no tithing of any sort.

Here we have a plant that in general grows wild, and therefore isn’t subject to maaser. However, in this particular case the person takes the plant and allows it to finish growing in his vegetable patch. And a new year began in between Does the herb follow the year it was grown, or the year it became subject to the obligation? The shenuttah cycle is rabbinic at times when most Jews live outside of Israel, and thus the Sages had leeway as to how to label the years with respect to tithing. The Yerushalmi tells us that in order to avoid giving two kinds of maaser in doubt, the Tosefta rule stringently.

All of the above is by way of background. What I want to point out is their definition of stringency:

When in doubt whether to group something with the second year, and thus the maaser is part of a spiritual pilgrimage to Jerusalem, or with the third, and thus the maaser is given to the poor — “stringency” means giving to the poor. Similarly, if it’s between declaring the food sacred or giving it to the poor — give it to the poor.

When I posted a version of the above to Avodah (corrected off-list by REMT, thank you!) R’ Danniel Shoemann pointed me to a similar chumerah in Chagiga 3b (quoting Mishnah Yadayim 4:3). In sefer Bamidbar, we conquer the lands of Amon and Moav from the Emori (who in turn had won them from the Amoni and Moavi) and after the wars in the book of Yehoshua they are settled by the people of Re’uvein, Gad, and half of the tribe of Menashah. (This is the land just east of the much of the Jordan river, in the western part of the current country of Jordan.) However, the land is not resettled by Jews in the second time around, in the days of Ezra. Shemittah only applies to lands conquered in the days of Ezra, or those lands with Jewish populations next to it that the law was rabbinicly extended to.

Rabbi Yochanan says that this does not include Amon and Moav with respect to shemittah, but one is obligated to give maaser from crops grown in that area. Given that the second tithe differs depending upon the year of the cycle, but in Israel proper there is no tithe for the shemittah year, what does one do in the seventh year in Amon and Moav? Rabbi Yochanan (note: the same Rabbi Yochanan as in the gemara I quoted) rules that one gives maaser ani to the poor.

Hunting for spiritual experiences or prohibiting things so as to avoid doubt are NOT appropriate chumeros if it means difficulties for others! Quite on the contrary — the gemara recommends starting with being stringent in how we extend aid…

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