When Yaakov sent Eisav all those animals, he did not include instructions that the kosher ones required giving certain parts to a kohein. So, we need to fill in the rest of the picture.
Question #1: Four leg or foreleg?
Why does the kohein receive the femur, if, in any instance, we are accustomed not to eat the hindquarters?
Question #2: Tongue in cheek!
Can the kohanim really corner the market on kosher tongue?
Question #3: The jaw and the maw!
How many of a cow’s stomachs does a kohein receive?
There are a total of 24 different gifts that the Torah requires be given to the kohein (Chullin 132b). Many of these, such as bikkurim and the meat and hides from various korbanos, are applicable only when we have the Beis Hamikdash. Others, such as terumah, pertain only to produce that grows in Eretz Yisroel, or, because of a rabbinic requirement, on lands near Eretz Yisroel, such as Egypt and Jordan. On the other hand, other mitzvos, such as pidyon haben, challah, petter chamor (the redemption of a firstborn donkey) and the firstborn kosher animal, are relevant everywhere and at all times. Although challah is applicable everywhere today, since a kohein may eat challah only when he is tahor, prevalent practice is that it is burnt or allowed to spoil, rather than given to a kohein. Therefore, in the contemporary world, the kohein does not end up benefiting from this mitzvah.
Among the gifts the kohein receives are three parts of every slaughtered animal. (As we shall see later, whether this mitzvah applies only in Eretz Yisroel or also in chutz la’aretz is the subject of a dispute between Tanna’im.) The pasuk states: “And this shall be the allocation to which the kohanim are entitled of the people, from those who slaughter animals, whether species of cattle or of flock: they must give the kohein the zero’a (the arm), the lecha’ya’yim (the cheeks or jaws) and the keivah (the fourth of an animal’s stomachs, called the abomasum)” [Devorim 18:3]. We will discuss shortly exactly what parts are included in “the arm, the cheeks and the abomasum.”
Of the people
The pasuk leads us to several questions that we will address. Why does it emphasize that the kohanim receive these gifts because they “are of the people”? It would be highly unusual for the animals themselves to give these portions to the kohein, or for anyone other than “people” to do so!
I will answer this question shortly, but will first present a different, but related, issue. Does the mitzvah of giving away the zero’a, lecha’ya’yim and keivah apply to a kohein’s own animal? In other words, must a kohein give the zero’a, lecha’ya’yim and keivah to another kohein?
The Tosefta (Peah 2:13) states that not only may a kohein keep the zero’a, lecha’ya’yim and keivah for himself, but a Levi, also, may keep them for himself. The Gemara (Chullin 131a) cites that the great amora,Rav, was uncertain as to whether the Levi is obligated to give zero’a, lecha’ya’yim and keivah or not.
Why does the Tosefta exempt a Levi from giving zero’a, lecha’ya’yim and keivah?
In true Jewish style, we are going to answer this question with a question: Why does it emphasize that the kohanim receive these because they “are of the people”?
The answer is that the word the Torah uses for “of the people”, העם, am, implies “the common people,” not the top echelons of the Jewish people, who are always called Bnei Yisroel.The pasuk implies that the mitzvah to give zero’a, lecha’ya’yim and keivah applies only to the “commoners.” A Levi may contend that he is not part of the “ordinary” people, but of special stock. Thus, the word עם, in this pasuk, should probably not be translated as “the people,” but the “common people.”
By the people
Who is obligated to perform this mitzvah?
The pasuk states that the mitzvah is observed by “those who slaughter animals,” implying that it is the shocheit who is obligated to perform the mitzvah. But, is it not the owner of the animal who is obligated to give away part of his animal to a kohein, and not the person he hired to shecht it for him?
The Gemara rules that the obligation of the mitzvah falls on the shocheit, even when someone else owns the animal (Chullin 132a). On the other hand, the owner of the animal, not the shocheit, has the right to choose which kohein or kohanim receive the zero’a, lecha’ya’yim and keivah (Tosefta, Peah 2:13; Rema, Yoreh Deah 61:28). In other words, whereas the owner may decide which kohein receives the matanos, the shocheit is the one who actually presents them. He asks the owner to which kohein he should give them (Taz, Yoreh Deah 61:29 and Pri Megadim ad loc.).
If the owner of the animal has a grandson who is a kohein, he may instruct the shocheit to give the zero’a, lecha’ya’yim and keivah to his grandson.
For the people
What if there is no kohein nearby when I shecht the animal? This question was a more acute problem in the era before refrigeration, particularly in hot climates where meat will spoil if it is not consumed immediately after slaughter (unless salted heavily). The Tosefta explains that if no kohein is available, the Yisroel should evaluate what the zero’a, lecha’ya’yim and keivah of this animal are worth and keep them for himself, and then compensate a kohein, when he locates one, the value of the three pieces of meat (Chullin 9:7).
Share the wealth!
Although the Torah mentions giving three different parts of the animal, the act is counted as only one mitzvah — by the Rambam as mitzvas aseih #143 and by the Sefer Hachinuch as mitzvah #506. Notwithstanding that giving the three parts constitutes one mitzvah, they may be given to more than one kohein, as the Gemara states: Rav Chisda says, “The zero’a to one, the lecha’ya’yim to two and the keivah to one,” which means that the zero’a, lecha’ya’yim and keivah are divided to be given to a total of four different kohanim.
The Gemara then challenges Rav Chisda: “Is this really true? Did not Rav Yitzchak bar Yosef teach that, in Eretz Yisroel, the practice is to divide the zero’a into its two component bones,” giving each one (with its attached meat) to a different kohein! Thus, the custom in Eretz Yisroel was to divide the zero’a between two different kohanim, unlike Rav Chisda’s ruling.
The Gemara answers that when giving the zero’a from a bull, each bone and the meat on that bone may be given to a different kohein – thus, you are splitting the zero’a between two kohanim. Rav Chisda was discussing a sheep, goat or calf, which are much smaller, where splitting the zero’a between two kohanim would provide each kohein with a portion too small to be a meaningful gift (Chullin 132b; Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 61:9). Thus, when donating matanos of a bull, they can be given to five different kohanim, and when donating those of a smaller animal, they can be given to four kohanim.
Dividing the matanos
The Rambam permits giving all three matanos to the same kohein (Hilchos Bikkurim 9:17). Although, in general, the Gemara discourages giving all of one’s matanos to the same kohein, preferring that one “spread the wealth” among the kohanim, this applies only when all of one’s matnos kehunah are provided to the same individual. However, giving the zero’a, lecha’ya’yim and keivah to one kohein, while giving terumah to a different kohein, is certainly not a problem, even should one always give the zero’a, lecha’ya’yim and keivah to the same kohein (Pri Chadash, Yoreh Deah 61:15), and certainly not a concern if done on an occasional basis.
Does this mitzvah apply to fowl?
The Mishnah (Chullin 11:1) indicates that it does not. The wording of the Mishnah is that “the mitzvah of zero’a, lecha’ya’yim and keivah has a stringency over the mitzvah of reishis hageiz, in that zero’a, lecha’ya’yim and keivah apply to cattle and flock… whereas reishis hageiz applies only to sheep.” This is implied by the pasuk when it rules that the mitzvah applies to “species of cattle or of flock.” In other words, when shechting a bird, there is no mitzvah to give away part of it, and all a kohein can do is “cry fowl!”
The inference of the Gemara (Chullin 132a, 135a; see also, Rashi, Devorim 18:3) and the conclusion of the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 61:17) is that the mitzvah of zero’a, lecha’ya’yim and keivah does not apply to chayos, including, for example, deer, giraffe, pronghorn and wildebeest. Again, this is implied by the pasuk, when it states that the mitzvah applies to species of cattle or of flock. So, now you know that the next time you shecht a giraffe, you can keep and pickle that long tongue for yourself!
Barbecued and with mustard!
The kohein is supposed to eat these parts as would a wealthy man. The Gemara suggests that he “barbecue them and eat them with mustard” (Bechoros 27a). These are not requirements, but suggestions: they should be eaten in a royal, honorable manner.
One or two?
Why is the word zero’a, foreleg, in the Torah singular and lecha’ya’yim plural? Obviously, since an animal has only one keivah, this word must be singular – but an animal has two forelegs and four jaw bones, an upper one and a lower one on each side. So why does the Torah teach that the kohein receives zero’a (singular) and lecha’ya’yim (plural)?
The answer is that the kohein receives only one of the two forelegs, and the conclusion is that he receives the right foreleg, which corresponds to the human right arm (Tosefta, Chullin 9:12; Chullin 134b). We will discuss shortly how much of this foreleg he receives. But the kohein receives both jaws, right and left, and everything included, as we will soon see.
Four leg or foreleg?
At this point, let us examine our opening question: “Why does the kohein receive the femur, if, in any instance, we are accustomed not to eat the hindquarters?”
Our questioner has erred, not realizing that although animals have four legs, they are not equivalent. The femur is the extension of the hind leg, corresponding to the human thigh bone. Just as we have no femur in our anterior appendages, which we refer to as our hands and arms, neither do animals. Thus, the answer to this question is that the zero’a is a foreleg and not in the hindquarters, and, in fact, has no femur.
An arm and a leg?
How much of the animal’s foreleg does the kohein get? The Mishnah (Chullin 134b) teaches that it includes from the “joint of the arkuvah until the palm of the foreleg.” From the Mishnah’s description, we know that one border is a joint; but which joint? If you look at the foreleg of an animal, you will notice that it has several joints. Cattle have no fingers, but, from the ground up, the bones of an animal’s joint can be described as the phalanges (corresponding to the human fingers), the metacarpus (the hand), the carpus (the wrist), the radius and ulna (which together form the lower arm), the humerus (the upper arm) and the shoulder blade. The bones at the very bottom have no meat (“muscle” and “meat” are two ways of referring to the same thing) attached to them; as we go up the leg, the meat increases, both in quality and quantity.
What is the joint of the arkuvah?
The Gemara (Chullin 76a, 122b) uses an expression arkuvah hanimkeres im harosh, which literally means “the joint sold with the head.” This market term meant that parts of the animal that contain little in the way of edible meat were sold together. Just as the head contains little muscle, the bones beyond this joint contain little meat and were sold “together with the head.”
The early authorities dispute what is included in this gift to the kohein; in other words, what is meant by the Mishnah’s words: From the joint of the arkuvah until the palm of the foreleg. There are three basic opinions:
1. According to the Rambam, the kohein receives the metacarpus and the radius/ulna bones and the meat attached to them. Unless you are a veterinarian or a butcher, you are not familiar with these as cuts of meat. Even in large cattle, there is no meat to speak of on the metacarpus, and little meat on the radius/ulna; what is there is usually thrown into the butcher’s ground beef pile.
2. According to the Shulchan Aruch, the two parts are the humerus and the radius/ulna. The metacarpus is considered beyond the palm of the foreleg, and the the perek shel arkuvah is the shoulder blade. The muscle on the humerus does include some quality meat that is considered shoulder roast or shoulder steak – not as good as ribeye or brisket, but certainly quality meat cuts.
Both opinions we have quoted above contend that the zero’a includes two bones and the meat on those bones, and the Tosefta (Chullin 9:3) adds also the joint above the bone.
3. According to the disciples of the Vilna Gaon, he held that the mitzvah included only one bone and the meat on that bone.
The halacha is that the kohein receives the bone, plus the meat attached to it.
The pasuk said “jaws” plural, which could mean two jaw bones, or all four. This is the subject of an ancient dispute among halachic authorities, since the Targum Yonasan explains that the kohein receives both the upper and lower jaw, an approach to which the Vilna Gaon concurs, maintaining that this is the correct girsa in the Sifrei (Shoftim #165). Those who rule this way, which include the Gra and the Aruch Hashulchan (Yoreh Deah 61:12), conclude that the kohein receives both sides of the upper jaw in addition to the lower jaw. This approach means that the kohein receives all of the “cheek meats” of the animal.
However, most poskim (Rashi, Chullin 134b, s.v. haperek shel lechi; Pri Chadash, Yoreh Deah 61:5; Yad Efrayim to Yoreh Deah 61:3) rule that the kohein receives only the lower jaw, and this is the girsa that we have in the Sifrei. According to this approach, the kohein receives only the meat attached to the lower jaw, but not what is attached to the upper jaw.
How much is included with the lecha’ya’yim? The Mishnah states that it includes from “the joint of the jaw until the pikah of the throat” (Chullin 134b). The “pikah” is the top of the trachea (see Pri Chadash, Yoreh Deah 61:5). The lecha’ya’yim includes, therefore, the tongue, some meat, hide, bone, hair, and, on sheep, a small amount of wool (Chullin 134b).
Since the lower jaw includes the tongue (Rashi; Rav), this means that, indeed, where these mitzvos are observed, the kohanim have a virtual monopoly on the tongues.
Why did I write “in places where these mitzvos are observed?” The answer is that there is a dispute among tanna’im whether this mitzvah applies in chutz la’aretz, notwithstanding that it is not one of the mitzvos ha’teluyos ba’aretz, a mitzvah dependent on the land. There is a major discussion among halachic authorities how we rule in this dispute.
What is the keivah? Several of the chumashim I have seen translate the word as “maw,” but this translation is neither professional nor accurate, since the word maw simply means a stomach, mouth or other opening. (The origin of the word maw is a “bag” or other receptacle, and it later came to mean “mouth” or “stomach,” since these are “bag” functions of the body — areas that receive food.) To translate keivah as maw is, therefore, inaccurate, because the word “maw” does not refer to a specific stomach or compartment of the stomach, and, if it did, it would refer to the first stomach of cattle, the rumen or paunch. The keivah, however, is the fourth, and last, stomach.
Can’t stomach it!
At this point, we can examine the last of our opening questions: How many of a cow’s stomachs does a kohein get?
All kosher beheimos are ruminants, and all of them have several stomachs, or more technically accurate, a four-chambered stomach. The four parts are called the rumen, reticulum, obasum, and the abomasum. As I mentioned above, the keivah is the abomasum. Although today the keivah has limited value, in earlier days, it was the natural source of the enzyme called rennet, which is used to curd milk into cheese. How kosher rennet, which is halachically meat, may be used to curd milk into kosher cheese is beyond today’s topic, but rennet can be used, and, in earlier times, had much commercial value.
There are several questions germane to this mitzvah that we have not yet discussed; we will leave them for a future article.
Why does the Torah give the kohein these three, unusual parts of the animal?
The Gemara (Chullin 134b), quoted by Rashi (Devorim 18:3), explains that these three remind us of Pinchas’s courageous and zealous act, when he sanctified Hashem’s Name during the Midyan debacle – he grabbed his spear with his hand, he prayed with his mouth (Tehillim 106:30), and he plunged his weapon into the stomach of the dishonorable woman Kozbi, who brought Zimri to sin (see Bamidbar 25:8). Thus, every kohein is rewarded in Pinchas’s merit, or, more accurately, all the Bnei Yisroel are constantly reminded of what Pinchas did to save the Jewish people.