The twenty-fifth perek begins as follows:
All utensils have outsides and inside, for example pillows, mattresses, sacks and leather bags.
With this we are introduced to the concept of achoraim va’toch (literally outsides and inside), which refers to the distinction between when a tameh liquid comes into contact with the inside or outside of a kli.
To explain, ordinarily liquids that came into contact with tumah cannot transfer this impurity to utensils. There are however some liquids which themselves are sources (avot) of tumah and can impart impurity to utensils, for example fluid that came for a zav. Often the difference between liquids is not readily discernable. Consequently the Chachamim found it necessary to enact a decree (gezeirah) deeming that any tameh liquids can transfer impurity to utensils.
In some cases however, it is important that one knows that the tumah is of rabbinic origin. Consequently part of the decree is the difference between where the tameh liquid made contact. If the tumah came into contact with the inside of the utensil, then the entire kli is tameh (albeit rabbinically). If however the tameh liquid came into contact with the outside of the kli then only the outside is tameh. This is not the case with those few liquids that are sources of tumah and hence the legal reminder that this tumah is rabbinic.
The first words of the Mishnah however require thought. Can the Mishnah really mean that “all” utensils have this unique decree of achoraim va’toch? The basis for this question is that if a source of tumah, even the liquid that came from a zav, came into contact with the outside of an earthenware utensil (kli cheres) it does not become tameh. Earthenware utensils are only susceptible to tumah if the source is placed inside it. Therefore it does not make sense that this decree, that if a tameh liquid came into contact with the outside that it alone would be tameh, should apply to klei cheres as well.
This indeed is the position of Rashi (Bechorot 38a s.v. “ve’lo”) amongst others. Accordingly our Mishnah should not be understood literally. The Mishnah Achrona explains that the Mishnah’s language supports this view. The Mishnah adds “for example pillows...” If it really referred to all utensils it should have stated “even” as opposed to “for example”. The term “for example” therefore appears to limit the scope of the initial statement.
The Rambam however rules that the decree also applies to klei cheres and that they become tameh if a tameh liquid touches its outside (Hilchot Avot Ha’Tumah 7:3). The Raavad questions the Rambam based on our initial question. If the liquid of a zav or zava cannot transfer tumah to a kli cheres if it touches its outside, why would the gezeirah of tameh liquids apply to such utensils?
The Kesef Mishnah answers that since liquids are more readily susceptible to becoming tameh (they do not require hechsher like other items) the Chachamim treated them stringently. Being able to make utensils tameh no matter how they contracted tumah (even if they themselves are a sheni le’tumah that cannot transfer tumah to regular food) is just one example. The other is that they can transfer tumah to the backs of klei cheres.
The Yeshuat David provides another explanation. How do we understand how a kli cheres is only tameh if the tumah is inside (even only in the space of) the kli? One understanding is that the utensil itself is only susceptible to tumah in its inside. In other words it is an issue with the utensil. R’ Chaim (Hilchot Metamei Mishkav U’Moshav 8:4) however explains that the Rambam has a different understanding. The issue is not with the utensil, but with the object of tumah. It is a gezeirat ha’katuv (a decree by the Torah) that objects of tumah are only defined as sources of tumah for a kli cheres once they are placed inside the utensil.
Based on this explanation, the Yeshuat David explains that the issue for a kli cheres is not with the kli but with the object of tumah. Consequently once the Chachamim instituted the gezeirah, all tameh liquids have a status of sources of tumah even for klei cheres*. Now that it has a status of a source of tumah, since there was never a problem with a kli cheres’ ability to attract tumah at its outside, they too would be effected by this gezeirah and their outsides would also become tameh if in contact with tameh* liquids.
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