A woman who is liable to bring offerings for five doubtful cases of childbirth or for five doubtful cases of Zivah1 brings one offering and is thereafter considered purified to be able to eat sacrificial food, and the other four offerings are not incumbent upon her.

If, however, she was liable for five definite cases of Zivah or for five definite cases of childbirth, she brings one offering and is thereafter considered purified to be able to eat sacrificial food, and the other four offerings are still incumbent upon her.

It happened in Jerusalem that due to great demand the price of pairs of birds soared to a golden dinar (equivalent to 25 silver dinars). Fearing that because of the inflated price poor women would refrain from bringing even one offering and would perhaps eat sacrificial food while ritually impure, Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel said: “I swear that I shall not sleep tonight until the birds are sold for silver dinars.” He entered the Beit Din and taught: “A woman who is liable to bring offerings for five definite cases of childbirth or for five definite cases of Zivah must bring one offering and is thereafter considered purified to be able to eat sacrificial food, and the other four offerings are not incumbent upon her!” Consequently, on that very day, the price of pairs of birds dropped to just quarter of a silver dinar. (Gemara Kereitot 8a)

Rashi elucidates that Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel’s ruling is in conflict with the uncontested law stated previously that each definite birth in a separate period obligates the mother for a separate offering. Nonetheless, Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel promulgated this decision exempting the women from additional offerings on the basis of the principle: “עת לעשות לה', הפרו תורתך” (for it is a time to act for Hashem, they have voided Your Torah2), which enables the Rabbis to suspend Torah law when circumstances warrant such action.

Tosfot provides a different analysis, whereby Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel actually disagrees with the Mishnah’s ruling, maintaining that, according to Torah law, the woman is exempt from more than one offering. In this view, even the obligation to bring offerings for definite births or Zivah is analogous to the requirement for ritual immersion in a Mikvah. Just as one immersion is effective to purify a person although he has contracted many types of ritual impurity, similarly one offering is sufficient for a woman no matter how many times she became a Zavah or gave birth.

Rav Chaim Berlin supplies a glorious alternative interpretation. In citing the sacrificial obligation of the woman after childbirth, the Torah first mentions the obligation for the wealthy woman and concludes with the phrase: “this is the law for the woman who has given birth.3” The requirements for the woman who cannot afford this are mentioned only after4 this apparently concluding statement. Since the phrase: “this is the law for the woman who has given birth,” is actually the source for the separate obligation for each time that a woman gives birth, this indicates that the obligation to bring a separate offering for each birth is only for the woman who can afford it. The poor woman, however, can fulfill her obligations with only one offering. Accordingly, Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel agrees that each definite case of childbirth occasions a separate sacrificial obligation, but only if the woman can afford it. When the price of birds became prohibitive though, the Halachah changed because it is considered as if all women were in the category of the poor. Under these circumstances, one offering is sufficient.

1.       a specific type of discharge

2.       Psalms 119:126 and Gemara Berachot 54a

3.       VaYikra 12:7

4.       “And if she cannot afford a lamb …”(VaYikra 12:8)

 

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