By Rabbi Shmuel Wise

Question: What happens to the bones of a Korban Olah?

Answer: We discussed this question in the daf this week on 85b–86a. The Mishnah on 85b rules that the bones of a Korban Olah may be burned along with the rest of the animal, if they are still attached. If, however, they were removed from the animal then they cannot be put on the Mizbeiach.

What if they were put on the Mizbeiach in violation of this halachah? On 86a, Rebbe rules that they would have to be taken down. Rabbah there notes that this implies that the bones still bear the unique prohibited status of things designated for the Mizbeiach, called me’ilah; in other words, the bones remain as material with Mizbeiach sanctity that have become disqualified.

Rabbah goes on to assert that the bones are only imbued with Mizbeiach sanctity if they are attached at the time of the blood application, or zerikah, to the Mizbeiach. (It is a fundamental principle that regarding korbanos eaten by their owners, no part of the korban becomes me’ilah until the zerikah is done.) When the bones are attached at the time of the zerikah, since attached bones are fit for the Mizbeiach, the zerikah indeed designates them for that purpose and thus if they later become detached they will be deemed me’ilah. If, however, the bones were not attached during the critical step of the zerikah, they do not become me’ilah by virtue of altar sanctity since detached bones are unfit for the Mizbeiach.

Now we might suppose that even though these bones do not receive altar sanctity, they should still be me’ilah like any other consecrated material that wasn’t rendered permissible for consumption. Not so, Rabbah asserts. Rather, the kohanim may use the bones as they please — even to make knife handles from them should they so desire.

But why? How did the consecrated bones shed their prohibited status? The Gemara explains that Rabbah accepts the derashah of R’ Yishmael which links Olah to Asham: just as the Torah permits even the bones of Asham for the kohanim, so, too, with Olah. But, Rabbah understands, this concept only has practical application where somehow the bones avoided becoming designated for the Mizbeiach. This occurs only if the bones were not attached at the time of the zerikah.

The Gemara then presents the approach of R’ Elazar, which is the mirror opposite of Rabbah’s understanding. R’ Elazar asserts that the bones become me’ilah specifically where they were not attached at the time of zerikah, and if they were attached during zerikah, then they lose their me’ilah status (if they subsequently became detached, see further). R’ Elazar’s argument is as follows: Since the entire basis for saying that the zerikah can permit an Olah’s bones for the kohanim is the connection to Asham, we must limit this law to only a circumstance that is similar to that of Asham — i.e., where the bones become permitted along with the meat. So if the Olah bones were still attached during the zerikah, the zerikah designates the bones for the Mizbeiach and also creates a kind of contingency clause that says that in the event that the bones become detached from the korban (which thereby disqualifies them from the Mizbeiach), they shall become property of the kohanim.

But if the bones were not attached at the time of the zerikah, R’ Elazar holds that the zerikah has no impact on the bones; it cannot designate them for the Mizbeiach (because they’re not attached) nor can it permit them for the kohanim, because once the meat is off the bones we are no longer within the realm of the permit taught to us by Asham. So the end result is that the bones are left as consecrated material that never received a permit to be consumed, and thus they will bear me’ilah status in this case. 

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