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Crack in the Ceiling - Sofo Tumah Latzeit

Ohalot (11:1) | Yisrael Bankier | 5 days ago

The eleventh perek begins by discussing a house whose roof is cracked along the full width of the house, thereby creating two separate ohalot. The Mishnah teaches that if a corpse is located in the outer part, then the keilim located in the inside part of the ohel remain tahor. If however the tumah is located in the inner section, then the keilim in the other part are tahor provided that the gap is wide enough. Exactly how wide is the subject of debate. According to Beit Shamai it must be at least four tephachim wide. Beit Hillel however maintain that even a "kol shehu", the smallest gap, is sufficient. R' Yossi continues by maintaining that Beit Hillel really require a tephach.

The Bartenura explains that the reason there is no debate when the tumah is located in the outer part, is based on the principle that "it is the way of tumah to leave but not enter". In other words, since the two parts are considered separate ohalim, the tumah at the outer part does not enter and spread to the inner part. Regarding the second case however, where the tumah is located in the inner part, it is "the way of tumah to leave" -- sofo tumah latzeit. Consequently the size of the gap become more important.

The Tifferet Yisrael explains that Beit Shammai require a gap of four tephachim since that is the size of a makom -- a legal space or zone. That size is required to keep the two ohalot distinct and separate from one another such that we no longer apply the principle of sofo tumah latzeit. Beit Hillel however understand that once we have a crack running the full width of the house it is considered as if there is a partition between the two parts of the house. This is based on a principle that we have seen in the laws of mechitzot (partitions) of pi tikra yored ve sotem -- we view the edge of the roof as if a partition is extending down from its edge.

The Tifferet Yisrael continues that even if we consider it is if there is a mechitzah separating the two parts of the house, that is not enough. Recall the case of a large closed cupboard with tumah inside it, that the house would still be tameh based on sofo tumah latzeit. This then explains why the Tosefta explains that the kol shehu referred to by Beit Hillel must be at least the width of a chut hamashkolet (the cord of a plumbline) to separate the ohalot.

The Mishnah Achrona notes that we learn from our Mishnah that the principle of sofo tumah latzeit is only applied with respect to a petach (opening) within an ohel. For example, between rooms or the case of the cupboard inside an ohel. If however we are dealing with two separate ohalim, then the law of sofo tumah latzeit is not applied even if the only way for the tumah to leave one ohel is via the other. []{dir="rtl"} The Mishnah Achrona cites the Chacham Tzvi is the source of this conclusion.

The Chacham Tzvi (103) uses our Mishnah as a difficultly on the Rama1. The Rama (YD 371:4) cites those that rule stringently, that Kohanim should not go under the city gates through which the bodies are removed for burial. Due to the principle of sofo tumah latzeit, area under the archway would be considered tameh met. The Chacham Tzvi however reasons, that in our Mishnah, according to Beit Shammai as long as the gap wide enough for the corpse to be removed through it, it is sufficient to avoid sofo tumah latzeit. Yet according to Beit Hillel only the width of a chut hamashkolet is needed to ensure that the two parts are not considered one ohel. Once that is achieved, even if the only way for the tumah to leave is via the outer ohel, the keilim in the outer section are still tahor. Consequently, regarding the gate of a city, there certainly should not be a concern.2


1 See also the Tifferet Yisrael (Boaz 11:1).

2 The Chacham Tzvi describes those that are concerned to not go through those gates, as being to'eh bedavar Mishnah and should be rebuked, unless there is a met on its way and they are concerned to be there at the same time.

In defence of the stringent position cited by the Rama the Dagul Mervava explains that they may have understood the Mishnah like the Rosh. The Rosh explains that when the Mishnah rules that the keilim are tahor it is referring to the keilim underneath the crack. This seems to align with their understanding that it is only the keilim beneath the crack and not those on the other side that would be tameh, due to sofo tumah latzeit. He suggests that the commentary of the Rosh on taharoth was not yet widely known in the time of the Chacham Tzvi.

See however the Eliyahu Raba (11:1) that cites that Tosephta (8) that whenever there is air separating between ohalot we do not apply sofo tumah latzet as an addition proof against this stringency.

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