Friday, March 27, 2015

Fact-Checking the Torah -- pop quiz answer

Here’s the answer from last week’s puzzle.
As far as I can make out, the odds are that the next time the farmer marks sheep for tithes, one of the ten lambs will get a mark. 
When it comes to firstlings, however, the general principle that applies is, whoever wants to take property from his fellow bears the burden of proof.
The facts of the case as stated allow the possibility that the farmer has no idea whether the one male of the twins was born before or after his female twin. 
If the priest wants a firstling from that farmer, he bears the burden of proof that the male was born before his female twin.  There is nothing in Torah that punishes the farmer for not keeping a sharper eye on which sheep birthed which lamb(s), and nothing in Mishnah or Gemara either.  A careless farmer doesn’t have to suffer any punishment.
Now another twist.  The facts of the puzzle say the farmer did know that the male was birthed by a primipara.  If the farmer doesn’t know that, the priest doesn’t get that lamb before proving that the mother was a primipara, even if he can prove that the male twin was born first.
It’s entirely probable that out of a lambing season that produced 10 lambs, the farmer only has to give up one to the priests.
This explodes the urban legend that priests could go around designating just any animal as tithe or firstlings.  The procedure documented in Mishnah for tithing animals, is that the farmer prepares a pail of red dye and a sort of brush or mop.  He sets up hurdles to run the sheep between, which allows only one at a time to come out of the pen.  He counts the sheep as they come out and brushes the tenth one with the red dye, and that is the tithe. 
There are rules about whether he got mixed up in his count and what to do if he accidentally swipes two of them with the dye.  It’s also true that if he didn’t have any dye to use, the mere count alone is enough.  I won’t go into all of that.  You can study it in detail if you want.
Now, what if the sheep that was number 10x is especially good – gives especially large amounts of wool.  The farmer is prohibited from giving a lesser quality sheep to the priest in exchange for sheep #10x.  He has only two things he can do: give both that sheep and another; or give money to 125% of the value of the sheep he wanted to keep.  But that requires a court case evaluating the sheep.  And it’s not economically beneficial.  He’s far better off just giving up the sheep that came out as #10x.
And since the priest cannot simply pick which sheep he wants as tithe, he can’t take all the farmers’ good sheep leaving them the bad ones.  He has the burden of proof that each sheep he wants to confiscate was actually #10x.
Next week I’m going to explode possibly two urban legends.  Read Deuteronomy 8:8, Leviticus 19:9-10, Deuteronomy 24:19, Deuteronomy 14:23-29, and Numbers 18:21, 26.

© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights  Reserved  

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