Monday, June 27, 2011

Chukas, Bamidbar 19:11. Tuma Without a Source

If you are not familiar with the basic laws of Taharos, I would advise you to not read this.  It is best to leave some twists of halacha on the side until you have a firm context in which to place them.  But I have to admit I'm gratified that this post elicited positive remarks from several Very Hard to Please Customers.

Tuma is normally incurred under two circumstances.

1.  Tuma resulting from an intrinsic state or condition; Inherent Tuma- טומאה עצמית.  Examples:
a. Being a Metzora
b. Being a Ba'al Keri (SEE END NOTE)

2.  Tuma transferred by interaction with an object that is intrinsically tamei; Transferred Tuma- טומאה מועברת.  Examples:
a. Touching a Metzora or a Sheretz
b. Sitting on the bed of a Nida or Zava
c. Carrying a neveila

There is a third category which at first glance seems impossible, but after a moment's thought turns out to be surprisingly common.

3.  Interaction with certain objects which are not tamei at all, which I call טומאה ע"י גרמא.

Where do we find such a thing?  Where do we find that interaction with an object that is not tamei at all causes tuma in a person or thing?

We find it in the Yalkut here on passuk 19:11.
הַנֹּגֵעַ בְּמֵת לְכָל נֶפֶשׁ אָדָם וְטָמֵא שִׁבְעַת יָמִים.  One who touches any dead human body will be tamei seven days.
This is the most famous type of Tuma, טומאת מת, that which is incurred through interaction with a dead human body.  This might be contact, or carrying without contact, or ohel, or heset.  Remarkably, the Yalkut here, quoting the Sifri Zuta here, says the following:

הנוגע במת, נוגע במת טמא ואין מת עצמו טמא. נוגע במת טמא ואין בנה של שונמית טמא. אמרו בנה של שונמית כשמת כל שהיה עמו בבית טמא שבעת ימים, וכשחיה היה טהור לקודש. חזרו ונגעו בו וטמאוהו הם. הרי זה אומר מטמאיך לא טמאוני ואתה טומאתני. השורף פרה ופרים הנשרפים ושעירים הנשרפים מטמאין בגדים, והן עצמן אין מטמאין בגדים. הרי זה אומר וכו'. האוכל מנבלת עוף טהור מטמא בגדים אבית הבליעה, והוא עצמו אין מטמא בגדים. הרי זה אומר וכו

We glean certain insights from this Sifri.  First: that a dead human body- the epitome and paradigm of Tuma- is not tamei.  One who touches it, or is under the same roof, becomes tamei, but the body itself is not tamei.  When the son of the Shunamite woman was brought back from the dead, he was not tamei at all; the people who were in the house with him when he was dead are tamei because they had been exposed to his body when he was dead, but he himself is not tamei.  When Elisha touched him after he was brought back to life, Elisha made him a Rishon Le'Tuma
This sounds remarkable and incomprehensible.  But as it turns out, it is rather common, as the Sifri Zuta very tersely points out.  It shakes out like this:

There are five Tumos that are incurred without any change of state and without any exposure to or involvement with an object that is tamei.
1.  All persons that are involved (The Tzafnas Pa'anei'ach here brings two Yerushalmis that are metamei even the shomer) in the transport out of Yerushalayim and the burning of those "korbanos" which are intended to be burned outside of Yerushalayim, are tamei.  The "korban" they're involved with is not tamei at all.  
a. Parah Adumah.
b. The Par and Sa'ir of Yom Kippur.
c. The Par He'elam Davar shel Tzibur.
See Rambam 5 Para Aduma 4.  Although certainly Para Aduma is very different from the rest in this group, they all come under the rubric of "parim use'irim hanisrafim" for our purposes, as evident in the Rambam.

2.  The person that is involved in taking the Sa'ir Hamishtalei'ach to be killed.

3.  A person who touches or carries the water/ash mixture that is made with the burned Parah Adumah  without using it for its intended purpose.

4.  A person who swallows a kezayis of the ne'veila of a kosher-type of bird. 

5.  A person who has interaction with a dead human body.

כשתמצא לומר, closer thought will show that numbers 1 and 2 are identical.  Both deal with the effect of a "korban" that changed into a "non-korban" on the person who is doing the non-korban avoda.  It so happens that the "non-korban avodah" is destructive- burning or pushing off a cliff, but that's irrelevant, I think. (I've heard from Reb Chaim that that they change from korban to non-korban, but I don't know where he says it.)

A person might quibble with number 4.  Who says that neveilas ohf tahor is not tamei?  Maybe it's tamei, but only transfers tuma to one who eats it, and only at the point of the beis habliya.   To that person, I say two things.  First of all, the Sifri itself brings this case to illustrate how interaction tuma can exceed tuma in the source.  The whole point of the Sifri is that sometimes Tuma does not come from העברה but instead from התעסקות.  Second, I say that if נבלת עוף טהור is not me'tamei people or food by touch, it is not tamei at all.  It seems to me that if it were a transferred tuma, then if you would put it on your head and carry it around all day you ought to be tamei.  (I'm not sure any more if I'm right.  The Gemara in Krisus 21a says about neveilas ohf tahor היא גופה טומאה היא, and also calls it סופו לטמא טומאה חמורה.  I'm not saying I'm wrong, just that it needs yishuv hadaas.
UPDATE:  See notes at end of this post.)

So what do we have?  Four common examples of what I call טומאה ע"י גרמא, something that at first glance seemed impossible or, at the most, singular.
1.  A person who is involved in carrying out (tarti mashma) the required avoda of a korban that becomes a non-korban- פרים ושעירים הנשרפים ושעיר המשתלח.
2. A person who touches מי חטאת without using it for its intended purpose.
3. A person who eats נבלת עוף טהור.
4. A person who touches, carries, leans over, etc., a אדם המת.

Every one of these is an example of an action that brings tuma despite the fact that no tuma is present at all.  Interaction with certain objects which are themselves tahor imposes tuma on the actor.

1. The Sifri Zuta is here in Chukas.  I brought it from the Yalkut because everyone has a Yalkut.
2. I first heard about this Sifri from Rav Rudderman, when he said something about the pirush there, the Ambuha De'Sifri.  The Ambuha D'Sifri was written by one of the Gerrers, a contemporary of Reb Menachem Ziemba and Reb Meir Don Plotzki, named Reb Yakov Zev Yoskovitz, who, I believe, was a mechutn of the Imrei Emes.
3. The Ambuha D'Sifri asks a lot of questions on the Sifri Zuta, and Harav Tzvi Hirsch Meisels (the Veitzener Rov) in his first volume of his Mekadshei Hashem, in the Dvar Tzvi on page reish nun zayin, does an amazing job explaining the Sifri and answering all the famous kashes.  Rabbi Meisels was a beautiful man, an exemplary Adam Gadol; brilliant, kind, humble, and warm.  I remember once in the early sixties he was in my house and said that he just came back from a weeks long din Torah in which he and Reb Moshe sat on the Beis Din.  He said he could say eidus that there is not a Se'if in the four parts of Shulchan Aruch that Reb Moshe doesn't have on his fingertips.  A young **** interrupted and said "But the Chazon Ish said there is nobody like that bizman hazeh!"  Rabbi Meisels answered "It could be that because of the kavod of the Chazon Ish, Reb Moshe doesn't remember one se'if, but when he needs it, he remembers it; or, pashut, the Chazon Ish didn't know Reb Moshe."
4.  The achronim discuss why the Ben Hashunamis is not tamei because his live self touched his dead self at the moment of death or at the moment of his revival, as might be the pshat in the Mishna in Keilim 27:10, but see Rashi Chulin 72b DH Aval Tamei.  And see Eli's comment about Reb Akiva Eiger in Keilim there.
5. It's not the Sifri, it's the Sifrei.  I prefer my pronunciation, even if it's wrong.
6. With the Sifri Zuta, we have another answer to the Rav Ami's question (Moed Kattan 28a) למה נסמכה מיתת מרים לפרשת פרה אדומה.  The Smichus is because they are share the characteristic of tuma through התעסקות with  דבר שאינו טמא.
7.  Regarding נבלת עוף טהור .  Above, I brought the SZ that listed this case among the unusual ones that generate more tumah than they themselves have.  I used it as an example of an object that itself is not tamei at all but causes tumah, and then I said I wasn't sure if that was true.  It turns out that this might be a machlokes; some hold the tuma of n'veilas of tahor is a din in maga, some hold it's a din in ma'aseh achilah.  If it's a din of ma'aseh, then for sure I'm right.  If it's a din maga, it's still not clear.
Reb Chaim in Avos Hatumah, who holds that nivlas of tahor is metamei on the basis of contact when achilah is happening, and the Minchas Chinuch 161 and the Chazon Ish and the Asvon d'Oraysa, who hold that it is a pure din of ma'aseh achilah.  Reb Chaim is based on the Rambam that is going like the Sifra that holds there's no din of toch kdei achilas pras on nivlas of tahor, and the Minchas Chinuch seems to be going like the Gemara in Menachos 70a that associates tumas of tahor with what's called a ma'aseh achila, and the Gemara in Zevachim 70a where Reb Meir needs a pasuk that more than shiur achilas pras by oh tahor will not be metamei, so obviously he holds that it is metamei if you eat it toch achilas pras.  Another raya to the second approach is from Sanhedrin 7b that says that it is not a tumas maga. Rashi there - 
דלאו בר נגיעה. שאינו מטמא בנגיעה אלא בבית הבליעה על ידי אכילה כדכתיב (ויקרא יז) אשר תאכל נבלה וטרפה וכבס בגדיו ומוקמינן לה בנבלת עוף טהור בתורת כהנים ואמרינן התם יכול תטמא במגע ת"ל לטמאה בה אין לך אלא האמור בה שאין לה טומאה אלא אכילתה: 

8.  This is another example of הכל בחזקת סומין עד שהקדוש ברוך הוא מאיר את עיניהם.  

I mentioned in the beginning that Tumas Baal Keri stems from an event, not from contact.  I used this Tuma as an example, a paradigm.  As it turns out, it's not that simple.  While saying the Daf in 2012, I saw that this is a machlokes Rabbah and Rav Huna in Nidda 22a.   See there, and Rashi D"H למימרא דנוגע הוי.  But Poletes certainly is an example, because it's beis hastarim.


  1. You're probably the only one.

  2. First of all, thanks. Really thought provoking.

    Second, are you allowed to leave a dead body in the Azarah, as it's not Tamei itself (forget about the Michshol for a moment)? If indeed this is the case, it's a very nice Pshat in Yoma 23. where the father was worried about the Sakin and not the body itself. Also Rashi Shmini 10:4 says Nadav & Avihu were carried out שלא לערבב את השמחה and he does not worry about Tum'a (they might be totally burnt though)?

    However, I am not sure the Yalkut means that a dead body is not Tamei. Rather it teaches that as a dead body becomes alive, it is not considered Maga of the newly alive being with the old-gone body. In have a vague memory of Mishna Keilim that discusses this same principle wrt Keilim (whether Kli is considered to touch itself upon changing its status), but I can't remember where it is.

  3. with the help of Google, found the Mishna - it's Keilim 27:10 : שלשה על שלשה שנחלק טהור מן המדרס אבל טמא מגע מדרס, אמר ר' יוסי וכי באיזה מדרס נגע זה
    See also R. Akiva Eiger there.

    So, one might say (1) your Pshat, that מת is different and not Tamei at all - I now found this in סדרי טהרות or (2) Sifri Zuta is like R. Yossi (3) מת is different for another reason. That is, Beged touches itself all the time and therefore becomes מגע מדרס. However, מת although touching itself all the time does not become אב הטומאה since it's not a Keli, food or human being. I.e. it is not מקבל טומאה even though it's Tamei itself.

  4. Ay, Eli, I didn't check the comments, and edited the post as soon as I came back from davenning. I see that you addressed several of the issues I put in this morning. Thank you for the Reb Akiva Eiger. As for your suggestion that the issur of bringing tuma is because it might be metamei other things irrespective of its own tuma, please see Rabbi Meisels discussion. You'll see, he has wonderful שכל הישר and tremendous bekius. It's a pleasure to read it- I feel bad for the person he's taking apart.

  5. Thanks, enjoyable indeed. (btw, it's 27:10, not 7:10)