Friday, November 18, 2011

More on the Bechor

The Gemara struggles to understand why the Mishnah found it necessary to enumerate all these cases and not rely on our independent inferential powers. The Gemara offers that, if the Mishnah had only mentioned the case of buying a fetus from a goy, we wouldn’t have inferred the case of selling one to a goy because, by selling a fetus to a goy, the seller divests it of its sanctity. And although this distinction is irrelevant to the animal’s status as a Jewish-owned one, it might still have impacted on our disposition to treat the two cases alike as far as the requirement to redeem a first-born is concerned. In might have led us to think that the case of selling should incur an obligation to redeem, so that the amount expended in fulfillment of this requirement might serve as a penalty for the injustice of relieving the animal of its sanctity. Notwithstanding the fact that the animal is not Jewish-owned and, therefore, not subject to the Torah-imposition of redemption, we might nevertheless have supposed that the injustice perpetrated by causing the animal to be relieved of its sanctity would justify a rabbinic imposition of such a penalty and a requirement to treat the animal as if it had conformed to the specifications of a first-born donkey with regard to which the obligation to redeem applied. So that we are not thus misled, the Mishnah made it a point to specify the case of selling a fetus to a goy in its enumeration of instances with regard to which the obligation to redeem is relaxed.

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