Tumah Passing Through a Kaveret

Ohalot (9:2) | Yisrael Bankier | 8 days ago

The ninth perek of masechet Ohalot discusses many cases involving tumat hamet and a keveret. The kaveret itself is the subject of debate -- both regarding its form and function. For simplicity we shall explain that it is a kli that is not susceptible to tumah.

The second Mishnah discusses a case where the kaveret is placed on its side at the doorway of the house with it opening facing outside the house. As opposed to the first Mishnah, the kaveret is raise a tephach from the ground. Since the kaveret is a kli it can act as an ohel to spread the tumah beneath it, but not prevent the tumah from passing through it to the other side. The Mishnah therefore explains that if the a kezayit from a met was either beneath or above the kaveret or inside the house, the tumah would spread and make the regions above and below the kaveret and the inside of the house tameh. The inside of the kaveret however would be tahor. We shall try to understand why.

The Tifferet Yisrael explains that the reason the inside of the kaveret remains tahor is because it is not susceptible to tumah. The Mishnah Achrona elaborates that this case is equivalent to a case of kli cheres tzamid patil. Recall that if an earthenware utensil is sealed, then its contents remain tahor in an ohel hamet. It is not susceptible to tumah from its outside and there is no way for the tumah to enter the kli. In our case, despite the fact that the kaveret is not sealed shut, since its opening is outside the house, outside the ohel, there is similarly no way for the tumah to enter the kli.

For this reason the Mishnah Achrona understands the position of the Rash, but finds the Rambam difficult. The Rash maintains that in the case in our Mishnah, everything inside the kaveret would be tahor. The Rambam however maintains that the items inside the kaveret that are vertically in line with the source of tumah would be tameh. How can we explain the Rambam?

The Mikdash David (Inyanei Taharot 2:2), citing the Tosfot Yom Tov, explains the Rash much like the Mishnah Achrona. In other words, since the opening of the kaveret is not inside the ohel it does not need to be tzamid patil in order to protect the contents from becoming tameh. He continues that according to the Rambam however, for the kli to protect its contents from becoming tameh it must be sealed tight. If that is the case then why are all the contents of the kaveret not tameh?

The Mikdash David continues, that according to the Rambam the kaveret is not susceptible to tumah and indeed there is no way for the tumah to enter. Nevertheless, he points to the case of a kli cheres that is sealed tight to explain. In that case, if the kli cheres tzamid patil has the tumah beneath it, it cannot prevent other items above it (and in line with the tumah) from becoming tameh. It is as if the tumah jumps over the kli cheres to make the items above tameh. In our case also, since the kaveret is not sealed tight, it is as if the tumah jumps and makes those items in line with the tumah tameh.

One might still ask, that if the tumah "jumps" inside the kaveret making the items in line with the tumah tameh, then since the tumah spread beneath the kaveret, one might expect all the tumah to jump and make everything inside the kaveret tameh also. We return then to our original question: why according to the Rambam would only the items in line with the tumah become tameh.

Perhaps we can explain the Rambam differently. We have seen with tumat ohel that the ohel has the ability to spread tumah, make anything under the ohel shared with the tumah, tameh. Similarly if an item is above the tumah, it also become tameh. One way of understanding this law is that in the absence of an intervening ohel the tumah spreads up and down making everything tameh. According to this understanding, since there is no way of the tumah enter, one would expect that all the contents to remain tahor -- much like the opinion of the Rash. Alternatively, items become tameh not due to tumah spread, but rather that the Torah simply defines anything in line with the tumat ha'met as being tameh unless it is protected inside a kli tzamid patil or there is an intervening ohel. According to this understanding, the contents of the open kaveret that are in line with the tumah would fit this qualification, and therefore be tameh -- consistent with the position of the Rambam.

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