Reshaping a shallow mikveh

Mikvaot (7:7) | Yisrael Bankier | a year ago

The Mishnah (7:7) discusses a case of Mikveh that, despite having the minimum volume, is to shallow to immerse one's entire body. The Mishnah explains that one can "even" stack bundles of wood or reed at the side, to reduce the width and thereby increase the depth of the mikveh. We shall try to understand this Mishnah.

The Bartenura explains that even though it might appear that the mikveh is being divided in two, since the water can enter the bundles, it is still considered on mikveh.

The Tosfot Yom Tov however finds the Bartenura's explanation difficult. According to his explanation, the fact that the bundles were used is the reason that the technique worked. That being the case, the word "even" in the Mishnah is difficult to understand.

The Tosfot Yom Tov continues by citing the Rash who explains that while if stones were used the water between them would certainly be considered part of the mikveh, the same could even be said by bundles. If however the bundles were placed in the centre of the mikveh then they would indeed divide the mikveh into two mikvaot. Placing them there would be that same as the case where baskets were placed in the centre and divided a mikveh into two mikvaot. Each were then less than the minimum amount and therefore invalid. Note that this is even though the division is not watertight.

The Mishnah Achrona explains that when the bundles are on the side, the water that collects between the branches have the same status as water that collects in the holes in the walls of the mikveh and can therefore combine to make forty seah. If however the bundles are in the middle, dividing the mikveh, it does not matter that water can pass through the bundles. The two (new) mikvaot can only combined if there is a hole k'shfoferet ha'nod (the size of the tubing in a leather water bag). Note that this explanation assumes that the mikveh does not have much water and requires all the water to make the minimum requirement.

The Mishnah Achrona continues that this explains the distinction made by the Rashbatz, cited by Beit Yosef, that the technique described in the Mishnah may be performed with stones but not with utensils. Some explains that this is because that a mikveh must be formed "be'tahara" (in purity) where precludes the use of vessels that are susceptible to tumah. The Mishnah Achrona however explains that this answer is insufficient considering that the mikveh is already valid; it is just too shallow for human use. Based on the above explanation the difference is readily understood. The reason why the bundles can be used on the side is because the water that collects there is considered like water that collects in the cracks of a wall. Considering that one does not form walls with vessels, the same logic would not apply.1

Returning to the Bartenura, how do we understand his explanation? The Dvar Avraham (I, 18:2) cites the Eshkol that appears to disagree with the Rash and explains the Mishnah like the Bartenura cited above. The Dvar Avraham explains that the term "even" makes sense. Even bundles, that are substantial, do not server to divide the mikveh in two. That is even if it was place in the centre of the mikveh, and even if there is no a hole that is k'shfoferet ha'nod. The reason that is the case is because they understand that the bundles are much like sackcloth. Since they cannot contain water -- water simply passes through -- they cannot server to divide a mikveh whether they are on the side or placed in the center.2


1 The Mishnah Achrona continues that one could provide a different explanation for the ruling of the Rashbatz. One could explain that the use of vessels was precluded, out of concern that one might immerse in vessels, which cannot be used for a mikveh.

2 The Dvar Avraham continues that the Rashbatz makes sense according to the Bartenura's explanation. The distinction between a vessel and the bundles is clear since the bundles are treated like sackcloth such that they do not constitute a division at all.

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