An "Edge" in space or an "Edge" in time: the commandment of "Pe'ah" in Tannaitic Midrash Halakhah

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Abstract

The commandment to leave a part of a field unharvested for the poor -referred to in the Hebrew as pe'ah - literally “edge” or “corner,” is mentioned in Leviticus 19:9 and Leviticus 23:22. Medieval authorities who addressed the commandment disagreed on whether pe'ah is a spatial corner which must be separated at the edge of the field, or if pe'ah is defined as the end of the harvest, and is only distributed after the owner has finished his or her own work in the field.In this article I demonstrate that the key to understanding the development of these two competing views of pe'ah is best understood by identifying the earliest rabbinic formulation of the law of pe'ah regarding the time and placement of pe'ah in the field. I argue that the earliest formulation of the commandment of pe'ah in rabbinic literature is found in Sifra Qedoshim, Parashah 1:10, and the formulations of the commandment in Tosefta and Mishnah Pe'ah are dependent upon this source. Confusion engendered by the source in the Sifra can account for the development of these two conceptions of pe'ah, as an edge in space and an “edge” in time. In the Sifra we find an internal tension between the earliest tannaitic position that the pe'ah, the “edge” mentioned in Leviticus, refers to location, in line with the plain meaning of Scripture, versus the opinion of the second-century sage Rabbi Shimon bar Yoḥai, that it is related to time. Rabbi Shimon believed that the simple understanding of Scripture which left pe'ah entirely dependent on place could create unfair situations for the poor. Making pe'ah dependent primarily on time and the concluding act of the harvest corrected the potential for injustice in the eyes of Rabbi Shimon.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)53-75
Number of pages23
JournalHebrew Union College Annual
Volume91
StatePublished - 2020

RAMBI Publications

  • RAMBI Publications
  • Mishnah -- Pe'ah -- Criticism, interpretation, etc
  • Sifra -- Criticism, interpretation, etc
  • Agricultural laws and legislation (Jewish law)
  • Jewish law -- Eretz Israel

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