If one sells fruit in Syria and declares that it was grown in Eretz Yisrael, the purchased must tithe it. (If the seller adds that) it had already been tithed, he may be trusted, because the mouth which prohibited it permitted it. If the seller declares “(the fruit) is from my own field,” the purchaser is obligated to tithe it; if the seller declares “It has already been tithed” he may be trusted because the mouth which prohibited it permitted it. If it is known that the seller had a field in Syria, the purchaser must tithe it.
[Mishna, Demai 6:11]
This Mishna deals with the trustworthiness of a seller’s claim that the produce he sells has been tithed. The Mishna deals with produce sold in Syria, which was conquered by King David, but is not within the borders of the Land promised to the Forefathers in the Torah. One who purchases produce grown in Syria is not obligated to tithe it, however, one who grows produce there is obligated by Rabbinic decree to tithe it,
Questions on the Mishna
Midrash Sifrei elucidates the verse “Every place upon which the soles of your feet will tread, will be yours …” [Devarim 11:24] to mean that any place conquered by the Nation of Israel, even outside the borders of the Promised Land, has the sanctity of Eretz Yisrael. This being the case, why is Syria different from Eretz Yisrael concerning the tithes? Having been conquered by King David, Syria should be considered part of Eretz Yisrael.
Conquest of Eretz Yisrael by the Community – the Opinions of Rashi and of Rambam
Rambam writes that any land conquered by the King of Israel or a prophet is called “a communal conquest,” while that conquered by a particular family or tribe is termed “a private conquest.” Even should a family or tribe conquer an area within the boundaries of the Promised Land; that conquest is considered private and that area does not have the same status as areas conquered by community conquest, since it does not have the same level of sanctity. The reason for this is that the sanctity of Eretz Yisrael and the sanctity of Am Yisrael (the Nation of Israel) are interconnected. Eretz Yisrael was given to the nation as a body, not to individuals. Rabbi Kook z”tl explains that Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel) and Am Yisrael (the Nation of Israel) constitute a single entity. The nation is composed of holy people and of holy soil. The king and the prophet are the leaders of Klal Yisrael, hence conquests done under their authority are communal conquests. The sanctity of Eretz Yisrael requires the participation of the entire Nation of Israel (even if only through its leaders).
However, Rashi defines King David’s conquest of Syria as a private conquest. For this reason, unlike Eretz Yisrael, Syria was not sanctified in regard to the obligation of t’rumot and ma’aserot. Rashi explains that since unlike the conquest at the time of Joshua, the entire nation was not united in King David’s conquest of Syria, which was “for his own purposes,” not for the benefit of the nation. Thus, Rashi is of the opinion that Syria was a private conquest, and for that reasons its status is not that of Eretz Yisrael; while Rambam considers Syria to have been a communal conquest.
Rambam explains that despite having been a communal conquest, the status of Syria is not that of Eretz Yisrael because King David did not act in accordance with the Torah’s instructions. Am Yisrael was commanded to conquer the Land whose borders were specified in Parashat Masei [Bemidbar 34], while David conquered Syria before completing his conquest of the boundaries of the Promised Land. Midrash Sifrei comments “(David) you have not conquered the area near your palace, how can you conquer Aram Naharaim and Aram Ẓova (Syria).” In Rambam’s opinion, had David completed the conquest of the boundaries of the Promised Land prior to capturing Syria, his conquest of Syria would have endowed it with the complete sanctity of Eretz Yisrael; since this was not the case, Syria has a lower level of sanctity.
The boundaries of the Land which God promised to the Forefathers have an inherent sanctity, as Ramban writes [commentary on Breishit 10:15], and for this reason we are commanded to conquer them first. Any place conquered by the Nation of Israel will, indeed, be sanctified; however, the essential sanctity begins with the boundaries of the Land. It is God Who sanctifies the Land, and therefore, the sanctity of Eretz Yisrael precedes its conquest by the Nation of Israel. Only after fulfilling God’s command to conquer the boundaries of the Promised Land is it possible to expand the Land’s sanctity.
Syria differs from Eretz Yisrael in the status of its sanctity, which is expressed in the mitzvot of t’rumot and ma’aserot. This is true despite the fact that Syria was conquered by Am Yisrael and under a king who represented the entire nation. Rashi’s opinion is that the crucial factor is that Syria was not conquered by the entire nation, and any area not conquered by Klal Yisrael is deemed a private conquest, and therefore has a lower level of sanctity. The sanctity of the Land goes together with the sanctity of the entire Nation of Israel.
As opposed to Rashi, Rambam holds that Syria was a communal conquest, having been guided by a king who represented the entire nation; however, since King David conquered Syria before completing his conquest of the boundaries of the Promised Land, its sanctity is less than that of Eretz Yisrael. The sanctity of the Land originates from the Divine command, which indicates the essential Holy Land. While we may add to the Land through national conquest, we may not skip the essential sanctity.