By Rabbi Shmuel Wise

Question: Is it possible to transform a bird Olah into a Chatas?

Answer: We explored this intriguing question on 67b–68a in the daf this week. The possibility for such a unique sacrificial transformation is raised according to the view of R’ Yehoshua of the Mishnah there (bottom of 66b). The Mishnah discusses a case where the kohen took an Olah bird offering and brought it following the exact procedures of a Chatas bird offering. R’ Eliezer there rules that the slaughtered bird (which of course is deemed an invalid sacrifice) fully retains the special prohibited status called meilah, which applies to any sacrifice that has not been rendered permitted for human consumption.

R’ Yehoshua asserts, however, that this sacrifice is no longer prohibited as meilah. But why should that be? Surely this bird didn’t become permitted for anyone. R’ Yehoshua’s opinion is all the more difficult to fathom when we consider the fact that even when the Olah bird is brought properly, it remains meilah (since none of the Olah becomes permitted for consumption; rather, the whole thing is burned on the Mizbeiach). So certainly an improperly brought Olah should remain prohibited as meilah!

In the Gemara on 67a, R’ Adda bar Ahava reveals the concept behind R’ Yehoshua’s ruling. When the kohen takes this Olah bird and brings it as a Chatas that has the effect of actually transforming the Olah into a Chatas! Since the meilah status of a Chatas is lifted once it has been offered, the meilah status of this bird dissipates. To be sure, this kind of transformation cannot occur by an animal sacrifice. As Tosfos explains, it is only by the more fluid consecration of a bird sacrifice (the fluidity of bird sacrifices is demonstrated by the fact that a person may decline consecrating the bird at all, leaving it to the sacrificial procedures actually carried out by the kohen to determine the designation of the sacrifice) that we have this possibility of reassigning the bird to a completely different sacrifice.

In an attempt to refute this newfangled korban-morphing idea, the Gemara takes us through some exceedingly complex Mishnayos in the masechta Kinnim (the masechta about mix-ups of bird sacrifices and the often complicated ordeal of determining the correct procedure of making up the possibly failed sacrificial obligations in a way that accurately accounts for all possibilities), demonstrating that some of the rulings there don’t make sense if R’ Yehoshua’s bird-morphing idea is really true; though, until the last proof, the Gemara manages to deflect these attempted disproofs. With its final proof, the Gemara does succeed in proving that it’s necessary to water down the idea that R’ Yehoshua is actually suggesting. That is, the Gemara concludes that R’ Yehoshua isn’t saying that an Olah bird brought as a Chatas morphs into a Chatas that can actually be credited to the owner as a valid Chatas (if, for instance, the owner happens to owe a Chatas as well). Rather, R’ Yehoshua is only saying that the Olah changes into a Chatas regarding the laws of meilah.

Tosfos finds this to be an even more perplexing notion. Did it become a Chatas, or did it not become a Chatas?! I think, in order to fully appreciate the difficulty here, it must be noted that the consequence of this halfway transformation is to issue a leniency on the meilah issue (it would be easier to explain a rabbinically decreed halfway transformation if it was for the purpose of being more stringent, but not less).

But maybe the understanding is this: Conceptually, this bird transforms 100 percent into a Chatas. Nonetheless, a person can’t actually count this bird to fulfill a Chatas obligation because this bird still cannot be considered a valid Chatas sacrifice. For just as a person completely disqualifies a Chatas by merely thinking while it’s being offered for the sake of a different type of sacrifice, all the more so if the bird in question actually possessed a status of Olah — this factor surely distorts the proper designation of the korban! My assumption here is that the prior Olah status isn’t erased like it never was upon the transformation into a Chatas; rather, a vestige of that original Olah status continues to factor into the designation of this sacrifice.

If you have your own thoughts on this, I’d love to hear them. 

Rabbi Wise is maggid shiur of Real Clear Daf (realcleardaf.com), a website and mobile app that offers free audio shiurim and other resources to assist your journey through Shas. He is also the director of Tehillim Together (tehillimtogether.com), a mobile app (for iOS and Android) that offers a translated sefer Tehillim and facilitates Tehillim groups. To be a sponsor or to reach Rabbi Wise, please write to rabbiwise@realcleardaf.com or call 855-ASK-RCD-1 (275-7231).

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