The Mishnah (27:11) teaches that if one finds a three by three tephachim (hand-breadths) sized patch in a rubbish heap, then it is tameh (susceptible to tumah) if it is both complete and capable of holding a rova kav of salt. If either of these characteristics do not apply, then the cloth is tahor and not susceptible to tumah. The Bartenura explains that this is because it is no longer considered a beged (garment).
The Mishnah Achrona understands that really on a biblical level, once the garment is thrown out it is tahor irrespective of its structural state. Indeed if it was three by three ezba’ot (finger-breadths) we learn (27:12) that it is tahor if it is thrown out. This is because the only reason it was susceptible to tumah in the first place was because it had a use as a patch. Once it is discard, it loses any importance it had.
The Mishnah Achrona however continues that concerning a complete garment, if it is thrown out, it is still defined as a beged and continues to be susceptible to tumah (Shabbat 26). In short, there is a difference if it was a beged or a simple cloth.1
The reason why our Mishnah differentiates between the states of the cloth is that once the cloth is both strong and can hold that amount of salt it has a substantial form. On a rabbinic level it is ruled as being tameh as it may be confused with a beged which otherwise may subsequently be given the same ruling. No such mistake would be made regarding a small patch that is three by three etzbaot explaining why all small patches found in the rubbish heap are tahor regardless of their structural state. Put simply, there is not reason to make a gezeira in that case.
The Mishanh Achrona raises a question on the Tosfot who explains that a small patch (three by three etzboat) that is found in a rubbish heap is considered tameh. The claim appears contradict next Mishnah that rules in the reverse. He suggests that perhaps the Tosfot maintains that the patch is only tahor if was intentionally discarded. If however it was simply found there, the status of a beged has not yet been removed.2
1 The Mishnah Achrona continues that even though the Tosfot understands that a cloth that is three by three has the status of a beged, this is only while it is in the home, prior to being discarded.
2 The Mishnah Achrona admits that the explanation is difficult since the Tosfot writes, “even if it is found in a rubbish heap it is tameh”. If he is not referring to where it was intentionally discarded, then it should be no different to if the patch was still in his house. In such a case it is obvious that it is tahor so the language of “even” is difficult to understand.
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