Wednesday, May 06, 2009

The Grandfather Clause

I. Eating Stabbed Animals

The Gemara in Chullin (17a) records a dispute between R. Akiva and R. Yishmael. According to R. Yishmael, the Jews in the desert following the Exodus were not allowed to eat animals except in the context of sacrifices. It was only when they entered the land of Israel that slaughter of non-consecrated animals became permitted. R. Akiva agrees that slaughter outside the context of sacrifices only began when they entered Israel, but he is of the view that in the desert they were allowed to stab animals and did not have to slaughter them.

II. The Tough Question

Click here to read moreThe Gemara then quotes R. Yirmiyah as asking the following question: According to R. Akiva that stabbed animals was permissible in the desert, were they allowed to eat animals that were stabbed in the desert (and were therefore permissible) after they entered the land? Those specific animals, that were ready to be eaten at the end of the desert stay but instead were carried into the land, could people eat them even though they had not been slaughtered?

Rashi (sv. she-hikhnisu) says that this is a purely theoretical question but the Rosh suggests that it has practical application to someone who vows not to eat something, such as chocolate -- can he eat the chocolate that is still in his possession? Or if a court issues a new rabbinic prohibition (such as chocolate made by Gentiles), can members of the community eat the pieces of chocolate in their possession from before the prohibition was issued? This Rashi and Rosh has spawned a literature on its own, which we will not review right now.

The Gemara leaves R. Yirmiyah's question unresolved (teiku). I'm not sure why. It seems to me that a proof can be brought from another talmudic passage to resolve this issue. I have not seen any commentator suggest this, which leads me to believe that I am missing something. Nevertheless, here I go.

II. Private Altars

The Gemara (Zevachim 106a) examines a passage in last week's Torah reading dealing with sacrifices (Lev. 17:3-5):

If anyone of the house of Israel slaughters an ox or a lamb or a goat in the camp, or slaughters it outside the camp, and does not bring it to the entrance of the tent of meeting, to present it as an offering to the Lord before the tabernacle of the Lord, he shall be held guilty of bloodshed; he has shed blood, and he shall be cut off from the people. This is in order that the people of Israel may bring their sacrifices that they offer in the open field, that they may bring them to the Lord, to the priest at the entrance of the tent of meeting, and offer them as sacrifices of well-being to the Lord.
This passage, and its continuation, is particularly loaded with meaning. However, let us focus on one specific portion: "In order that the people of Israel may bring their sacrifices that they offer in the open field". The Gemara asks what is meant by the reference to sacrifices brought in the open field. Evidently, it must be referring to sacrifices brought in the open field at a time when this was permissible.

Nowadays, after the building of the Temple, we are not allowed to bring sacrifices on private altars in our backyards (or in an open field). We may only bring sacrifices to the altar on the Temple Mount. However, there was a time, prior to the building of the Temple (I'm being imprecise here for the sake of simplicity), when private altars were permitted and people were actually allowed to bring sacrifices in an open field.

This, the Gemara says, must be what the verse is referring to. Sacrifices that were consecrated and ready to be brought on a private altar when that was permitted, but then private altars became forbidden, may not be brought on a private altar. They must be brought to the Temple.

III. The Proof

It seems that this case is similar to that of the stabbed animals brought into the land of Israel. Both the stabbed animals and the animals consecrated to be brought on a private altar were entirely permissible. Then the rules changed and they both became forbidden. What is the status of the carry-over animals?

Regarding private altars, there is a specific biblical verse teaching us that in that case they are forbidden. Shouldn't this imply that without such a verse, the carry-over would be allowed? Doesn't this mean that a grandfather clause would really apply but because of this verse, it does not in the case of private altars? If so, since there is no specific verse regarding stabbed animals, the carry-overs should be allowed?

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