The ninth perek of Ohalot discusses various halachot that relates to a kaveret (a ‘beehive’) and ohalot. The commentators have great difficulty in explaining this perek, due to a number of puzzling facets and their interpretations have been strained and even challenged by other commentators.
The main problem of this chapter is its subject –the kaveret. Most commentators identify the kaveret in this chapter with a regular beehive, made of wood or reeds. However, since it is clear from the context that the hive of the first Mishnah is not susceptible to impurity, they refer to an ‘oversized’ hive – i.e. having a capacity of at least 40 seah of liquid. This, however, does not explain the chapter satisfactorily, and entails several contradictions toward the end of the perek. Accordingly, Raavad explains that the hive of our chapter is not ‘oversized’ but rather made of earthenware (which is not susceptible through its exterior). This interpretation too is challenged by the Mishnah Achrona.
The Eliyahu Rabbah agrees with most commentators that the hive is made of wood, but rejects the idea that it has a capacity of forty seah, since we have learnt that an oversized utensil screens against impurity like an ohel (8:1), whereas our chapter stipulates that the hive is considered a utensil that does not screen against impurity, unless it is broken. He attributes the hive’s insusceptibility to the many bee holes perforating it, but Ma’ayanei Yehoshua notes several difficult points in the chapter that cannot be explained in this way.
Ma’ayanei Yehoshua however, has a unique interpretation of our chapter, based on the Tosefta, and following well-defined rules grounded in the Mishnah, Tosefta, Talmud and Classic Commentaries. He defines the hive as a utensil designed to keep bees and produce honey, which is hollow and cylindrical with covers at either end – a permanent fixed cover on the bottom (the ‘base) and a loose removable cover on the top (the ‘mouth’). A hive may be of straw or reeds, or of wood, or of mud moulded into shape and dried in the sun. Mud hives are not baked in a kiln (which would render them earthenware), as they are not designed to be exposed to fire, nor used to store items that would seep through: rather, they are what the Mishnah a calls ‘utensils made of clay’ (klei adama) which are insusceptible to impurity.
Whenever a Mishnah refers to a hive made of straw or reeds, it will state this explicitly. Thus when the first Mishnah refers to a ‘hive’ without qualifying terms, it must be made of wood (if the context indicates a susceptible hive) or mud (if not susceptible), and since the hives of our chapter are all unsusceptible, they must be made of mud (or perhaps stone). Moreover, the Mishnah must be referring to a hive smaller than 40 seah, since a larger hive would be considered a tent (as per Eliyahu Raba above). When we encounter a hive with a capacity of larger than 40 seah, it will be called out explicitly in the Mishnah (as in Mishnah 12).
Some modern commentators agree with Ma’ayanei Yehoshua that the hive here is made of mud, but insist that the word kaveret need not refer to an actual beehive, but to a large basket resembling a hive, used to store grain in the home.
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