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Danger Or Dilution?
‘From That Allowed To Jews’
(Menachos 5a)



Our sugya discusses a basic rule: The substance of a sacrifice must be permitted to a Jew for consumption. If it is forbidden, it is invalid as a sacrifice. This rule is derived from Yechezkel 45:15: “and one sheep from the flock from the 200 from the drink of Israel for the minchah and the olah and the shelamim to atone for them.” The Gemara states that “from the drink of Israel” means “that which is allowed to Jews.”

What is the basis of this rule? Is it because it is improper to offer something one is not allowed to eat? Or is it because it is disqualified for the very same reason it is not halachically edible to begin with?


Terumah Wine

Can terumah wine be offered on the altar? Rishonim (on Zevachim 88a) disagree. Sefer Minchas Avraham suggests we can attribute the disagreement to our inquiry. If the reason for the law is due to it being improper to offer something one may not drink, then it makes sense that a non-kohen shouldn’t be allowed to offer terumah wine. But if the reason for the law is due to it being disqualified for the very same reason it’s inedible, then he should be allowed to offer the wine. After all, is the altar less holy than the kohanim, who may drink it?


Libation with Exposed Water

Our Sages (Terumos 8:4, 6; Rambam, Hilchos Rotzeiach Ushmiras Hanefesh 11:7) forbade drinking exposed water in case a snake previously drank from it and left its venom inside. The sages (Chullin 10a) rule that “chamira sakanta m’isura – danger is even greater than a prohibition.”

Can one offer such water on the altar? Again, the basis of the rule against offering unfit food on the altar is relevant. If the basis for it is the impropriety of offering something one may not eat, then offering this water is improper. But if the basis is the cause behind it being inedible to begin with, then offering it should be allowed since the basis for forbidding it to humans in this case – danger – is completely irrelevant to the altar.

The Mishnah (Sukkah 48b) states that one must not offer exposed water on the altar and the Yerushalmi (ibid, 4:7) explains that this law stems from the rule of “from the drink of Israel”! We thus see that this prohibition is based on the fact that it is improper for a person to offer something that he himself cannot eat.

Acharonim (see Responsa Ein Yitzchak, Orach Chayim 24) note that Rashi and Tosafos (Sukkah, ibid.) mention another reason for forbidding offering a libation with exposed water: perhaps the venom might dilute the water and thereby affect the proper measure that is supposed to be poured on the altar. Thus, in their opinion, the prohibition of the “drink of Israel” alone seemingly does not suffice to disqualify exposed water for the altar.


The Sacrifices of Adam and His Sons

Some Acharonim note that Adam, Kayin, and Hevel offered sacrifices even though eating meat was forbidden until Noach left the ark (Sanhedrin 59b). Now, if the prohibition of “the drink of Israel” is because a person should not sacrifice anything he is forbidden to eat, how could they offer sacrifices?

Obviously, then, the basis of the prohibition must be the reason it is inedible in the first place. If it’s halachically inedible to Jews, it’s automatically halachically unfit for the altar. But since meat was not forbidden to Jews at this time (there were no Jews yet), Adam and his sons were allowed to sacrifice animals even though they were not allowed to eat them.

Several Achronim reject this proof. The author of Oneg Yom Tov (in his preface) rejects it because, he writes, the prohibition against eating meat until Noach’s era was not an ordinary prohibition. One couldn’t eat meat because Hashem forbade one creature from killing another. Meat was not considered inferior food for Adam, and that’s why even though Adam couldn’t eat meat, he could offer it to Hashem.