Ziz and Kaneh

Ohalot (14:3) | Yisrael Bankier | 12 years ago

At this stage in our learning we should be familiar with the idea that for tumah to be transferred under an ohel, the covering must be at least a tephach by tephach in area. In some situations the Chachamim instituted that tumah may be transferred under spaces of less than these dimensions. One such example was that of a ziz.43 The Mishnah (14:1) taught that a projection over a doorway can sometimes spread tumah into a house, provided that two conditions are met. The first is that it is structured in a manner that acts to protect the house (panav l’mata). The second is that it is within twelve tephachim above44 the door.

There is a debate in the Mishnah (14:3) regarding whether a reed that is placed over a doorway has the same height restriction. R’ Yehoshua explains that a reed is treated more harshly and therefore no height restriction applies enabling tumah to always be transferred, even if the reed is one hundred amot above the door. R’ Yochanan ben Nuri however reasons that the reed should not be treated any harsher than the case of the ziz. The Tifferet Yisrael explains that since the law applying to the ziz is a rabbinic enactment, there is no reason to add an extra ruling or stringency above it.

Even though halacha agrees with the position of R’ Yochanan ben Nuri, analysing the position of R’ Yehoshua will help to better understand the initial decree regarding the ziz. We therefore ask, why does R’ Yehoshua rule that even if the reed is placed higher than twelve tephachim above the door, can it still transfer tumah if its width is less than a tephach?

The Tifferet Yisrael explains that since the reed is a movable item and could be moved closer to the door, R’ Yehoshua felt it was necessary to place a further decree in that case. Importantly, the concern is that the reed could be moved and placed within twelve tephachim. In other words the only real reason for the gezeirot concerning the reed and ziz is for if and when they are situated in that region. This understanding fits with the earlier explanation of the Tifferet Yisrael that the original decree for the ziz is because when it is within twelve tephachim the overhang serves [to protect] the house. Consequently the Chachamim considered it an extension of the house’s roof. As Kehati adds, when above twelve tephachim it no longer serves a functional purpose.

The Mishnah Achrona however explains that the decree only applied where the overhang was placed intentionally to protect the house. The limit of twelve tephachim was made because this was the region in which such protective overhangs were constructed. Protrusions any higher may simply be remnants of the original construction. The difference with the case of the reed, according to R’ Yehoshua, is that it can be readily removed. Consequently, because it has still not been removed, it is evident that it was intentionally placed there.

Perhaps then we can glean two different understanding of the ruling by the ziz that overhangs the doorway. Either because it serves a functional purpose or alternatively because it is perceived as being constructed purposefully for the house, that it is considered to be an extension of it.


43 Some mefarshim understand that this measure is halacha l’moshe mi’sinai.

44 See the Rambam who rules that this measurement is from the ground.

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