The Limits of Transferring Tumah Between Planks

Ohalot (15:2) | Yisrael Bankier | 6 years ago

The Mishnah (15:2) discusses the case where two square planks of wood, raised off the ground a tephach, are in contact only be their corners.

The Mishnah rules that if tumat ha’met is underneath one of the planks then the tumah spreads underneath that plank, but the area underneath the second one remains tahor.This first point should not be surprising. Since the two planks are only in contact at their corners, the requirement of a tephach overlap for tumah to spread between two ohalot is not satisfied.

The Mishnah however continues that if someone touched the second plank they would be tameh sheva - they would be tameh like one who touched a corpse. Why?

The Bartenura notes that we learnt in the beginning of masechet Keilim that a kli that was is in contact with a met and a second kli comes into contact with the first, both keilim are tameh sheva. Someone who touches the second kli however is only a rishon le’tumah – immersing in a mikveh and waiting till nightfall is enough. In this case one would think that one who touches the second plank is equivalent to one who touches the second kli and should only be a rishon. The Bartenura however explains that since the first plank is acting as an ohel it is not included in the calculations (as learnt previously). Consequently touching the second kli is equivalent to touch a kli that is contact with a corpse.

The Tosfot Yom Tov addresses a separate issue. We learn in Bame Madlikin (Shabbat 2:3) that wood does not become tameh when acting as an ohel. Consequently, both planks should be tahor. He explains that the Mishnah in Shabbat only refers to when the tumat ha’met has been removed. In our case, the met is still under the first plank.1

For the person to be defined as tameh sheva, the second plank needs to be defined as an avi avot ha’tumah – equivalent to the met itself. According to the Rambam and Bartenura this is not an issue. They maintain that any kli that comes into contact with the corpse becomes tameh on the same level. Since we have explained that since the first plank is acting as an ohel, it is as if the second plank is in direct contact, we can understand how the second plank becomes an avi avot ha’tumah.

Other Rishonim however understand that this unique law of “cherev ke’chalal” only applies to metalware. Consequently a wooden plank that was in contact with a met should be an av ha’tumah and one who touches it would be a rishon le’tumah. We therefore must understand that the person is tameh sheva based on tumah be’chiburrin. In other words, since it is as if the second plank is in contact with the met and the person touches the plank while the met is still there, it is as if he touched the met.

The Eliya Raba presents a different approach. We will learn in the next perek that metaltelin (movable objects) can bring tumah onto themselves despite being the narrowest width. He therefore differentiates between the shiur (measure) required for a kli to draw the tumah onto itself as opposed to those items beneath it. In other words, since the second plank is in contact with the first, it is as if it is covering the met itself but only for the purposes of making itself tameh. Consequently, the person who touches the second plank becomes tameh sheva in the same way as if he touched the first. However, those items beneath the second plank remain tahor. This is because a tephach’s width is required for the tumah to transfer beneath it.2


1 The Mishnah Achrona understands that this distinction according to the Tosfot Yom Tov applies to anything wooden. He argues that if a wooden kli in an ohel ha’met retains its tumah after the met is removed, one would certainly expect the plank to retain its tumah as well. He therefore understands different, citing the Tosfot. The pasuk (and Mishnah) that teaches that a wooden ohel is only tameh when it is covering a met refers to a wooden ohel that is not susceptible to tumah (e.g. it is attached to the ground).

2 See the Tifferet Yisrael that analyses this position in more detail.

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