This distinction between bringing the bikkurim and offering a recitation is not in the text. The Rabbis are thus forced to artificially graft this distinction onto a verse that implicitly assumes that Levites, women, and slaves don’t bring bikkurim at all
Why do the rabbis take this approach? In other words, why do they assume that everyone, and not just Israelite males, brings bikkurim? Although they may be partially motivated by the desire to solve a perceived tension between the verses in Deuteronomy and those of Exodus, additional historical/sociological factors may be in play as well.
Biblical society was largely agrarian, in which native Israelites owned farms and grew crops. Levites and non-Israelites did not own farms, and thus would have been largely excluded from the practice of bikkurim for practical reasons. Rabbinic society, however, was heavily mercantile and city-based. The average Jew, including Levites, priests, and even (sometimes) unmarried women (such as widows), may have owned a house, but not a farm.
The shift in meaning of the word ger was also responsible for the rabbinic interpretation of the biblical law. In rabbinic society, gerim (literally “sojourners”) were not “resident aliens” as they were in biblical society (i.e., non-Israelites), but converts to Judaism who lived as regular Jews. Thus, the distinctions taken for granted in Deut. 26 between “landowning Israelite” and “sojourner” or “landless Levite” no longer made sense in rabbinic times.
Moreover, as the Temple had been destroyed and no actual mitzvah of bikkurim was performed, the rabbis did not need to adjust any actual practice or custom. Instead, they were free to re-envision bikkurim in a way that made more sense for their society.
And yet, the solution offered by the Mekhilta de-Rabbi Ishmael does not entirely level the playing field. The group that was once excluded frombikkurim was still excluded from reciting the declaration. But the Midrash in the Mekhilta is not the last word on the subject. As we shall see, certain rabbinic texts all but obliterate any distinction between groups even for mikra bikkurim.
See: Bikkurim: How the Rabbis Made a Mitzvah for Male Landowners More Inclusive, Rabbi Yoseif Bloch, Yeshivat HaKotel, TheTorah.com
You ask me if you, too, are allowed to say in the blessings and prayers you offer alone or in the congregation: “Our God” and “God of our fathers,” “You who have sanctified us through Your commandments,” “You who have separated us,” “You who have chosen us,” “You who have inherited us,” “You who have brought us out of the land of Egypt,” “You who have worked miracles to our fathers,” and more of this kind.
Maimonides in his letter to Ovadiah the convert (Twersky trans.)
the Jew begins his declamation with the words, “My father was a wandering Aramean.” Yes, we have seen from the Mishna in Bikkurim (as well as Kiddushin 3:12) that the religious status of the child is determined by the mother, most probably because the fetus is inextricably intertwined with the mother as long as it is in the mother’s womb. Nevertheless, there is an important DNA contribution of the father which cannot be denied. This gives rise to a special halakhic category for a child who is born to a gentile mother and a Jewish father, known as “zera Yisrael,” Israelite seed.
Such a child is not considered to be a Jew and does require a process of conversion. However, most decisors throughout the generations have felt it to be incumbent upon the Jewish community to encourage conversion for such individuals and to be as lenient as possible in order to effectuate these conversions. An important and even monumental work called Zera Yisrael was published in 2012 by Rabbi Haim Amsalem (former M.K. Shas), in which he documents the relevant responsa, which suggest that “the religious court is duty-bound to convert” the individual with zera Yisrael status (Piskei Uziel, 64:4).
Indeed, in our daily prayer, after the Shema and before the Amida, we praise the Lord whose “words are alive and extant, devolving upon our fathers and upon us, upon our children and upon our future generations, and upon all the generations of the seed of Israel, Your servants…”
What is this reference to “seed of Israel”? Our children and our future generations have already been mentioned? Michael Freund, Director of Shavei Israel, pointed out to me (during an unforgettable trip to India for meetings with the Bnei Menashe) that this must be referring to those who have Jewish DNA from their paternal – but not maternal – side, Zera Yisrael! It is especially incumbent upon us to reclaim these exiled seeds of Abraham and Sarah and restore them to their land and their Jewish ancestory!
Rabbi Shlomo Riskin Shabbat Shalom: Ki Tavo 5783 (Deuteronomy 26:1 – 29:8)
דשאני התם דכתיב ולביתך לומר דקרא אינו אסמכתא אלא גזירת הכתוב הוא ואף על גב דלית ליה קרקע מידי, משום דאשתו כגופו.
This case is different, as it says “And to your house.” This is no mere allusion, but a biblical decree. Even though the husband possesses no land of his own, his wife is like his body.
Quoted by Yoseif Bloch (ibid) The 14th century French Talmudist, R. Crescas Vidal, addresses this in his Novellae on Gittin
It would seem that the rabbis’ concern was not really about the declaration but about avoiding distinctions among Jews. This is most clear in the case of converts, who gradually become viewed as full heirs of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Even women slowly gain acceptance, although the reluctance to hear a non-male voice seems to be an all-but-insurmountable goal. In modern times, this too has finally begun to change.
Yoseif Bloch (ibid)