If a kli cheres (earthenware utensil) has a large hole in it is no longer susceptible to tumah (impurity) (3:1-2). Furthermore if it was tameh (impure) prior to the perforation, it is no longer. We also learnt a different law that if an earthenware utensil shatters and one of the pieces can contain a significant measure (revi’it) of water then it is still susceptible to tumah. Two mishnayot combine these two principles together.
The first Mishnah (3:3) teaches that if a barrel was perforated, the hole was then plugged and then the barrel was shattered, if the broken piece with the plugging could contain a revi’it then it is still susceptible to tumah. If however a broken piece was perforated and then plugged, that piece is not susceptible to tumah. The Mishnah explains that in the first case it was always considered a kli (utensil), even when the barrel had a hole in it.6 Consequently, the piece (with its plugged hole) came from a complete utensil. However in the latter case, the broken piece prior to being plugged is no longer considered a kli; plugging it later has no effect – it is just a piece of pottery.
The second Mishnah teaches a similar case, regarding a barrel in a very poor state. It is severely cracked yet maintains its shape. If it is supported with a coating then is still susceptible to tumah. If however it fell apart in to small pieces then put together again with that same coating it is no longer susceptible to tumah. As with the previous Mishnah, the reason is that since the barrel fell apart completely and is no longer defined as kli, when put together again, it is considered to be a new kli and would need to be fired in a kiln to be completed.
It appears that the ruling in both Mishnayot depends on the principle: once the utensil loses its status as a kli, if the large broken piece is plugged or the finely broken pieces are put together then they are no longer susceptible to tumah.
When citing these rulings, the Rambam (Hilchot Keilim 19:13) appears to differentiate between them. With respect to the ruling of the first Mishnah, he explains that the reason why a broken piece that was perforated and then plugged is tahor is because “the [broken] cheres that has a hole is no longer a kli and tahor and once it is tahor for one moment it can longer become tameh**.” Why was it necessary to provide this additional reason in this case?
R’ Chaim HaLevi, citing Rambam (ibid. 18:10), explains that normally as soon as utensils lose their form are tahor, irrespective of what the broken pieces can contain. By klei cheres however, provided that the broken pieces can contain fluid, they have a use and are still susceptible to tumah. This exception is learnt from the pasuk “ve’kol kli cheres”. Consequently the loss of form does not remove the status of a kli from klei cheres. A broken piece still has the status of a kli while it is susceptible to tumah.
Accordingly there is a difference between a fully formed kli cheres with a hole in it and broken piece of kli cheres. In the former, even though it is tahor, it has the form of a kli and it still considered a kli.7 In contrast, the above pasuk ruled that a broken piece of a kli cheres that loses its form is still considered a kli provided it is susceptible to tumah. Once the piece is no longer susceptible to tumah a kli cheres is no different to any other utensil.
With this difference in hand one might have thought as follows. It appears that the loss of form does not apply to a broken piece; only utility is of interest. Consequently once the broken piece is plugged and can again contain fluid, perhaps it should once more fall under the category of “v’kol kli cheres” and be susceptible to tumah. The Rambam therefore had to add the reason in this case that “once [a broken piece] become tahor for one moment”, even if its utility is returned, “it can no longer become tameh”; its status as a kli is lost.
6 The Tifferet Yisrael explains that despite the hole that would render it tahor, the barrel is still suitable to contain large items even though this fact would only render the kli susceptible to tumah if set aside for that purpose. Alternatively the Mishnah Achrona explains that even with a hole in it, it is still called a barrel. Also unlike broken pieces, the owner has not given up hope that the utensil can still be salvaged. (See the Mishnah Achrona for why he prefers this solution.)
7 See previous footnote.
Receive our publication with an in depth article and revision questions.
Listen to the new Mishnah Shiurim by Yisrael Bankier