Backward Rulings about Tumat Nidah

Nidah (1:1) | Yisrael Bankier | 14 years ago

The first Mishnah in Masechet Niddah deals with a woman that discovers that she is a nidah. A woman becomes a nidah when the dam detaches even if it has not left her body. At that point she becomes tameh. Since it is possible that she became a niddah some time prior to discovering the fact, a debate ensues in the Mishnah regarding the status of the taharot that she touched prior to this discovery. Do we assume that they are tameh? If so, how far back in time do we make that assumption?

There are three opinions in the Mishnah. Beit Shammai says that everything that she touched prior to the discovery is deemed tahor. Beit Hillel takes the opposite positioning that everything that she touched since the last time she did bedika is considered tameh – even if it was a number of days. The Chachamim however rule that anything within the time period of twenty-four hours or since the last bedika (whichever is shorter) is tameh; anything prior to that is tahor.

It has been some time, but with masechet Nidah we once again have the fortune of a Gemara to enhance our learning. The Gemara analyses this debate extensively. Nonetheless we will focus only on the first understanding brought of the debate.91 The Gemara begins by explaining that Beit Shammai holds that the woman has a chazakah that she is tahor. Since she was tahor previously we make a presumption that she was tahor till now.

A question is raised on this understanding of Beit Shammai. Recall the (generalised) distinction made when we were learning Taharot: a doubt regarding tumah in the public domain is tahor, while in the private domain it is tameh92. The latter ruling of tameh is despite a chazakah in the reverse! The Ran provides two answers. The first is that the law of the safek tumah in a private domain is tameh is learnt from parashat Sotah. There the source of tumah is a certainty; the doubt however is concerning contact. In our case doubt is with the source of tumah itself – when did she become a nidah? Consequently our case is different and we can rely on a chazakah.

The Ran provides another answer. The principle of safek tumah in a private domain is tameh is a ruling that applies only from the time that the doubt occurs and onwards. Here we are trying to achieve more than that. The question is whether we can retroactively cause all the taharot she touched to become tameh. Consequently we can rely on a chazakah.

How would Beit Hillel respond?

The Gemara continues that while the principle of chazakah would ordinarily apply, this case is different since there is a “rei’uta”. Rashi explains that in normal cases when an item is tahor and we have no reason to assume this item will ever become tameh. When faced with a doubt we maintain the status quo. In our case however, she will inevitably become tameh as part of the natural cycle. In such cases a chazakah does not help.

91 For example, Rava understands that everyone agrees that m’ikar ha’din everything is tahor. Beit Hillel however argues that an extra stringency should be enacted with respect to taharot. Beit Shammai feels that such a stringency could hinder priya u’reviya whereas Beit Hillel disagrees as the stringency only applies to Taharot.

92 Review the various exceptions to this generalised rule.


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