Bikkurim as a Korban

  • Rav Reuven Taragin

An earlier shiur already itemized various halakhot which indicate the status of korban which bikkurim enjoy.  Although the fruits are not actually placed upon the mizbei'ach, and no laws govern the location in which they must be eaten, several other factors indicate that bikkurim possess a pseudo-status as a korban.  This shiur will explore further manifestations of this principle. 


There are several disqualifications normally reserved for korbanot which bikkurim might share.  For example, the gemara in Pesachim presents the halakha known as 'mashkeh yisrael' – any substance brought upon the mizbei'ach must be permissible for consumption.  This halakha is derived from a pasuk in Yechezkel (45) which discusses korbanot (see Pesachim 48a) and naturally applies only to actual korbanot.  Yet, the gemara in Zevachim (88) extends the principle to bikkurim (at least according to Rashi's explanation), further attesting to its korban status. 


Another unique korban disqualification is the halakha of "etnan zona."  Based on a pasuk in Ki Tetze, one cannot offer as a korban anything which was tendered as wages for prostitution.  According to the Yerushalmi in Masekhet Bikkurim (1:6), this same halakha applies to bikkurim.


Yet another korban disqualification which pertains to bikkurim is the law of 'ma'us' (literally, "repugnant").  Certain items may not be offered as korban even though no halakhic provision prohibits deriving benefit from them, because they are simply repugnant, either due to physical features or a history of avoda zara.  For example, the gemara in Masekhet Avoda Zara (46-47) disqualifies for use as korbanot anything which was worshipped as avoda zara even if it did not become assur be-hana'a.  The Yerushalmi in Bikkurim (1:2) debates the application of the law of ma'us to bikkurim.


Ultimately, the Yerushalmi determines that its application hinges on the dispute between Rabanan and Rabbi Yehuda as to whether bikkurim possess the status of "kodshei mizbei'ach" (items dedicated as korbanot).  As discussed in the previous shiur, the Rabanan require that bikkurim be distributed to the shift of Kohanim serving during its delivery in the same manner in which korbanot are distributed.  As the Yerushalmi records, Rabanan view bikkurim as kodshei mizbei'ach.  Rabbi Yehuda, however, did not require this distribution scheme, ostensibly because he did not view bikkurim as a form of korban.  According to the Yerushalmi the question of the applicability of ma'us to bikkurim depends on this very same machloket. 


Several mishnayot discuss the status of bikkurim brought from stolen fruits. In 1:2, for example, the mishna addresses the situation of one who steals land.  He cannot recite the parasha of bikkurim ("Arami Oved Avi"), since he cannot declare that these fruits come from the 'land You gave me.'  He does, however, bring the bikkurim, since land cannot be legally stolen; fruits which grew on physically stolen land do not bear any halakhic defects, since the land is not legally considered stolen.  What happens if a person actually steals fruit (according to the opinions – see Bava Batra 81a - that one brings bikkurim even from purchased fruit, and not just from fruit which one personally grows)?  The Ramban in Bava Batra (81a) explicitly invalidates such bikkurim on the basis of "mitzva ha-ba'a ba-aveira" – a mitzva which was performed through the agency of an aveira is invalid.  Yet, according to several Rishonim, the principle of "mitzva ha-ba'a ba-aveira" applies only to mitzvot bearing halakhic resemblance to korbanot (either korbanot themselves, or mitzvot such as lulav and etrog which are likened to korbanot).  Accordingly, if "mitzva ha-ba'a ba-averia" applies to bikkurim, we might view it as well as a form of korban.  In truth, however, the proof from the Ramban himself can easily be challenged in light of his own view regarding "mitzva ha-ba'a ba-aveira," applying it to all mitzvot (see Ramban to Pesachim 35, where he extends this rule to all mitzvot).  In general, though, the relevance of the "mitzva ha-ba'a ba-aveira" principle would further confirm bikkurim's status as korban.


The mishna in Bikkurim (1:10) claims that bikkurim cannot be brought prior to Shavuot.  We might have understood this as a special halakha governing the timing of mitzvat bikkurim.  Indeed, the Rambam (Hilkhot Bikkurim 2:6) cites a special pasuk indicating that this is a parochial halakha.  By contrast, the Rash mi-Shantz, in his commentary to this mishna, attributes this halakha to the general rule forbidding the offering of any korbanot prior to the bringing of the "shetei ha-lechem" on Shavuot.  Since bikkurim is a korban, it, too, is bound by the general provision prohibiting the offering of korbanot before Shavuot.  Conceivably, this question as to why bikkurim cannot be brought prior to Shavuot would affect women's obligation in bikkurim. On the surface, we would classify the obligation of bikkurim as a "mitzvat asei she-ha-zeman gerama" (time-bound mitzva) from which women are normally excused.  After all, it cannot be brought before Shavuot.  The Turei Even, however, claims that since this limitation is not inherent to the definition of bikkurim, but rather a consequence of the pre-shetei ha-lechem rule, we cannot consider bikkurim a "zeman gerama" and therefore women might be obligated. 



Finally, the gemara in Bava Batra (81b) discusses the situation of safek bikkurim (fruits whose status as bikkurim is uncertain).  The gemara worries about delivering these to the Beit Ha-mikdash because if they are not real bikkurim, the individual has brought non-hekdesh into the Mikdash (an issur de-oraita).  Tosafot takes this concern literally and notes that as bikkurim are brought to the mizbei'ach, they are a candidate for this korban-type issur.  The Rashbam, however, cites an opinion that this issur does not really apply, and the gemara's only concern involves a rabbinic decree disallowing the treatment of safek bikkurim as bikkurim. Possibly, Tosafot and the Rashbam debate the degree to which bikkurim can be viewed, and hence treated, as a korban.