The Mishnah (8:6) teaches that if a half kezayit of a met is in one room and another half is in another, if the doors are closed (Barternura), even though the rooms themselves remain tahor, the house is tameh. The rooms remaining tahor makes senses – there is not a sufficient shiur in each of the rooms to make them tameh. Why however is the house tameh if the doors are closed?
The Bartenura explains that this is based on the concept that “sof tumah latzeit”. Since the tumah will eventually leave via that doorway, the closed door does not act as a barrier to tumah leaving.1 Even though the two halves leave their respective rooms and combine to make the minimum shiur, the rooms themselves however remain tahor due to the second principle that “tumah leaves but does not (re)enter”. In that respect, the door acts as a sufficient partition in the face of the tumah.
The Sidrei Taharot however stresses that the half kezeitim however are not sources of tumah on their own. Since they are not tameh, how the can the principle of sof tumah latzeit be applied? To understand this Mishnah we need to explore the concept of sof tumah latzeit.
Rav Daniel Wolf (Mincha Tehora) explains that there are three different ways to understand this principle. The first is that it is an extension of tumat ohel.Since they will eventually leave through that doorway, it does not act as a barrier and the tumah continues to spread (based on tumat ohel) as if the door was left open. R’ Wolf directs us to the R’ Chananel(Beitzah 10a) as a proponent of this position: “whenever the door will be opened, it is as if it is open.”
Alternatively, one can understand that this is a new form of tumah and not an extension of tumat ohel. The area under the doorway is rendered tameh since tumah will eventually leave that way. He cites Rashi and the Rash as maintaining this position. For example, the Rash (ibid) writes: “the Chachamim decreed tumah on the location of the passage of tumah.”
Finally it appears that according to the Rambam(Tumat HaMet 7:1) one can understand the tumah by the doorway is like the tumah of a kever(grave). Just like with a kever despite the fact there are no openings, its surroundings are tameh, so too the closed room or house turns into an object of tumah and the door can longer act as a partition.
Returning now to our Mishnah, R’ Wolf explains that if we view this principle as an extension of tumat ohel, then the question of the Sidrei Taharot is strong. Since the half kezayit is not a source of tumah within the room then how can it extend beyond the doorway? However, the Bartenura may understand that the sof tumah latzeit is not an extension, but rather a new form of tumah.Consequently, even though the room itself is tahor, the principle of sof tumah latzeit is able to place the two half kezeitim at the doorways such that they can combine to render the rest of the house as being tameh.2
^^R’ Wolf provides a number of other examples where the ruling appears to depend on the way one views the principle of sof tumah la’tzeit. One of these is where the met is not currently under any ohel, however it will being leaving the city (for burial) via the city gates. The Trumat HaDeshen brings an opinion that under the gate is tameh due to our principle. The Rama (YD 371:4) mentions that there are those that are machmir like this opinion, but those who act leniently in a place where there is no minhag to act stringently are fine.
According to the opinion that the principle is any extension of tumat ohel, the city gates cannot be tameh. As the Gra writes explaining those that are lenient, “we do not say sof tumah latzeit expect under one ohel”. If however sof tumah latzeit is new form of tumah, then it is not dependant on an ohel and one could understand that under the city gates could be tameh.2
1The Mishnah Achrona notes that we are assuming that the door is the only way for the tumah to leave.
2 See R’ Wolf inside (124) that explains that one could nevertheless permit kohanim to be under the city gate.
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