Resurrecting Tumah

Keilim (11:1) | Yisrael Bankier | 9 years ago

With the beginning of the eleventh perek, we transitioned from learning about klei cheres (earthenware utensils) and began the study of klei matchot (metalware). Much like klei cheres, when metalware that has become tameh breaks, it becomes tahor. A unique law applying to klie matchot is that if the broken klei is repaired or reconstructed then it is once again tameh, as if the previous tumah returns.

This law is rabbinic and the Mishnah records a debate between the Chachamim and R’ Shimon ben Gamliel regarding its scope. While the Chachamim understand that it applies to all forms of tumah, R’ Shimon ben Gamliel maintains that the tumah only returns if it was originally tameh met (due to tumah originating from a corpse).

The Bartenura explains that the Chachamim’s reason for the decree was to avoid a potential error that may arise. With other forms of tumah, once the kli is immersed in a mikveh, one needs to wait till nightfall for it to be used for trumah and kodshim. Once a kli however is broken, it is completely tahor and on a biblical level remains that way even if repaired. The Chachamim were concerned that one might see that latter case and wrongly deduce that once a kli is immersed in a mikveh it is also completely tahor right away. The Chachamim therefore effectively did away with the latter method of purification making the tumah return if the kli is repaired, thereby avoiding the potential for confusion. 

Rashi however has a slightly different explanation. The concern is that one might see another that had a tameh kli and later that day see him using it for trumah. He will suspect that he immersed in a mikveh but did not wait until evening as required, not knowing that the kli was broken and repaired. Unlike the Bartenura who explains that the concern is flawed understandings of the laws of immersing keilim, Rashi explains that the issues is chashad – suspicion. 

The Mishnah Achrona explains that the practical difference between these two explanations is if the broken kli is used to form a new and different kli. According to Rashi that kil should be tahor; the means employed to purify the kli is clear and there are no longer any ground for suspicion. According to the Bartenura however, the potential for confusing the laws of immersion and broken keilim still exists.

Returning to the Mishnah, how do we understand the position of Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel who differentiates between the types of tumah? The Bartenura explains that Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel had only one pressing concern. Something that becomes tameh met cannot be purified by simply immersing it in a mikveh; instead it involves a seven day purification processes. Since this lengthy process could be short cut be simply breaking the kli, there is a concern that when faced with that situation everyone will simply take the short cut and the seven day process will be quickly be lost and forgotten. The decree preventing the short cut was therefore necessary to preserve the Torah law. 

The Tifferet Yisrael understands that the Chachamim also accept the Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel’s concern and uses that fact to answer another question. According to the concern of the Chachamim as explained by either Rashi or the Bartenura, why should the item become tameh again? Surely it would be adequate for the repaired kli to be considered a tevul yom thereby requiring nightfall for it to be used for trumah or kodshim. The Tifferet Yisrael answers that such a gezeira would be inadequate since it would not cover the case where the kli was tameh met. In order to address Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel’s concern a period of seven days would be required. That being the case, a single simple decree without distinctions (lo plug) was enacted that the tumah itself effectively returns.

* See Volume 6, Issue 6 for another angle on this topic.


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