Shiur #28: Acquiring Para Aduma

  • Rav Moshe Taragin
The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

Talmudic Methodology
Yeshivat Har Etzion



Please say tehillim for YHE alumnus Amit Schwartz,
Amit Yehuda ben Malka, ve-Yishlach lo meheira refuah sheleimah min ha-shamayim be-tokh she'ar cholei Yisrael.



Shiur #28: Acquiring Para Aduma

By Rav Moshe Taragin



The para aduma, the famous red cow, the ashes of which are used to purify those who had come in contact with the dead, has many unique halakhot.  Typically, the halakhic ceremonies pertaining to a korban begin with semikha, resting one's hands on the animal's head, immediately followed by shechita.  No prior activities — as necessary as they may technically be — are considered part of the mitzva.  However, the para aduma, though not necessarily achieving the status of a korban, may demand a ceremonial stage prior even to the shechita of the animal.  The Torah (Bamidbar 19:2) applies the term "lekicha" — literally, "taking" — to the para aduma, and this term can refer specifically to formal monetary acquisition (see Kiddushin 2a).  What is its significance for the para aduma?     


The first mishna of the second chapter of Para cites a machaloket between the Chakhamim and Rabbi Eli'ezer about a pregnant cow.  The latter validates it as a para aduma, while the Chakhamim disqualify it.  Most commentaries assume that the debate surrounds the status of the mother; the state of pregnancy could create several complications for the candidacy of the mother for the mitzva of para aduma.  Rabbi Shimon of Simpone (one of the Ba'alei Ha-tosafot), however, claimed that the debate pertains to the fetus.  The Chakhamim invalidate this fetus forever since a para aduma must be 'initially acquired' on behalf of the mitzva.  At the time of purchase or acquisition, this fetus is not halakhically viable or meaningful, and therefore it cannot be "acquired" for the purpose of para aduma.  Rabbi Shimon of Simpone's manner of explaining the machaloket yields an opinion which requires acquisition as part of the para aduma ceremony; of course, explaining the mishna as pertaining to the mother would render the case irrelevant to the issue of acquisition.


The Rambam (Hilkhot Para Aduma 1:1) joins Rabbi Shimon in requiring a halakhic acquisition of the para aduma.  He disqualifies as a para aduma a calf (less than three years old) acquired with an eye toward raising it for this mitzva.  In theory, the scenario of the Rambam may be analyzed independently of the mishna's case of purchasing a pregnant cow.  Logically, the Rambam's situation may be more 'valid,' since the actual animal to be employed as a future para aduma is acquired in its own right; this may pose a legitimate form of lekicha even though the animal is not currently suitable for para aduma.  In the mishna's situation, the mother is acquired and the fetus simply arrives as part of the package; this situation may be worse than the Rambam's scenario.  Taking the Rambam's rule we might question what other conditions must be extant during the moment of purchase.  A later mishna addresses non-red hairs which grows upon a cow: according to many opinions, the hair may be removed, restoring the original tint and validating it for the para aduma ceremony.  What would happen if these hairs hair existed during the sale?  Would this unsuitability subvert the purchase and disqualify the animal due to a flawed lekicha?  Logically, if an animal which is too young at the time of purchase is invalid, other flaws may cause similar problems.  The Mishna Acharona (Para 2:2) does offer this opinion, and it corresponds to the Rambam's view. 


There may be an additional halakha which highlights the role of lekicha within the overall process of preparing the para aduma.  The continuation of the first mishna of the second chapter cites an additional machaloket between Rabbi Eli'ezer and the Chakhamim, regarding an animal which is purchased from a non-Jew.  Rabbi Eli'ezer invalidates the animal, while the Chakhamim allow its use as a para aduma.  The gemara in Avoda Zara (23a) offers two options for Rabbi Eli'ezer's disqualification.  According to the first, we fear that the non-Jew has subjected the animal to sexual activities which may invalidate the animal as a korban; the second option suggests that a non-Jew cannot contribute to a halakhically valid acquisition, and therefore his selling hinders the lekicha.  This position as well, indicates a possible demand for lekicha as an integral part of the para aduma ceremony. 


Of course, this examination highlights a POSSIBLE contradiction within Rabbi Eli'ezer's logic.  He disqualifies a cow purchased from a non-Jew, but not a pregnant cow.  If he requires lekicha, he should disqualify the latter; if he does not, he should accept the former.  Of course, one solution to this issue is to remember that each scenario offers multiple options of interpretation.  Only Rabbi Shimon of Simpone explains the situation of a pregnant cow as pertaining to the fetus and the issue of lekicha.  According to other opinions, this case has have no relationship to lekicha (and conceivably Rabbi Eli'ezer would validate the MOTHER as a para aduma, but disqualify the FETUS because the lekicha is flawed).  Rabbi Shimon of Simpone may be forced to read Rabbi Eli'ezer's position about a cow purchased from a non-Jew as based on the suspicion of sexual perversion and not based upon a deficient lekicha, because he may assert that Rabbi Eli'ezer is unconcerned with lekicha. 


Conversely, according to Rabbi Shimon of Simpone, the Chakhamim are concerned with lekicha and therefore disqualify a fetus, and yet they allow one to purchase a para aduma from a non-Jew!  How can we understand this position?  One solution may emerge from exploring the function of lekicha, if such a function exists.  Should we view lekicha as an independent activity within the para aduma ceremony?  If so, not only must it be slaughtered and burned, but it must first be acquired!  Consequently, there may be little room to distinguish between the flawed acquisition in the instance of the fetus and the flawed lekicha inherent in purchasing from a non-Jew.  If the Chakhamim accept the latter, why do they reject the former?


However, we may view lekicha in a completely different manner.  Perhaps the acquisition is not an independent ACTIVITY or STAGE of the para aduma ceremony but is merely an additional condition governing the validity of the actual animal.  Just as the animal must be red and cannot have been worked, it must be an animal which has been formally acquired.  If the Chakhamim view the rule as such, they may invalidate a fetus which is not acquired on its own but accept an animal sold by a non-Jew: even though the non-Jew cannot contribute to a stage of the para aduma ceremony, there is no denying that purchasing from him is a valid and binding form of acquisition.  Reconciling the position of the Chakhamim may be invaluable in assessing the Rambam's stance.  He invalidates the purchase of a calf because of its lacking lekicha, yet he allows it to be bought from a non-Jew (Hilkhot Para Aduma 1:7).  He may distinguish between the two simply by assuming that the lekicha defines the animal and not the process itself. 


Questioning the function of lekicha may yield an additional halakhic consequence.  The Minchat Chinukh (Ch. 397) inquires whether lekicha is merely an ideal requirement (le-khatchila) or its absence invalidates the animal ex post facto(be-di'avad).  He infers from the Rambam that the latter is true, though he does raise the question independent of the Rambam's view.  If lekicha is a precondition of the TYPE of animal, it would more likely be invalid be-di'avad; if, however lekicha is a PHASE of the CEREMONY, it may just be a preliminary stage which should ideally be performed, but the omission of which would not impair the integral process of preparing the para aduma.