Bikkurim – First Fruits

B”H

Bikkurim

(“First Fruits”)

The Hebrew term bikkurim and related terms for the “first fruits” derive from the same root as bekhor, “firstborn (see *Firstborn ). On the same general principle that the firstborn of man and beast belonged to the God of Israel and were to be devoted to Him, the first fruits, including the first grains to ripen each season, were to be brought as an offering to God. Every Israelite who possessed the means of agricultural productivity was under this obligation (Ex. 23:19; 34:26, Num. 15:17–21; 18:12–13; Deut. 26:1–11). A frequent synonym for bikkurim is reshit, “the first [fruits].”

Deuteronomy 26:1–11 contains detailed procedures for the offering of the first fruits, including the text of a liturgical recitation incumbent upon any who offered their first fruits in the sanctuary.

May a non-Jew who converts to Judaism say the prayer formula that states that G-d has promised “our fathers” to give us the land and the fruits thereof? We are taught that Abraham is the father, not only of biological Jews but of all righteous proselytes.

Talmud BavliSeder Zera’im (Bikkurim), Chapter One-Four:

Those that bring the first-fruits but do not make the declaration; viz., proselytes, freed slaves, guardians who manage the property of orphans, delegates, females, half-males, and undeveloped persons (Androgynos).

A proselyte also had to offer the first fruits but according to Rabbi Meir (Talmud Bavli), he did not recite the confession as he could not say “which the Lord swore unto our fathers to give us” (Deut. 26:3).

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The proselytes, like those unclean by reason of a corpse [B’midbar 9.7] should ask: ‘Why should we be held back from making the Bikkurim Declaration?’

“And thou shalt come unto the priest that shall be in those days, and say unto him: ‘I profess this day unto the L-RD thy G-D, that I am come unto the land which the L-RD swore unto our fathers to give us.’

An argument – Proselytes should make the Bikkurim Declaration because in other instances he says, “The G-D of Our Fathers” (The Patriarchs are the fathers of the Gerim [Proselytes] and the Land of Israel is the Inheritance of All Israel. Parshah Ki Thavo speaks of possessing and inheriting the Land of Israel) and the Torah says, ‘There shall be One Law for the homeborn and for the proselyte who dwells among you.’ (Shmoth 12.49, B’midbar 9.14, VaYiqrah 24.22)

Let us focus for a moment on one interesting part of the farmer’s declaration to the Kohen of those days. Deuteronomy 26:3 reads: “He’gad’tee ha’yom la’Ha’shem e’lo’keh’cha, ki vati el ha’aretz a’sher nish’ba Hashem la’avo’teynu la’tet lah’nu,” I declare today to the Lord, your G-d, that I have come to the land that the Lord swore to our forefathers to give us.

The Rabbis ask the fundamental question: How can later generations of Jews say: “I have come to the land that the Lord swore to our forefathers to give us”? Wouldn’t it be more precise to say: “Our forefathers came to the land”? A response to this can be found in our Passover Haggadah where we say: “B’chol d’or va’d’or, chayav ah’dam lir’ot et atzmo k’ee’lu hu ya’tsa mee’mitz’ra’yim,” In every single generation each person must see themselves as if they themselves went out of Egypt. In effect, every Jew has an obligation to see themselves as an inseparable part of the nation, and everything that occurred to our forefathers in Egypt happened to us as well. It is as if the land of Israel were given to us personally. Therefore, we are entirely entitled to say “vati el ha’aretz,” I personally came to the land.

A fascinating aspect of this question is the issue of whether a convert to Judaism, a ger, is entitled to say this declaration for theBikurim. After all, G-d did not give his ancestors the land. The Mishnah in Bikurim (1:4) records this dispute. “The proselyte brings [first fruits], but does not recite [the declaration], since he cannot say: Which the Lord swore unto our fathers to give to us…(Deut. 26:3), and when he prays in private he says: ‘The G-d of the forefathers of Israel.’  When he prays in the synagogue he says: ‘The G-d of our fathers.’”

This opinion in the Mishnah, which is an anonymous Mishnah usually attributed to Rabbi Meir, indicates that when making a declaration before G-d, one must be absolutely truthful. Therefore, a convert to Judaism may not say “G-d of my Fathers,” since it is not true.

However, this is not the accepted ruling. In fact, it is explained differently in the Jerusalem Talmud: “It was learned in the name of Rabbi Judah: A proselyte himself brings the first fruits and recites the [regular] formula. Why so? ‘For a father of a multitude of nations have I made thee.’” Originally, he [Abraham] was the father of Aram [the country of his birth], from now on he is the father of all humanity. Rabbi Joshua ben Levy said: “The laws are in accordance with Rabbi Judah.” Maimonides (the Rambam, the great Jewish philosopher, codifier and physician, 1135-1204), in his epistle to Obadiah the proselyte, concurs: “Behold that has made clear to you that you should say, ‘Which the Lord swore to our forefathers.’ And that Abraham is your father, and that of all the righteous who follow his ways. This applies to all benedictions and prayers. You should not alter anything.”

Maimonides, as the rabbis before him, proves clearly that Judaism is not a racial or biological tradition, it is rather a spiritual inheritance. Anyone who adopts the spiritual teachings of Judaism is entitled to say that he is the disciple of Abraham who introduced monotheism to the world.

The Jerusalem Talmud disagrees with the Mishna in the Babylonian Talmud (which only cites the view of R. Meir), citing an alternative view of Rabbi Yehuda: “The convert himself must bring and declaim! What is the reason? Because G-d made Abraham the father of a multitude of nations so that Abraham [metaphysically] becomes the father of everyone in the world who enters under the wings of the Divine Presence…” In the Jerusalem Talmud, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi declares that the normative law is to be in accordance with Rabbi Yehuda. Rabbi Abahu actually decided a practical case, determining that a convert bring and declaim in the manner of every born Israelite. Maimonides decides similarly (Mishne Torah, Book of Seeds 4:3), and even penned a poignant response to Ovadiah the Proselyte (Mekitzei Nirdamim, Siman 293) which includes the converts’ praying to “the G-d of our forefathers” as well!

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Shmoth 12.48 “And when a stranger shall sojourn with thee, and will keep the passover to the LORD, let all his males be circumcised, and then let him come near and keep it; and he shall be as one that is born in the land; but no uncircumcised person shall eat thereof.”

“There shall be One Law for the Native Born and for the Convert who dwells among you!” B’midbar 9.14

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