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Shabbat Parashat Bamidbar 5778

Ask the Rabbi: Giving Teruma to a Kohen

Rav Daniel Mann

Question: Would it be better, when I take off terumot and ma’asrot, to give the teruma to a kohen instead of wrapping and throwing it out?


Answer: First, let us consider what a kohen could do with teruma he received. It is forbidden to eat teruma when either the eater (Rambam, Terumot 7:1) or the teruma (ibid. 2:14) is tameh. We assume that all kohanim in our times are tameh even after going to a mikveh because we lack ash from a para aduma required to remove tuma from a human corpse. (Poskim assume that kohanim have been exposed to corpses at some time despite the prohibition to do so.) Therefore, a kohen would not be able to eat the teruma.

Not all teruma is tameh because solid foods become tameh only after they have been muchshar l’kabel tumah, i.e., prepared to become tameh by being touched by one of seven liquids (usually, water) to the owner’s satisfaction (Vayikra 11:38, Rambam, Tumat Ochalin 1:1-2). This occurs only sometimes.

A kohen may feed teruma that is pure to his animal (Rambam, Terumot 6:1). A great amount of teruma removed centrally is given to the zoo and safari after animals have been transferred to a kohen’s ownership. Fundamentally, teruma that is fit for human consumption may not be given to animals, but authorities are lenient because kohanim will anyway not eat it (see Derech Emuna, ad loc. 10). If teruma is tameh, it should be burnt, and a kohen may benefit from its burning (Rambam, ibid. 2:14). Thus, olive oil teruma is of use to a kohen for lighting.

Apparently, your question is not about the kohanim’s welfare, but about your mitzva to give the teruma to a kohen even if he does not particularly want it. But is there really a mitzva? Not necessarily. The Rambam and Ramban (Sefer Hamitzvot, shoresh 12) dispute whether hafrashat (removal of) teruma and giving it to a kohen are two parts of one mitzva or two independent mitzvot. While each implies it is a mitzva to give it to a kohen, the Netivot Hamishpat (243:8) states that one is not required to do so physically. Rather, one sets aside part of the produce as teruma, and Hashem has determined that it belongs to the kohanim, with the owner deciding which one can come and get it. The Pri Chadash (Yoreh Deah 61:1) suggests that this is the reason there is no beracha if and when one does actually give it. There is also an opinion that there is a mitzva (see opinions in Derech Emuna, Terumot 2:(361)).

Despite the existence of opinions that it is a mitzva, many poskim say that one should not give teruma in our days to a kohen. There is a major question whether we should rely on the kohanim’s presumption of being valid kohanim (see discussion in Shach, YD 322:9). The Chazon Ish (Shemitta 5:12) argues that since we no longer have a beit din that interrogates to confirm the authenticity of kohanim’s claims, we do not have grounds to trust that they are allowed to receive teruma. He reasons that it is therefore wrong to give them the teruma. The Rama (Orach Chayim 457:2) brings two opinions on whether one gives them challa, which is parallel to teruma, in chutz la’aretz, where it can be eaten by a kohen who is a tameh meit if he is too young to have tumah coming from his body. The Mishna Berura (457:22) explains the opinion that one does not as being due to insufficient pedigree. The Maharit (I:85) is among those who does trust a kohen’s pedigree sufficiently to give them teruma, for example, tameh oil that he can use for burning, as the Rama in Yoreh Deah (331:19) rules.

 Another reason to not give teruma to a kohen is that one should remove it from human access someone mistakenly eats it (see Pesachim 33b). Although the Rama (ibid.) is lenient that kohanim will not make a mistake, he refers to a case where there the kohen can benefit from the gift, not to a nominal giving for the giver to perform a (possible) mitzva, only for the kohen to dispose of it.

In summary, the standard practice of not giving teruma to a kohen (except for organized donations to animals) is likely halachically indicated and not a matter of laziness
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