Is Haktara (Burning of the Kemitza) Effective if Some of the Flour Went Missing?

Provided courtesy of Real Clear Daf

This issue came up on Wednesday’s daf (12a). Normally the burning of the kemitza portion serves to permit the remainder of the flour for the Cohanim. However it is necessary for all of the flour to be intact at the time of the kemitza-burning. If after the kemitza had been removed some of the other flour went missing, it would no longer be possible to make the flour permitted through the act of burning. Nonetheless, on 9a R’ Yochanan rules that we still continue with the burning of the kemitza.

On 12a, the Gemara wants to know whether burning the kemitza here still has some impact on the rest of the flour. Specifically the Gemara wonders whether the kemitza-burning still removes the me’ila prohibition (the particular sacrificial prohibited status that is typically lifted upon the burning) from the flour as it normally does. Also the Gemara questions whether an intention to eat the flour beyond the allowed time would make the flour piggul (which entails a prohibition against eating the korban, punishable by kareis). The question is whether the burning still retains these capacities in spite of the prohibited status of the flour as a result of the fact that some of it went missing.

The Gemara notes that seemingly this question is the subject of a dispute between R’ Akiva and R’ Eliezer in masechtas Me’ila regarding a case where meat of an animal sacrifice left the Beis HaMikdash premises. R’ Akiva rules that in spite of the fact that the meat will remain forbidden, the throwing of the blood still lifts the me’ila prohibition, whereas according to R’ Eliezer the me’ila prohibition is not removed. It would appear that R’ Akiva would likewise rule that the flour in our case is freed of its me’ila prohibition and R’ Eliezer would say that the me’ila status remains. However the Gemara says that R’ Akiva and R’ Eliezer’s dispute does not apply to our case: Rav Huna says that even R’ Akiva agrees that here the me’ila isn’t lifted whereas Rabbah says that, on the contrary, even R’ Eliezer agrees that here the me’ila status is lifted.

Let’s consider their arguments. Rav Huna argues that the fact that some of the flour went missing is more problematic than the issue of a korban being taken out of bounds since the former is a physically manifest problem with the korban itself. Rabbah however argues that even though some of the flour is missing, the fact that the korban here remained in the Beis HaMikdash is a redeeming factor that allows the me’ila prohibition to be removed.

Rav Huna’s position seems very difficult to understand: how can he argue that the problem of missing flour is more severe than the problem of a korban that has left the Beis HaMikdash when the fact is that in the former case the Halacha dictates to continue with the rest of the service (we do burn the kemitza) whereas in the latter case we are not supposed to complete the korban (the question here is only what the status is post facto if the korban was illegally completed)! If the Torah by one of these problems says that it causes us to halt the whole korban, isn’t that a clear proof that that is the more severe of the two problems?

Perhaps this is the understanding of R’ Huna’s position: When judging these questions involving compromised korbanos, we have to be very specific about the exact question we’re asking. There’s one question here of whether a deviation in the korban’s procedure compels us to cease bringing the korban. As far as that question the Halacha indeed says that if one deviated to the point of bringing the korban outside of the Beis Hamikdash, the korban should be discontinued, whereas the issue of some of some missing flour does not warrant a cessation of the offering. The question in our Gemara though is a different question: Does the problem that occurred with this flour/meat cause the meat to not be amenable whatsoever to becoming a complete sacrificial substance (in the sense that the me’ila prohibition is lifted)? On that question R’ Huna feels that we have to focus on the nature of the problem as it pertains to the portion itself under consideration. Thus, being that the flour itself is incomplete in contrast to the external nature of the problem when the korban has been taken outside, in the former case the me’ila status goes away whereas in the latter case it does not.

As always, your thoughts on this matter are invited.