Cases of Musical Instruments

Keilim (16:8) | Yehuda Gottlieb | 9 years ago

The Mishnayos toward the end of the sixteenth perek of Mashechet Keilim discuss the tumah status of various bags and cases. The Mishnah (8) refers to the case for a musical instrument by the name of *symponia.*When the instrument is placed in the bag from the top – it contracts tumah, whereas if it is placed in the bag from the side it is tahor. The Mishnah then refers to the case of a flute and states that R’ Yehuda rules that this case is tahor as the instrument is inserted into the case from the side. It is unclear from the Mishnah however, how the Tana Kama would rule with regard to the tumah status of the flute case.  The Tosfot Yom Tov comments that according to the common stylistic flow of the Mishnah, it would seem that the Tana Kama would disagree with R’ Yehuda and rule that the flute case would be tameh even though the instrument is usually placed in the bag from the side. This is difficult as it seemingly contradicts the Tana Kama’s opinion in the earlier example of the symoponia case.

The Tifferet Yisrael explains that in the example of the symponia, the instrument is placed in the bag from its top and therefore the bag itself has a beit kibul and subsequently is able to contract tumah. However, if one had a bag where the whole side is open and one placed the instrument into the bag from its side, then this bag is rather considered as a covering rather than a kli with a beit kibul and will be tahor.

In the example of the flute, the Tifferet Yisrael explains that the bag is one with two openings – one from its top and the other from its side. The Tana Kama in our Mishnah holds that usually one would put the flute into the bag from its top opening, meaning that the kli would have a beit kibul and be susceptible to tumah. R’ Yehuda disagrees and states that it is more common for a person to use the side opening for the flute and therefore the bag is considered a covering and is tahor. This argument seems to be one of *metzius –*i.e. what is the common practice.

The second answer of the Tifferet Yisrael defines the case of the flute as a long, thin cylindrical object. The common way of using this case is to insert the flute from the top and then to store the case containing the flute on its side in order to keep it protected. The Tana Kama holds that since one usually inserts the flute into the case from its top, it should be considered a utensil with a beit kibul and be able to contract tumah. R’ Yehuda disagrees and holds that since this case is never held or used when it is upright, rather it is commonly kept on its side, when using the side opening the bag is to be considered a covering and remains tahor.

The Mishna Achrona cites another answer to this question. He explains that the symponia was an instrument that could only be played while upright. In most circumstances, in order to bring the instrument closer to the musician they would elevate the symponia on a stool or table. If these tables were too low, the case could actually be used as a stand. Since this case had a dual purpose – for use as a case as well as a stand it can contract tumah. This is based on the klal stated by R’ Yossi in the previous Mishnah (*Keilim 17:*7)**that a utensil is tameh when it has a purpose whether ‘in use’ or ‘not in use’. However, when the symponia case is used from the side, i.e. when it is not needed for use as a stand and is solely used as a cover for the instrument, it remains tahor. This logic would also explain the rationale for the case of the flute remaining tahor and imply that the Tana Kama of the Mishnah was in fact reflecting the opinion of R’ Yehuda, rather than arguing with him.

The Mishna Achrona offers another answer. He states that the flute cases could be used to carry numerous flutes at the one time. The Tanna Kamma hold that since it is convenient for a person to transport many flutes in the one case, it therefore becomes a receptacle and is no longer subject to the klal mentioned by R’ Yossi in the previous mishna and can become tameh. This would apply irrespective of whether the case was predominantly used from the top or from the side. 

R’ Yehuda on the other hand, holds that despite the flute case being able to hold many flutes, the case was not used predominantly to transport the flutes. Since this is not their purpose, they are not viewed as a receptacle when used from the side and remain insusceptible to tumah.


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