Small Patches and Negaim

Negaim (11:12) | Yisrael Bankier | 6 months ago

In the eleventh perek we learn about negaim of fabrics -- wool, linen, and leather. Like other forms of negaim, there are indications that require the garment be quarantined (beged musgar) and further developments that render the garment muchlat and require burning (begged muchlat). One of the laws taught in the last Mishnah of the perek (11:12) is that if a beged musgar was cut into small pieces, then the pieces are tahor. This contrasts with a beged muchlat, that even if cut into small pieces, since the beged was already rendered tameh, the small pieces would continue to be so.

The Barenura explains that the case of the beged musgar is where it was cut into small pieces, smaller than three-by-three etzbaot (finger's width), but not completely separated from one another. The requirement of less than three-by-three etzbaot is understood since it makes it too small to be susceptible to negaim. The addition that the pieces are not fully separated however is puzzling. The Mishnah Achrona notes that if they were fully separated, then it would be more of a reason for the pieces to be tahor. He therefore suggests that the Bartenura was motivated by the Mishnah's language of "tahor", which is singular, implying we are dealing with a single beged, with the pieces somewhat connected.

The Rashash notes that this is also the explanation of the Rash. He however continues that it is important for the Rash who understands our Mishnah based on the Tosefta. The case is where after cutting up the beged musgar, the nega returned to one of the pieces. If it is larger than three-by-three, the Chachamim maintain that it alone requires burning. If the patches were smaller than three-by-three and detached, the position of the Chachamim appears obvious. The small patches are tahor since they are too small to become tameh. The Rashash stresses that the novelty of the Tosefta is only appreciated if they patches were still loosely connected. The Chachamim still maintain that if that patch is three-by-three, then it alone requires burning.

Perhaps the novelty of this Mishnah can be better understood considering another law. While a garment is only susceptible to negaim if it is white, the Mishnah (11:7) teaches that if a garment is made of white and coloured strips, it is still susceptible. This would still be the case even if there was only one white strip on the garment.

The Rambam (Tumat Tzaraat 12:13) rules that even if the strip was the size of a gris (half-bean), the minimum size of a nega, it could still become tameh. Two important points must be stressed. Firstly, the beged is tameh even though the white region is only a gris and there is nowhere for it to spread. This is because if the nega remains after two weeks of quarantine, the beged would require burning. The second point is a gris is less than three-by-three etzbaot. In other words, that strip on its own would not be susceptible to negaim. Nevertheless, it combines with the rest of the coloured part such that it is defined as a garment large enough to become tameh. The Chasdei David adds that if it remained after two weeks, since it is one garment, it would all require burning, and not just the white section.

The Chazon Nachum however asks why the also Rambam needed to teach the first case of multiple strips. It would have been sufficient to teach the final case of a single strip. In both instances the Rambam explains that if the nega remained for two weeks that garment is burnt.

In the previous halacha the Rambam however taught that a garment made of small patches, less than three-by-three is considered a single garment. A garment sewn together is no different to a single woven garment. One can suggest that the next halacha is therefore required to teach that this is also the case where the small patches are different colours. One might have thought that small patches combine for negaim, when the patches are a colour that, if they were large enough, could become tameh. The Rambam therefore teaches two laws. The first, that the small patches can combine, irrespective of colour. The second law is that a small patch that is the size of a gris can combine with other (coloured) patches enabling the beged to be susceptible to tumah.

In light of the Rambam, the importance of the Rash is magnified. In our case, the beged has been cut into pieces less than three-by-three (and possibly larger than a gris) and are still loosely connected. We have seen that a white patch does not need to be three-by-three, if it can combine with the rest of the material to be considered a single garment, even if that other material could never on its own be susceptible to tumat negaim. Consequently, the Rash's comment in necessary to teach that a beged cut in this fashion, despite the pieces still being connected (loosely), is not considered a single beged and is tahor.

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