Pesachim 12-13 Being above suspicion and avoiding conflicts of interest

On Daf 12b, the Gemara quotes a Mishna which records a dispute between Rabbi Meir and Rabbi Yehuda regarding the last time one is permitted to eat chametz on erev Pesach.

Rabbi Meir holds that one may eat chametz until the end of the fifth hour of the day and must burn in at the beginning of the sixth hour.

Rabbi Yehuda, however, holds that one may only eat chametz until the end of the fourth hour, may keep it in one’s possession till the end of the fifth hour, and burns it in the beginning of the sixth hour.

It should be noted that the prohibition of eating and owning chametz on a biblical level only applies from midday, and that these are rabbinical “fences” designed to avoid missing the biblical deadline.

The Gemara in 13b notes that Rav Nachman ruled like Rabbi Yehuda, and later claims that Rebbe’s own ruling supported his conclusion.

It tells how someone had deposited a leather sack (see Rashi) filled with chametz with יוחנן חקוקאה  and it was bitten open by a mouse.

It was erev pesach, and the chametz was leaking out and getting lost, and he wanted to sell it to recover whatever money he could for the owner while doing so was still allowed.

Rebbe kept telling him to wait, in case the owner came and wanted to eat it, until the beginning of the fifth hour when he told him to go to the market and sell it on his behalf.

The Gemara assumes that Rebbe meant for him to sell it to non-Jews, thus implying that he agreed with Rabbi Yehuda that eating chametz during this time is already forbidden for Jews.

After all, if he meant for him to sell it to Jews and agreed with Rabbi Meir that Jews were still permitted to eat chametz during this time, he should have rather given Yochanan the option to buy it himself first and eat it during this time, rather than requiring him to make the effort to go to the market to sell it!

The Gemara refutes this suggestion, explaining that Rebbe might indeed agree with Rabbi Meir and have intended for Yochanan to sell it to Jews on behalf of the owner.

However, Rebbe did not want him to buy it himself, due to concerns for חשד (arousing suspicion.)

As Yochanan had a vested interest in fixing the price lower than the going rate in order to buy it himself, Rebbe held that it was wrong to buy it, even for the same price as others would agree to, in order not to arouse suspicion that he had indeed done so.

To back this reasoning up, it brings a Beraisa that discussed someone who collects copper coins for charity and currently has no poor people to give them to.  Due to the concern that they might go rusty, he needs to exchange them for silver coins with someone else, but he may NOT exchange them for his own silver coins, in order not to arouse suspicion that he gave himself a favorable rate.

 This would be going against the apparently biblical directive of “והייתם נקיים מה’ ומישראל ”  – “you shall be clean from Hashem and the Jewish people (Bamidbar 32/22.)

The same applies to someone who works in a soup kitchen and has excess food: He needs to sell it to someone else, but may not buy it himself from the charity, to avoid suspicion that he might give himself a better price!

This idea can be found in an explicit Mishna (Shekalim 3/2,) which tells us that the person who puts donations given to the Temple in the 3 boxes used for storing them may not wear a garment that is folded over, shoes, an amulet, or even Tefillin, in order not to arouse suspicion that he stole from them and hid the money in one of the above items (see Rambam there.)

The idea that someone would be so brazen as to un-sow Tefillin and hide stolen money in them might seem extreme , but there have indeed been cases in modern times where “religious” Jews have been caught smuggling diamonds and other things in their Tefillin, making this Mishna even more chilling  (Rav Mordechai Kamenetzky (https://torah.org/torah-portion/drasha-5757-shoftim/) tells how when consulted about this phenomena, his saintly grandfather Rav Yaakov Kamenetzky זצ”ל  compared such behavior to someone who approaches enemy lines with a white flag as if to surrender, and throws a grenade, violating a sacred symbol of peaceful intent so that others no longer trust it.)

We saw earlier in the daf cycle (Shabbos 23a) that a person is required to leave פאה (the corner of the field left for the poor) at the end of his field, for 4 different reasons, one of them being to avoid חשד  (suspicion) that he might not have left anything at all.

Similarly, The Gemara (Bava Basra 8b) rules that it is forbidden for someone who is collecting money for charity to put  money that he finds in the street, or that someone gives him in repayment of a loan, in his own wallet, so that people should not think that it is charity money that he is taking for himself.

Rather, he should put it in the charity box, and transfer it to his own wallet once home. The people collecting money are also supposed to go in pairs for the same reason (Bava Basra 8b.)

We should note that unlike the practise in many corrupt areas of making traffic police work in pairs to make it more risky to accept bribes, the concern here is not even that they would steal the money but simply that they might be suspected of doing so- such is the ethical standard expected of  a Jew.

The directive to “be clean” does not only apply to monetary matters, but also to arousing suspicion of other types of improper behavior.

For example, one of the reasons that it is forbidden to enter a חורבה  (ruin ) is to avoid suspicion that one might be meeting a prostitute there (Brachos 3a and Rashi there.)

A Jew is required to not avoid corruption, but to avoid any suspicion of corrupt behave, and to always be AND appear squeaky clean.

There is a related concept called מראית עיין, where Chazal forbade  or required certain actions to avoid “looking bad.”

Whether this is an extension of the concern of חשד or an independent concept requires some analysis, which I hope to be able to do at a later opportunity.

These posts are intended to raise issues and stimulate further research and discussion on contemporary topics related to the daf. They are not intended as psak halacha.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s