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BEKOROT (, in Biblical Hebrew "Bekorim," "the first-born"):

The Mishnah.

Name of the fourth treatise—according to the order of the Mishnah—of Seder Ḳodashim ("Holy Things"). The law concerning the first-born is repeated in the Pentateuch several times (Ex. xiii. 2, 11-15; xxxiv. 19-20; Num. xviii. 15-18; Deut. xv. 19-23). The first-born of man is redeemed by giving five shekels of silver (15s., according to London usage; compare Zunz, "Z. G." pp. 535 et seq.) to a priest; the first-born of clean cattle, if a male, was given to the priest, who sacrificed it, if it was without blemish, or killed it in the ordinary way, if it had any blemish; the first-born of unclean cattle—of an ass—was redeemed by a lamb or killed. The treatise is divided into nine chapters, seven of which treat of the first-born. These nine chapters are divided as follows: Chap. i. on the first-born of an ass. Chapters ii.-vi. on the first-born of clean cattle; namely, on cases of exemption through partnership with a non-Israelite (ii.); on cases of doubt whether an animal is first-born or not (iii.); on first-born cattle having a blemish (iv.); on cases of blemishes wilfully caused by the owner (v.); a list of blemishes (vi.). Chapter vii. treats of the first-born son and regulations for his redemption. Chapter viii. treats of blemishes that disqualify a priest for the sacrificial service; and chap. ix. contains the regulations concerning the tithe of the cattle ("ma'aser behemah")—a subject which has many things in common with the "first-born" (see Zebaḥim v. 8).

Besides the two chapters vii. and ix., there are a few digressions in the treatise: i. 7 speaks of the option between redeeming the first-born of an ass and killing it, and recommends the former course; a few parallels are introduced of option between twocourses, of which one is recommended. The examination of the blemishes of the first-born animal had to be done gratis (iv. 5, 6), but an exception is made in favor of a professional veterinary surgeon, as Ila (or Ayla; in Tosef., Bek. iv. 11, Amlah). In the same chapter another veterinary authority is named,—Theodos, the physician (iv. 4).

To take payment for giving a decision in religious matters was considered unlawful and it rendered the decision invalid (iv. 6). When unqualified persons caused loss through their decision, they had to compensate for the loss; not so in the case of qualified persons (iv. 4). Transfer of property is generally reversed in the year of Jubilee; but what the first-born obtains by his birthright remains his forever. Parallel cases are given in viii. 10.

The Tosefta.

In the Tosefta the treatise Bekorot has likewise the fourth place, and is divided into seven chapters. Chap. i. corresponds to the first chapter of the Mishnah; chap. ii. to ii.-iii.; chap. iii. to iv.-v.; chap. iv. to vi.; chap. v. to vii.; chap. vi. to viii.; chap. vii. to ix. The Tosefta differs greatly from the Mishnah in the enumeration of the blemishes and in their names.

The Gemara.

The Palestine Talmud does not include Bekorot, but the Babylonian Gemara has, in addition to the full discussion of the laws mentioned in the Mishnah, the following interesting digressions:

Rabbi Johanan and Resh Laḳish discuss the question whether those first-born of the cattle that were born in the wilderness had to be treated as animals sanctified to the Lord. R. Johanan answers in the affirmative; his opponent in the negative (p. 4b, et seq.).

In the course of discussions on physiological conditions of pregnancy in animals, the story is told how Cæsar challenged Rabbi Joshua, son of Hananiah, to show his superior wisdom and skill in a discussion with the old men of Be-Athuna (Athens, or an Athenian school). He did so, and completely defeated his opponents (p. 8b).

Teaching, judging, giving evidence, etc., must be done gratis; and if a person can not find a teacher that would teach him gratis, he is recommended to act in accordance with Prov. xxiii. 23, "Buy truth"; but as regards teaching others he is warned, "and do not sell" (p. 29a).

Regulations as to the admission of new members to the Society of Ḥaberim—persons who undertake to observe strictly the laws concerning clean and unclean (p. 30b).

In the Babylonian Talmud the treatise has the third place in the Seder.

Bibliography:
  • Mandelstamm, Horœ Talmudicœ, i.;
  • Rabbi Jos. b. Hananiah, Berlin;
  • Z. Frankel, Hodegetica in Mischnam, etc, 1859;
  • Naḥmanides, Hilkot Bekorot we-Ḥallah, Warsaw, 1863;
  • Maimonides, Yad ha-Ḥazaḳah, ix.;
  • Ḳorbanot, xi.;
  • Shulḥan 'Aruk, Yoreh De'ah, 305-321.
J. Sr. M. F.
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