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Levud for Tumah Revisted

Ohalot (10:2) | Yisrael Bankier | 2 days ago

The beginning of the tenth perek opens discussing tumat ha’met inside a room that has an opening in its ceiling (arubah). Depending on whether the tumah is directly under the aruba and the size of the aruba, the Mishnah rules whether the room and/or above the aruba is tameh.

One case mentioned (10:2) is where the tumah is directly under the aruba and the aruba is less then a tephach wide. The Mishnah rules that the house is tahor and above the aruba is tameh. The house is tahor since the roof does not cover the tumah – there is no ohel. Above the aruba is tameh since the tumah escapes via the aruba. This is despite the fact that the aruba is less than a tephach wide. Recall that in the laws of mechitzot (partitions) any space that is less than three tephachim wide is considered filled (levud). Nevertheless the Bartenura explains, “Even for less than a tephach we do not [apply the law of] levud to tumah.”

Last cycle (Vol. 6, Iss. 24) we cited the Mishnah Achrona that attempted to understand the Bartenura’s language of “even for less than a tephach”. The article came to two important conclusions. The first, based on the Ritva, is that the measure of the three tephachim for mechitzot is equivalent to the space of a tephach in the world of tumah. Consequently levud can be applied to a space that is less than one tephach wide for the world of tumah. This however is only when the levud results in a leniency and not a stringency. In our case, applying levud would cause the house to be tameh - which is a stringency - so levud does not apply.

The Tifferet Yisrael asks a different question. In the previous Mishnah, when the aruba was a tephach wide and the tumah directly beneath it, the house remaining tahor is understood. Firstly the tumah was not beneath the ohel. Furthermore, since the space was a tephach wide, the tumah had a means of exiting the house. In our case however, since the aruba is not a tephach wide, we cannot say the tumah will exit the house via the aruba. Instead we should reason that since the tumah will eventually be physically removed by way of the house, the house should be tameh. This principle of sof tumah latzeit was discussed in last week’s article.

The Tifferet Yisrael answers that we only say sof tumah latzeit when the tumah is covered. In our case, since it is effectively under sky, the tumah would be considered “entering” the house, and not exiting via the house.

The Tifferet Yisrael however notes, that it is true, since the aruba is less than a tephach wide, the tumah will inevitably leave via the house. Nevertheless this does not present a difficulty. On the one hand, one could say that this exception is built into the law of sof tumah latzeit. The Tifferet Yisrael however provides another solution.

Recall we learnt (4:2) regarding a chest inside a house. There was enough space (tephach) inside the chest for it to act as an ohel, however its opening was less than a tephach wide. The Mishnah ruled that if the tumah was inside the house, then the contents of the chest would remain tahor. This is based on the principle that tumah leaves (the house) but does not enter, in this case, the chest. If however the tumah was inside the chest then the Chachamim understand that the house would be tameh based on the same principle. R’ Yosi however understands that since the tumah can be removed from the chest in a way that it will no longer be tameh, either by cutting it up or burning it in its place, the house remains tahor.

The Tifferet Yisrael explains that in the earlier Mishnah where Chachamim disagree, is when the narrow space was in the side of the chest. If however the narrow space is above the tumah, such there is no ohel above it, they would agree with R’ Yosi. In other words, they accept the rational that the tumah could be removed via the house, in such a way that would not make the house tameh.

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