The Mishnah (16:1) discusses the tumah of movable items that become an ohel over a corpse. The Tana Kama states that movable items can cause tumah to be transmitted to other objects under the ohel when they are the width of a mardeah. The Bartenurah explains that this is a pole that has a spike in one end used to goad animals when ploughing and on the other end has a flat sharpened iron utensil used to cut tree roots. These utensils have a standard thickness, the circumference of which is a tephach, making it roughly a third of a tephach. Although md’orayata,tumah is only transmitted via an ohel when the utensil has a width of a tephach, the Rabbis issued a decree since people may get confused between the circumference and width and therefore become more lenient when the width of these objects was a tephach. The Rabbis decreed that this tumah was classified severely and required a seven-day purification procedure rather than being tumat erev.
R’ Tarfon disputes the opinion of the Tana Kama. He states that this ruling of tumat ohel via a movable object was the result of a ma’aseh (incident) that was misinterpreted. The incident relates to a farmer that was walking with a mardeah on his shoulder, and the end passed over a grave. The Bartenurah explains that the Rabbis declared him to be tameh, not because the pole had the circumference of a tephach, but rather because any utensil that comes in contact with the airspace of a grave becomes an av hatumah regardless of its width, and the person in turn became tameh for seven days because he came into contact that utensil that had contracted tumah from a corpse (as per Ohalot 1:3). The individual who mentioned the Tana Kama’s opinion was confused as they mistakenly thought the individual was rendered tameh because of tumat ohel, when in fact it was due to tumat maga(touching).
R’ Akiva then provides an explanation supporting the Tana Kama who maintains that all movables cause Tumah to be transferred to those that carry them even with the width of a mardeah. The Rabbis decreed that although m’doraysa the utensil may only make the farmer tumat erev(e.g. in a case where the utensil is not directly touching the farmers body), because it has a circumference of a tephach, the Rabbis were afraid that a person would confuse this utensil with one that has the width of a tephach which does transmit tumat ohel and think that tumat ohel only makes one tameh erev which is incorrect. Therefore despite it not being considered an ohel the rabbinic decree causes it to transmit tumah when the minimum circumference is a tephach.
The Mishna Achrona has a different interpretation of R’ Tarfon’s opinion. He states that R’ Tarfon did not understand how the Tana Kama could have thought this person could receive tumah for seven days because of coming into contact with the pole because he was wearing clothes which act as a barrier and would downgrade the tumah(i.e. would ensure that the person was two steps removed from an av hatumah). In order to solve this, R’ Tarfon explained that the mardeah transmitted seven-day tumah by virtue of it being carried (i.e. tumat masa). This type of tumah is able to transmit the same level of tumah to its carrier despite it not coming into direct contact with the body of a person (even through clothes).
The concept of tumat masa originating from a corpse is not derived explicitly via pesukim, but is rather learnt from the concept of tumat ohel. The Mishna Achrona explains that the Tana Kama who heard the ruling thought that just as this farmer is tameh because of masa, he must also be tameh because of ohel, as the halachic details of masa are learnt from ohel. However, this assumption was mistaken as there is no ohel formed in this case, as the object was less than a tefach wide. R’ Akiva was therefore required to clarify that the fact that tumah was transmitted in this case due to the Rabbinic decree so as not to distinguish between utensils that have a circumference of a tephach and those which have the width of a tephach.
The Tifferet Yisrael also asks how the this farmer requires a seven-day purification process considering he is wearing clothes that would provide a barrier between the av hatumah pole and his own body. Conceptually, this should downgrade the tumah by an additional level to that of tumat erev. The Tifferet Yisrael answers that one potential answer may be that the farmer held this mardeah with his bare hands as he was putting it on his shoulder which caused him to receive the higher level of tumah. In addition the Tifferet Yisrael suggests that the transmission of tumah, which results in a reduction of the level of tumah, applies when transferring from one man to another man or certain utensils. However, when dealing with a metal utensil there is a unique concept of “cherev k’chalal” - a gzeirat hakatuv that elevates metal objects to the status of the corpse itself. Therefore, in this instance, assuming the metal pole came into contact with the man, the seven-day level of tumah would be transmitted.
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