Metalware – Resurrecting Tumah

Keilim (11:1) | Yisrael Bankier | 15 years ago

The eleventh perek starts the second third of masechet keilim. With this milestone we made the transition from learning about earthenware utensils to metal utensils. In the first Mishnah we are introduced to some of the differences between these two types of utensils.

One of these differences is as follows. If a utensil became tameh and is broken it becomes tahor. Uniquely, with metal utensils, if the utensil is then mended, it recovers its original tumah (see Mishnah Achronah). This novelty is a result of a rabbinic decree (Shabbat 16b) and whether it applies to all source of tumah (Chachamim) or tumat ha’met alone (R’ Shimon ben Gamliel) is a subject of debate. What was the reason for this decree?

The Gemara (Shabbat 16b) cites two different reasons13. Abaye explains that when “breaking” the utensil, one may do so by drilling a hole in its base. However we are concerned that one may not drill it large enough to be considered legally broken. Rava, on the other hand explains that when purifying a utensil, immersion in a mikvah is not sufficient; one must also wait till evening. If a utensil is broken and mended this delay is not necessary. Consequently one might witness the latter process and confuse the two, thinking that the delay is also unnecessary by immersion.

What is the difference between these two opinions? The Gemara explains that Abaye and Rava would disagree in the case where the metal utensil was completely flattened before being reformed. The Gemara however does not explain how each of the opinions would rule.

The Ran cites two different explanations of this distinction. Some say that when the utensil is completely flattened, since it was not punctured, there is no longer a concern that it will be inadequately punctured. The concern that one might become confused and think that delaying until night fall is not required under normal circumstances is still however present. There are others however who explain in the reverse. If we allow flattening the kli one might think, what difference does it make how a kli is broken? Consequently the concern that one might not, at a later date, put a large enough hole in the utensil is still present. Yet, since a completely new kli has been fashioned and its old form is no longer recognisable, the concern that one might witness the event and think the delaying is not required after immersion is no longer present.

We find from the Ran that with these understandings of Abaye and Rava, the practical difference between these two opinions is not clear. The case provided by the Gemara can be understood as being problematic for both opinions.

The Mishnah Achronah provides a different explanation for the opinion of Rava that makes it easier to see how completely flattening the utensil differentiates between the opinions of Abaye and Rava. He explains Rashi’s understanding of Rava as follows. The concern is not that a person will become confused between the laws of breaking a utensil and immersion. He is well aware of these laws. The concern is that the witness will see the same utensil he knew was tameh in the morning being used prior to nightfall and suspect that the person acted against Halacha. This type of concern is referred as chashad and the motivation for a number of gezeirot.

With this understanding of the opinion of Rava the difference between the two opinions is clear. If the utensil is completely broken and reformed, Rava’s concern of chashad is no longer, as it is clear that a new kli has been formed and was not immersed in the mikvah. However allowing one to do so, does not alleviate the concern of Abaye thinking any form of breaking is sufficient and may not puncture the kli with a large enough hole in the future.14

13 This article only deals with the opinion of the Chachamim. From a simple understanding of the Gemara the reason for the decree according to R’ Shimon ben Gamliel is as follows. The process for purification as a result of tumat ha’met is lengthy (seven days). Recognising that the process would be shortened by breaking and subsequently mending the utensil, there is a real concern that no one would ever engage in the proper purification process and it will be forgotten. Tosfot R’ Akiva Eiger however explains the flow of the Gemara differently and that the reasons given for the opinion of the Chachamim also apply to the R’ Shimon ben Gamliel. They argue whether the concerns of Abaye or Rava that follow apply to all forms of tumah or only to tumat ha’met which has the more involved purification process.

14 More questions can be asked. Why does this gezeirah apply only to metal utensils? All the above concerns seem to apply to other non-earthenware utensils. Also Rava’s concern can be address instead by requiring the one that breaks and mends metal utensil wait until nightfall. Why was it necessary to resurrect tumah instead? These questions are addressed by the mefarshim. See, for example, Tosfot Yom Tov and Tifferet Yisrael.


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