Large Keilim

Keilim (24:4) | Yisrael Bankier | 9 years ago

The Mishnayot in the twenty-fourth perek follow a common pattern. Each Mishnah discusses a particular type of kli. In doing so it mentions how, depending on its structure and/or use, it would either be susceptible to tumat midras, tumat met or not susceptible to tumah at all. 

One such kli is the chest. The Mishnah (24:4) explains that if it opens from the side, since one can sit on it, it is susceptible to tumat midras. If however the chest opened from the top, then it is not susceptible to tumat midras. The Tifferet Yisrael explains that even though one could sit on it, if another wanted to open it he would say, “stand up and let us work”. Nevertheless it is still defined as a kli and susceptible to tumat met (and any other form of tumah as well). 

The Mishnah continues however that if it was very large, having a volume of over forty se’ah it is no longer susceptible to tumah. As we have already learnt, since wooden keilim are mentioned alongside keilim made of sack, Chazal understand that for such keilim to be susceptible to tumah they must be movable both when full and empty. A kli whose volume is greater than forty se’ah no longer qualifies.

The Mishnah Achrona questions the necessity of this Mishnah. All the above laws have already been discussed in previous Mishnayot. One might suggest that the novelty is that if it is very large, it is even insusceptible to tumat midras, despite being designed expressly for that purpose. Yet, he explains, that the Gemara in Bechorot teaches that since midrasot are not connected to sack keilim, they would be susceptible to tumat midras despite the large size or if they were flat. 

The difficulty is that the Rambam appears to rule in the reverse. In his peirush on the Mishnah he explains that a large kli is not susceptible to any form of tumah.1 The Mishnah Achrona brings further proofs that the Rambam maintains this position in the Mishnah Torah as well. How does the Rambam then address the above-cited Gemara?

The Mishnah Achrona explains that the Gemara in Bechorot was only referring to peshutei kli etz – flat wooden keilim. All other tahor keilim, for example davar she’beyam or large keilim, would be tahor even from tumat midras. Why the difference? The Torah teaches, “any [kli] that a zav touches must be broken, and all wooden keilim must be washed.” The pasuk appears to include even flat wooden keilim.2 

The Mishnah Achrona however continues that in contrast to flat wooden keilim, the Rambam understands that dvarim she’beya and large keilim are not susceptible to tumah because they are not consider keilim at all – they do not have a shem kli. Consequently they would be considered like stoneware that is not susceptible to any form of tumah. For items to be susceptible to tumat midras that still require a shem kli, which explained why large beams are rocks were not susceptible to tumah at all. The Mishnah Achrona supports this position by citing the Rambam that explains that these large keilim are not keilim at all as they are similar to an ohel (structure/tent).

1 The Bartenura at the end of the perek rules like the Rambam and the Mishnah Achrona raises this as an apparent contradiction in his position.

2 The Mishnah Achrona cites the Tosfot and Raavad that concludes similarly. 


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