The Mishnah revisits a debate between Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel where the latter finally acquiesced (5:3-4). The Mishnah here deals with a case where a complete kli cheres (earthenware utensil) is filling an arubah (hole between two floors in a house). Since a kli cheres is not susceptible to tumah on its outer face, it can complete the ohel between the two floors. Consequently everything in the upper storey is protected from tumat met (tumah origination from a corpse) if a corpse was found in the bottom floor. This was indeed the original position of Beit Hillel. Beit Shammai however argued that only those items that cannot be purified from tumah (food, drink and klei cheres) are tahor; the rest however would be tameh.
The Mishnah in Eduyot (1:14) explains this debate (albeit referring to a different case):
…Beit Hillel asked [Beit Shammai], why? Beit Shammai explained, because [the utensils] of an Am Ha’aretz (one not particular with the law of tumah and taharah) are [presumed] tameh, and tameh utensils cannot act as a [protective] barrier. Beit Hillel asked, but you have ruled that the food and drink contents are tahor! Beit Shammai responded, when we made the food and drink tahor we made it tahor for him, but when you made the utensils tahor you made it tahor for him and you!
How do we understand the above discussion?
A Beraita brought in Gemara Chagigah (22b) elaborates further:
R’ Yehoshua said, [I am at a loss] at the words of Beit Shammai. How can the jug be tameh and its contents tahor? …A student of Beit Shammai responded… Does a tameh kli protect or not? He answered, it does not. [The student] asked, are the utensils of an Am Ha’aretz tameh or tahor? He answered tameh. [The student] continued, if you tell him he is tameh will he listen to you? Furthermore, if you say his utensils are tameh, he will respond that his are tahor and yours are tameh.
Rashi explains the above concern as follows. The Am Ha’aretz is likely to listen if the decree that his utensils are presumed tameh is not overly harsh. Where the utensil can be immersed in a mikvah the effort is manageable. However if, because of a presumption that the kli blocking the arubah is tameh, everything is declared tameh, the Am Ha’aretz will not listen at all.
The Tosfot disagrees, particularly as there are methods of purifying liquids as well (hashaka). He therefore explains that a Chaver (one who is particular with the law of tumah and tahara) would only borrow keilim for an Am Ha’aretz that can be purified. The reason being that the Chaver assumes the all the utensils are tameh and will only borrow those that he can purify prior to using for his own food.
The Bartenura explains further that an Am Ha’aretz does not think that his utensils are tameh. Consequently, in our case, if the Am Ha’aretz subsequently would lend one of the utensil from the attic, that utensil would be tameh met and require the seven day purification process. Were it not for this rule, the Am Ha’aretz would assume that all the utensils in the second floor were certainly not exposed to tumat met. The Chaver would then borrow the utensil and use them without performing the full purification for tumat met. The Siach Yitzchak continues, that as a result of this law, it would become wide spread and the Am Ha’aretz would sees that Chaver also purifies for his utensil found in a similar situation from tumat met. Consequently he would follow suit, particular as one is more conscious of, and particular about tumat met than other forms of tumah
These two explanations can perhaps be behind another debate: Does this law apply only to the kli of an Am Ha’aretz that covers the arubah or to anyone’s kli? If the reason for the distinction it to make the ruling that his utensils are presumed tameh more acceptable (Rashi) then perhaps it make sense that it applies to a case involving his utensil only. However according to the second explanation (Tosfot) there is a necessity for the ruling to be wide reaching for it to have the desired impact, consequently it must apply to everyone.
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