Unfinished Metal Keilim

Keilim (12:16) | Yisrael Bankier | a month ago

The Mishnah (12:6) records four disputes between Rabban Gamliel and the Chachamim regarding keilim. One of these is the newly formed metal kli that has not yet been polished -- golmei klei matechet. The Chachamim maintain that it not yet susceptible to tumah. The Mishnah Achrona notes that the position of the Chacham is taught in Chulin when contrasting metal and wooden keilim.

The Gemara (Chulin 25b) probes why metal keilim are treated differently. In other words, why is it that despite between complete enough to be useful, they are still not susceptible to tumah? The Gemara lists two opinions. R' Yochanan explains that since they are generally used in a respectable context, they would not be used unpolished. Rashi explains that it is therefore not considered a kli for its inteneded purpose until it is presentable. R' Nachman explains it is because metal keilim are more expensive. Rashi explains that until all the decorative elements are finished, it is not fit for purpose, as it would not be able to be sold at the expected premium.

The Gemara asks what the practical difference would be between these two explanations. The Gemara explains that keilim made of bone would one such case -- they are expensive yet not used in shows of respect. Consequently, if unpolished, R' Yochanan would maintain that they would be susceptible to tumah while R' Nachman would disagree.

Turning our focus back to metal keilim, one might suggest that an unpolished metal kli is simply not considered a kli. We shall find that that sugestion is not so simple. Gemara Shabbat (52b) differentiates between handling a needle that does not have an eye on Shabbat and its susceptibility to tumah. Rashi explains that for a metal kli to be susceptible to tumah the Torah refers to it as "kli maaseh". In other words there is a requirement that all the processes have been completed and not just for it to be useful. In other words, according to Rashi for a metal kli to be susceptible to tumah, form is not enough, even if for other laws it can be defined as a kli.

Another example of this distinction is found in the laws of a kli tzamid patil.1 Recall that we found that certain keilim when sealed shut, would protect the contents from becoming tameh if found in a ohel ha'met. The Rambam (Tumat Met 21:1) includes golmei klei matechet in that list. We can understand that it is indeed defined as a kli and therefore can act as a kli tzamid patil, but not yet be susceptible to tumah since, being unpolished, it is not yet a kli maaseh.

The Mishnah Achrona notes that while in Chulin, golmei klei matechet are considered tahor, in our Mishnah it is the subject of debate. The Mishnah Achrona therefore refines our understanding of the Mishnah. In other words, everyone agrees that golmei klei matechet are tahor. The case in our Mishnah is where the individual is not bothered with using the kli in this state. According Rabban Gamliel, this case would be like wooden keilim (see 16:1) where the attitude of the owner can affect its susceptibility to tumah. The Chachamim however disagree. Since metal keilim are different (either due to importance or expense) the owner's personal attitude not relevant.


1 Cited in the Yalkut Biurim, Chulin 25b, footnote 4.

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