In chapters seventeen and eighteen of Masechet Ohalot we are introduced to the concept of a Beit Ha’pras. The Beit Ha’pras is a field which has a safek of tumat met (for which one usually becomes tameh for seven days).
The Beit Ha’pras is so called due to the fact that the tumah has spread throughout the field. The term pores is used in Sefer Shemot (40:19) where it indicates “vayifros et HaOhel” where Hashem spread the Ohel Moed. The Tosafot (Niddah 87a) mentions two other interpretations of the name. A first interpretation states that the origin of Beit Ha’pras comes from the word “perusah” which is something that is broken or sliced. This is due to the fact that the bones of the dead person are broken into fragments as they are moved around by either people’s feet or by farming machinery. The second interpretation is related to the word “parsah” which is usually related to a measure of distance. This interpretation is based on the fact that people prevent themselves from walking any distance within this field due to its doubtful status with regards to tumah.
There are three different types of Beit Ha’pras mentioned in our Masechet
A field in which a grave was ploughed.
A field in which there is a grave, but its location is unknown.
Sadeh Buchin (literally field of crying) – a field adjacent to the cemetery where the bereaved eulogized the deceased.
The Rambam and majority of mefarshim accept that in general the term Beit Ha’pras refers to the first type. Supporting this is the fact that only the case of a field in which a grave was ploughed aligns with all three interpretations of the word ‘Beit Ha’pras’ mentioned above.
The Rambam also states in his Peirush Ha’Mishnayot that it is only the first two categories of Beit Ha’pras that are classified as ‘impure’ while the third category is ‘tahor’. The reason behind this is that in these cases, no one can actually locate a specific grave in the field. Yet the restrictions relating to the presence of the dead cannot be ignored only due to the fact that we do not have the knowledge of where it is. In the first case, the grave does not exist as a unit any longer, however there may be bits and pieces of the corpse, previously buried in the now ploughed grave, which may exist in large enough quantities to contaminate. In the second case, the grave is there, only we don’t know exactly where.
In the third category however, there is no certainty that a dead person ever existed there at all. This field was only used as a spot to eulogize the dead, and according to the Rambam does not contaminate and it is not deemed impure at all. Moreover, this is so to the extent that even sacrificial meat, such as the Korban Pesach, which must be eaten in a state of purity (and which itself also must be totally free of tumah contamination) can be prepared in an oven made of dried mud taken from such a field (see Ohalot Perek 18 and Moed Katan 5b).
The question arises as to whether a Beit Ha’pras exists in Chutz La’aretz. The Tosefta in perek 18 of Ohalot answers that this din does not apply outside the land of Israel. There are differing interpretations as to why this is so. There are those that say, that a Beit Ha’pras cannot exist in Chutz La’aretz because one of the reasons for the gezeirah of a Beit Ha’pras is because we are primarily worried about the contamination of Trumah and Maaser. Since these gifts do not apply outside the land of Israel, there is no need to be concerned for a Beit Ha’pras.
However, the Kesef Mishneh interprets the Tosefta in a different manner. He writes that when it states that there is no Tumah in Chutz La’aretz he means to say that there is no remedy for a Beit Ha’pras in Chutz La’aretz. That is – there is a concept of a Beit Ha’pras outside of Israel, however, once it has been deemed so, there is no way to purify it.
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