Under the Openings of a House with a Met

Ohalot (7:3) | Yisrael Bankier | 15 days ago

The Mishnah (7:3) teaches that if a corpse is in a house and all the doors and windows are shut, any keilim found beneath these openings, even outside of the door, are tameh. We shall try to understand why.

The Bartenura explains that this law is based on a gezeira. The Chachamim deemed that the opening through which the tumah will leave the house is considered tameh. We have discussed this previously when learning the principle of sofo tumah latzeit. Since all the openings are shut, the gezeira applies to all of them. It is only once one is opened, as the Mishnah continues, that it can "save" the other openings. The gezeira will then apply to the open one from that point onward. Importantly, this means that only objects placed under the other doors and windows from that point onward would be tahor, but those placed prior to that would be tameh.

The Tosfot Yom Tov however comments that this law cannot be rabbinic. Were it the case, then once one of the doors or windows were opened, then it should mean that anything under the other openings should be tahor -- even those that were there prior to door being opened. The reason is that when it comes to rabbinic laws, we can apply the principle of bereira (retroactive selection). In other words, once one is opened, we should say that that door is the one that was the opening through which the tumah was always meant to exit. The Tosfot Yom Tov however explains, citing Rashi, that this law is halacha le'moshe mi'sinai. The Bartenura refers to it as a gezeirat chachamim because its source is not explicitly written in the Torah. He continues that this is much like the way the Rambam refers to halach le'moshe mi'sinai as divrei sofrim.

The Tifferet Yisrael (Boaz 7:5) however notes that we find a contradiction within the words of Rashi. Rashi (Beitz 38a), explains that this principle of sofo tumah latzeit is indeed halacha le'moshe misina. Yet Rashi (Beitzah 10a) also explains that the principle in our Mishnah is mi'divrei sofrim. The Tifferet Yisrael therefore suggests that law that the opening through which the tumah will eventually leave is tameh is indeed halacha le'moshe misinaiWith all the openings closed, we do not know which one that will be. Therefore, all the openings are tameh rabbinically. . Since the law of sofo tumah latzeit is biblical in origin, we cannot apply the principle of bereira.

The Tifferet Yisrael continues that we could even explain that the Bartenura maintained that this entire law is rabbinic -- both sofo tumah latzeit and the law in our Mishnah. The reason why the principle of bereira cannot be applied is because tumat ha'met which is the basis of this Mishnah is biblical. (The Tifferet Yisrael directs us Tosfot Eiruvin 37b, s.v. man).

The Mishnah Achrona however asks that if the law in our Mishnah is rabbinic, what is the basis of the gezeira? If it is based on a concern that the door may open and make the keilim under that lintel tameh, then opening one of the doors should not save the others. He suggests, based on the Rama we discussed last week, that we view the principle of sofo tumah latzeit as if the tumah has already left through that opening. Consequently, once one opening has been opened, or selected, sofo tumah latzeit only applies to that opening.

The Mishnah Achrona suggests that perhaps that reason is similar to that of kevar stum -- sealed grave. Recall that with a kever satum, it causes all its surrounding and adjoining ohalot to become tameh. Rashi (Bava Batra 12) explains that this is out of concern that those engaged in taharot, might lean over the grave and become tameh. Similarly in our case, the gezeira applies to keep those people engaged in taharot away from the house, out of concern that they might be under the covering of one of the openings when the corpse is removed there. Once again, this concern would only apply to all opening until one of the openings has been designated.1


1 Note that the Rambam (Peirsuh Mishnayot) explains that our case is more directly like a kever satum. See the Tifferet Yisrael (Boaz 6) for more details.

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