Tumat HaMet in the Walls

Ohalot (6:3) | Yisrael Bankier | 9 years ago

Over the week we learnt of a number of cases where tumat ha’met, which can transfer tumah in an ohel, is inside the walls of a building. The location, size and dimension of the cavity all impact on where and how far the tumah can spread. One case (6:3) is where the tumah is jammed in the external wall of the building.

The Mishnah teaches that the wall’s thickness is divided in two. This means that if the tumah is located in the inner half, then it is considered as if the tumah is inside the house and everything inside becomes tameh. Recall that the tumah is wedged in a crack. Tumat hamet that is in a crevasse is usually treated as tumah retzutza – and spreads directly upward and down despite being contained in a small space. Nevertheless, since the tumah is treated as if it is inside the house, one who stands on top of the wall directly above the tumah remain tahor.* *

**If however the tumah is located inside the outer half of the wall then the opposite is true. The tumah is no longer treated as if it is inside the house and the tumah is considered *tumah retutza –*anyone standing above the tumah would be tameh.1 

A debate ensues when considering when the tumah is situated right in the middle of the wall. Everyone agrees that the house is tameh. If however one stands on the wall above the tumah, R’ Meir understand that the person is tameh while the Chachamim disagree. 

The Bartenura understands that the Chachimim simply treat the case as if the tumah is in the inner half and considers the tumah as being inside the house. R’ Meir however rules stringently and adopts both implications whether the tumah is in the inner or outer half. The Tifferet Yisrael explains that according to this reasoning, if one were standing on top of the inner half of the wall, he would be tahor as this would be consistent with both sides of the stringency. We shall attempt to understand the opinion of the Chachamim.

The commentaries draw a parallel between this Mishnah and a Mishnah we will learn later (10:3). There the Mishnah discusses a case where tumat ha’met is inside a house that has a small, open skylight (aruba). If the tumah is under that skylight, then the house remains tahor; the tumah is not under the ohel and escapes directly out the skylight. If it is under the ceiling, then everything in the house is tameh and above the skylight is tahor. If however the tumah is only partially under the skylight, then the ruling is a subject of debate. Everyone agrees that the since the tumah is partially covered by the house, then the entire house is tumah. However, while R’ Meir maintains that anything above the skylight is tameh, R’ Yehuda disagrees. The Tifferet Yisrael notes that R’ Meir is consistent with his opinion in the later Mishnah while the Chachamim here appear to rule like R’ Yehuda there that the tumah is considered to be entirely inside the house.  

The Mishnah Achrona however understands that just like in the later Mishnah, once the tumah is partially in the inner half, it is as if the house is covering the entire tumah. But why does the tumah not spread upward as well considering that half is inside the out half the wall. He explains that since the tumah already has the law that it spread inside the house, it is no longer considered as being contained on all sides – it no longer has the status of being tumah retzutza – and therefore does not spread upward and above the wall. Furthermore, once there is one (and only one) opening we have learnt that “it is the way of the tumah to leave”. Consequently all the tumah should “exit” by way of the house itself.

Consequently, we find that according to the Chachamim there is a technical reason in our Mishnah why the tumah does not spread upward – it is no longer defined as tumah retzuta. In other words, it is not simply that if the ratio is 50-50 we treat it as if it is entirely inside, but a specific reason that applies to this case. What then is the logic why according to R’ Yehuda the tumah does not spread up through the aruba in the later Mishnah

The Mishnah Achrona provides two reasons. The first is similar to the one just provided. The skylight is less than a tephach wide. Consequently since it is too small to be considered a petach, now that the tumah is spreading in the house, it will a leave through the petach – and the skylight is not defined as one.^2 ^

1According to the Tifferet Yisrael this is only if the roof does not cover the outer wall otherwise the entire wall would be considered as if it were inside the house.

2 The second reason is that we apply the principle of levud; since the space is less than three tephachim wide, it is viewed as being filled. With tumah the principle of levud is only applied if it results in a leniency. If the tumah is completely under the skylight, applying levud would result in a stringency as the entire house would be tameh. In this case, since the tumah is already partially in the house, applying levud would result in a leniency as it prevents anything above the skylight from becoming tameh.  


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