Repurposing Leather

Keilim (26:9) | Yisrael Bankier | 9 years ago

The Mishnah (26:7) sets out the general rule that if an item requires no further modifications, intention to use the item is enough to render the item susceptible to tumah. The Mishnah (26:9) later discusses a case where one wishes to take leather that is already tameh midras and use it to manufacture leather straps. R’ Yehuda understands that as soon as the knife touches the leather, it becomes tahor. The Chachamim however maintain that it remains tameh until its size has been reduced to less than five tephachim. The Tosfot Yom Tov explains that we learn (27:2) that five tephachim is the minimum size for leather to become susceptible to tumat midras

Both opinions in the Mishnah agree that at some point while the leather is being cut it becomes tahor. The Tifferet Yisrael explains that even though straps themselves are susceptible to tumah, that is only once they are complete and not during manufacture. 

The Tifferet Yisrael continues explaining that the Chachamim take a stricter position, since they require that the leather no longer be fit for its original purpose for the leather to become tahor. Even though if one purposefully cut the leather to a size smaller than five tephachim it would be susceptible to tumah, that is only from that point onward. It would however be tahor from any previous tumah

The Tifferet Yisrael poses the following question. Since the straps are susceptible to tumah, they should at least be considered maga midras; they should be considered a rishon le’tumah having been in contact with something that was tameh midras. He lists a number of cases where that is indeed the law – a repurposed tameh midras becomes maga midras (e.g. a midras that was used for a curtain (27:9)).

The Tifferet Yisrael answers that the difference in this case is that there is a gap between when the item was defined as a midras and when the straps were complete. During that gap, the leather was tahor, which means that straps were never in contact with any tumah. In the other examples no such gap existed. 

The Tifferet Yisrael uses this distinction to answer another question raised on the opinion of R’ Yehuda. In Gemara Shabbat (52b), R’ Yehuda asserts that for a tameh kli to become tahor the maaseh (action) must be a kilkul (destructive).  If however it is constructive then it remains tameh. The case debated is where one took a tameh ring belonging to a human and modified it for animal use. According to R’ Yehuda, even though animal rings are tahor, since the act in converting the ring was constructive, the ring is still tameh. Based on this principle, R’ Yehuda’s opinion in this Mishnah appears difficult since the cutting of the leather is a constructive act so the leather should remain tameh.

Based on the early reasoning, the Tifferet Yisrael explains that our case is different. The initial constructive act does not produce the straps. Consequently the machshava and maaseh despite being part of a constructive process can still render the leather to become tahor. In the case from Gemara Shabbat, no such gap exists since the initial constructive act modified the ring so it is fit for the animal’s uses.

The Mishnah Achrona however explains R’ Yehuda’s opinion differently. R’ Yehuda’s requirement that the act be destructive is only with respect to the original use. In other words, it is destructive if the object cannot be returned to its original form. In the case of the ring that was modified for animal use, since the owner could change his mind and adjust the ring for human use, it remains tameh. In our case, once the leather is cut, it cannot be used as it had been previously.


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