Solve the following riddle: explain a situation where a source of tumah cannot make a particular item tameh, but another object to which that tumah was transferred can. The answer is found in a Mishnah learnt this week (8:4).
We know that if a dead sheretz (one of the teeming creatures that is a source of tumah) is found in the airspace of an earthenware oven, then the oven and all its contents becomes tameh. This is even if the sheretz is not in direct contact with the tanur or the food contained inside it. The Mishnah teaches that if however a kli(utensil) is in the oven, then it is tahor. This law is based on a pasuk (Vayikra 11): “any kli cheres into which [tumah] falls, anything inside it is tameh, from all edible food…” Consequently it is food specifically that become tameh and not utensils.
This is consistent with the ruling in the next Mishnah that teaches that bread found in such a tanur would be sheni le’tumah (second degree). In other words, we learn that it is as if the sheretz (an av ha’tumah) transfers tumah first to the tanur, which becomes a rishon le’tumah. The tanur then transfers the tumah to the bread, making it a sheni le’tumah. A rishon can only make food and drink tameh but not keilim, explaining why the kli in our case remains tahor. The Gra explains that the Mishnah thereby rejects the understanding that the originating tumah fills the oven and comes into direct contact with the kli.
Our Mishnah continues the if the kli is wet, then the kli is tameh. Why? The reason relates to the gezeira the Chamamim made regarding liquids we mentioned last week.1 That liquid becomes tameh;*and as the Bartenura explains, tameh liquids can always cause keilim to become tameh due to the gezeira*. So the riddle is solved.
The Tifferet Yisrael however cites a Rambam (Avot Hatumah 7:2) that explains that only liquids that become tameh from an av ha’tumah can cause keilim to become tameh. As explained, the tanur in our case is a rishon so the liquid should not be able to make the kli tameh. Yet, the Rambam maintains the ruling in our Mishnah. How so?
The Tifferet Yisrael suggests as follows. A tanur cannot become an av ha’tumah in order to impart tumah to people or keilim. Yet, if it touched a met(corpse), it would become an av in the sense that food that touched it would become a rishon. Perhaps this case then is where the met came into contact with the tanur.2
Perhaps we can suggest an alternative answer. The following is part of the above-cited Rambam:
There is no vlad tumah (non-av) that can make keilim tameh except for liquids. This tumah is rabbinic and provided that the liquids become tameh due to an av from the avot ha’tumah whether biblical or rabbinic.
The Raavad questions the Rambam based on the Gemara that appears to explain that even if stam yadayim which are a rabbincally sheni le’tumah touch a liquid, that liquid can cause keilim to become tameh. That question is beyond the scope of this article – see the Kesef Mishnah. Yet, the Mishnah Le’Melech cites the following Rambam (8:10):
Since [stam] hands are sheni’yot, if they touch liquids then they become rishon. If that liquid touches food, they become sheni. If the liquid touches other liquids, those liquids become rishon… However…[they] cannot make keilim tameh since the ikar(basis) of tumat yadayim is rabbinic.
Perhaps the answer can be found in the words bolded above. The restriction of tameh liquids’ ability to cause keilim to become tameh is not that they must have come into direct contact with an av, like the Tifferet Yisrael understands. Rather that the tumah was “due to” (machmat), i.e. originating, from an av. Our case then would qualify since the tumah originated from the sheretz despite coming via the tanur. Contrast this with the case of stam yadayim which originates from and whose “ikar” is a sheni le’temuah.3
1 See the Bartenura one Shabbat(1:4) that explains that the gezeira came in two parts.
2 Even though the beginning of the Mishnah explicitly states that it involves a sheretz, the end, which discussed the wet kli, does not state the tumah involved.
3 This explanation would not be consistent with the Bartenura (Shabbat 1:4) that understands that the second gezeira regarding mashkin’s ability to cause keilim to become tameh is only if it came into contact with a sheretz. Further thought then is needed to reconcile the Bartunera here and in Shabbat.
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