Kutim were a group of non-Jews that settled in Shomron after the exile of the ten tribes. They converted, yet their motives were questionable. Furthermore they were not careful in the observance of many mitzvot and therefore questions relating to them appear in the Mishnayot.
The story of the Kutim conversion is recorded in Melachim (2 17). They had seized land and settled in Shomron; Hashem then sent lions to attack them. Out of fear of the lions they converted. Even though conversion from ulterior motives does not necessarily invalidated a conversion (Yevamot 24b), the case of the Kutim is different since they never abandoned their idols (Tosfot).
The Tanaim debate whether the kuti’im are true converts. R’ Meir argues that they were true converts. The Tosfot explain that such opinions must understand that they later converted properly. R’ Yosi however maintains that they never truly converted – “gerei arayot hem” (Menachot 66a). The Rambam (on our Mishnah) explains that the debate is only at a “first teaching”, however now it is accepted that they are not Jewish.
The Mishnah (4:1) teaches that the daughters of Kutim are considered nidot from birth. Why? The Gemara (Niddah 31b) explains that the Chachamim learnt that tumat niddah can apply to women even if they are ketanot. The derivation is made from the extra inclusive “vav” in the word “ve’isha” in the pasuk from which we learn tumat niddah (Vayikra 15:19). The Kutim disregarded this derivation. Consequently the Chachamim considered all bnot Kutim to be tameh niddah as they would not be concerned about dam of ketanot. The Gemara explains further that this reasoning would not ordinarily be enough. The reason being is that only a minority of ketanot would see dam. Nevertheless, the Gemara explains that the opinion cited in our Mishnah is the opinion of R’ Meir who gives weight to a minority concern.
Note that the concern that they are tameh can only be in line with R’ Meir as he maintains that the Kutim are real converts and nidah d’oraita only applies to Bnot Yisrael. According to R’ Yosi who maintains that Kutim are gerei arayot, certain nidah would be d’rabbanan and the ruling in a case of doubt would be tahor.
Many of the Rishonim ask why the Gemara was forced to say that the Gemara was only the opinion of R’ Meir. The Gemara in Shabbat (13b) lists the eighteen laws that were decided upon when Beit Shammai outnumbered Beit Hillel. Amongst the list of halachot is the one mentioned in our Mishnah. The Gemara raises this law as one of the eighteen explicitly stating that it is in line with the opinion of R’ Yosi! The Ran answers that the law there is framed as a decree and understood to be a measure preventing intermarrying with Kutim.
The Ritva answers (first answer) that that the Gemara’s explanation in Shabbat that the law is a gezeirah is according to R’ Yosi yet our Mishnah is like R’ Meir. The Tosfot however argue that the Gemara in Shabbat implies that the law is universally agreed upon and not held only by R’ Meir. Therefore it would have been far simpler to explain that our Mishnah is based on the gezeirah mentioned in Shabbat and shared by all. What forced the Gemara to explain that our Mishnah is like R’ Meir?
The Tosfot answers that since the Mishnah continues with a further concern regarding their re’iat dam (“hen yoshvot al kol dam”) our ruling is based on a concern regarding dam and not intermarrying. Similarly the Rashba and Ritva (second answer) derives the same point for the fact that the Mishnah closes with the statement that their tumah is based on a doubt (and not “by rabbinic decree”). That explanation can only make sense according to R’ Meir.
A question remains on R’ Yosi’s position on this law. We have explained that he maintains that Kutim are gerei arayot – they did not effectively convert. If that is the case bnot kutim should be not be different to a goya where the gezeirah of tumah only applies from the age of three. The Tosfot explains that there was need for more excessive measures as the Kutim kept some mitzvot; consequently there was less of a natural separation.
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