Masechet Keilim begins by introducing us to fundamental concepts in tumah necessary for learning this new Seder - Taharot. It opens by listing the different avot of tumah. The term av here does not mean an archetype under which similar thing share the same exact law (much like Shabbat). Instead, the Tosfot Yom Tov explains citing the first chapter in Bava Kama, that the derivatives do not share the same laws. When tumah is transferred from an av, the resulting rishon is less “potent” and can transfer tumah to fewer things (of which we learn). Instead the avot here are to be understood as sources of tumah that can transfer to people and utensils.
The Mishnah mentions the avot in groups with each group having extra stringencies than the group listed before it. The second Mishnah lists a neilah (dead animal) and mei chatat (water sanctified with the ashes of the red heffer). The stringency is that these two things transfer tumah if they were carried even without direct contact. The Mishnah explains that during that time they transfer tumah to the clothes worn by the person carrying them.
For a neveilah this is learnt for the pasuk: “… and one who carries its carcass shall immerse his clothing and remain contaminated until evening.” If the person stopped carrying the nevilah he would be defined as a rishon le’tumah and no longer be able to transfer tumah to clothing.
The Tifferet Yisrael notes that while the person is carrying the nevilah he is affectively an av ha’tumah. When he separates from the nevilah he drops down to a rishon. How does that work? Where did the tumah, i.e. being an av ha’tumah, go?
The Tifferet Yisrael answers that when the person is carrying the neveilah it is not that he himself becomes an av for that short period of time. Rather the neveilah is the only av and it is as if that clothing is in direct contact with the neveilah itself.
The Tifferet Yisrael also asks why the Mishnah only mentions clothing, implying on the clothing he wears at the time become tameh. Really, during that period he can transfer tumah to keilim (utensils). His first answer is that the Mishnah was simply reflecting the language of the above cited pasuk. Furthermore it teaches that only items similar to begadim become tameh to the exclusion of people or klei cheres (earthenware).
He next proposes an answer based on the position of the Rosh. When carrying a neveilah a person can transfer tumah to clothes and utensils by direct contact. The Rosh however understands that all the clothes the person is wearing becomes tameh even if they are not in direct contact. Consequently, the Tifferet Yisrael understands the Mishnah needed to stress the clothing the person is wearing specifically, in order to teach this novel law.
Finally the Tifferet Yisrael cites Rashi who as a result of this Mishnah concludes that the person only transfer tumah to the clothing he wears but not any other clothing or keilim. He however cites the Tosfot that raise numerous difficulties with this position.
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