Rare And Difficult
‘If He Has No Lamb…’
Normally a first-born donkey – a petter chamor – is redeemed with a lamb, but if a person doesn’t have a lamb, he can, as our daf teaches, redeem it with money. The Mechaber (Yoreh De’ah 321:5) rules accordingly.
A Matter Of Perseverance
Nowadays, opportunities to perform the mitzvah of petter chamor do not come up often. Some 30 years ago, Rabbi Yaakov Hillel, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Ahavas Shalom in Yerushalayim, sought to perform this mitzvah, but a revelation after the ceremony led to a debate whether the pidyon actually took place, as explained at length in Yalkut Petter Chamor, published by Yeshivah Ahavas Shalom.
Even getting to the ceremony was not easy. A young female donkey was purchased and entrusted to an observant family, but it died while pregnant. Another donkey remained alive, but its fetus died. A third donkey gave birth to a female. Finally, a fourth donkey gave birth to a firstborn male.
Before a large assemblage, the young donkey was redeemed with a lamb, which was then given to a kohen – the Rebbe of Toldos Aharon, zt”l, in this case – as per the Torah’s instructions. Rav Hillel then bought the lamb from the Rebbe to slaughter it and observe the mitzvah of giving certain gifts to kohanim. After the animal was slaughtered, though, it was discovered that it was a treifah, and the Mishnah rules explicitly, “It may not be redeemed with a calf…or a treifah” (infra 12a).
Some argued that the lamb could be treated as “money” rather than a lamb since a donkey may also be redeemed with money. Others, however, argued that a lamb cannot be treated as money if the owner clearly thought he was redeeming his donkey for an actual lamb (as opposed to the value of a lamb).
Another argument that was advanced was as follows: Perhaps the Mishnah’s rule that one cannot redeem a donkey for a treifah only applies to known treifos. If a sheep wasn’t known to be a treifah until it was slaughtered, perhaps the redemption is good as we can argue that it only became a treifah later, after the redemption.
Talmidei chachahmim also debated if the sheep of a second redemption would have to be given to a kohen. Some contended that if the first sheep was declared to be a treifah due to doubt (the nature of the sirchah found on it was unclear), the second sheep need not be given to a kohen since someone who wants something from his companion must prove that it’s really his (“hamotzi meichaveiro, alav ahraya“).
It Didn’t End There
This particular story ended with another redemption at which, not a sheep, but $100 – the value of the donkey – was given to the Rebbe. And then a whole new discussion began: Can redemption be performed with modern-day paper money?…