SALT - Wednesday, 15 Elul 5777 - September 6, 2017

  • Rav David Silverberg
            Yesterday, we saw the controversial theory advanced by the Minchat Chinukh (607) imposing a significant limitation on the scope of the mitzva of vidui ma’aser – the declaration avowing compliance with one’s tithing obligations.  Noting that Chazal refer to this declaration with the term “vidui,” which normally denotes confession of sin, the Minchat Chinukh suggests that the declaration is perhaps required only when one had delayed giving the mandatory tithes and gifts.  The vidui ma’aser declaration is made at the end of the third and sixth years of the seven-year shemita cycle, at the time of bi’ur, when the Torah requires fulfilling all outstanding tithing obligations, and the Minchat Chinukh suggests that it applies only when one has outstanding obligations due to his having delayed his tithes.  As we saw, this theory appears to be the subject of a debate between Rashi and Tosefot in explaining a passage in Masekhet Yoma (36a).  Rashi there comments that vidui ma’aser is a confession of wrongdoing, whereas Tosefot assert that to the contrary, this declaration affirms one’s satisfactory compliance with the tithing requirements.  Seemingly, Rashi’s view reflects the novel theory espoused by the Minchat Chinukh, that vidui ma’aser functions as a confession for having delayed one’s tithes.
            The obvious difficulty with this theory is that the text of vidui ma’aser makes no mention at all of delinquency.  In this proclamation, one says only that he has fully complied with the tithing obligations, going so far as to say, “Asiti ke-khol asher tzivitani” – “I have done in accordance with all You have commanded me” (Devarim 26:14).  How can this proclamation be understood as a confession of wrongdoing, if it makes no mention of any wrongdoing?
            This question might force us to adopt a variation of the Minchat Chinukh’s theory, as proposed by Rav Shalom Brander, in his work Chukat Ha-yom (Yoma, vol. 2), in explaining Rashi’s position.  He contends that the Minchat Chinukh went too far in asserting that one who paid all his tithes on time as required does not make the vidui ma’aser proclamation.  Nevertheless, Rav Brander writes, even if all people must recite vidui ma’aser, we can still accept Rashi’s view that this proclamation is, at its core, a confession.  Fundamentally, vidui ma’aser – as its name suggests – is a declaration confessing having improperly delayed giving the required tithes, which one makes when he fulfills his outstanding obligations.  However, it is formulated as an affirmation of compliance because the Torah wanted all people to make this declaration, and not only those who were delinquent.  The Sefer Ha-chinukh writes that the Torah issued the command of vidui ma’aser because of the special importance of the tithing obligations, through which the kohanim, the Leviyim, and the poor are supported.  By requiring one to make a formal announcement avowing compliance with these laws, the Torah helps ensure that people fulfill these obligations, as most people are not so brazen as to make such a declaration falsely.  Accordingly, Rav Brander suggests, this declaration must be made by all people, as its serves as an important deterrent to negligence in the area of tithes.  Therefore, although the essence of vidui ma’aser is confession, it is formulated as a declaration of compliance so that it may be recited by all people.
            By distinguishing between the essential definition of vidui ma’aser and its practical application, Rav Brander suggests, we can reconcile Rashi’s position with the text of vidui ma’aser.  Fundamentally, this declaration is a confession of delinquency, but practically speaking, it is formulated as a declaration of compliance.