Double Doubts Regarding Tumah

Taharot (6:4) | Yisrael Bankier | 6 years ago

We have been learning how to deal with doubts (sefeikot) regarding tumah. One principle we have learnt is that if the doubt arises in a reshut ha’yachid it is (generally) treated as tameh. The Mishnah (6:4) explains that even if one adds additional doubts when considering the situation, the ruling is still tameh. For example, one is unsure whether he touched a particular item and there is an addition doubt whether that item is a source of tumah.

The Tosfot Yom Tov,citing the Tosfot, explains that regarding tumah even with a single safek, one would expect the ruling to be tahor. That is because we should be able to rely on the chazaka - the establish status – of purity. However, as we discussed last week, how we rule regarding tumah in a private domain is derived from the Torah’s treatment of Sotah. In that case the ruling is tameh even in the face of doubt. Consequently, if doubts are disregarded then it should not matter how many doubts arise.

The Tosfot(Pesachim 10a) explains that this is indeed the debate between the Chachamim and R’ Elazar. We learn in the next Mishnah (6:5) of the debate regarding one that entered a valley and in one of the fields there is tumah, and the person is unsure if he entered that field. R’ Elazar rules he is tahor while the Chachamim disagree. The Tosfot explains that R’ Elazar understands that the case of a single safek is learnt from Sotah. The case under discussion involves two doubts – the first whether he entered the field and the second is whether he came in to contact with the tumah in that field. Consequently, since a double-doubt is not covered by Sotah, it is ruled as being tahor. The Chachamim however understand we learn from Sotah that sefeikot are simply not a consideration.

The Mishnah Achrona however asks that in general we find that there is a different between a single doubt (safek) and a double-doubt (sfeik sfeika). Regarding biblical laws in the case of a safek we rule stringently, yet in the case of a sfeik sfeika we rule leniently. Granted that Sotah teaches that we cannot rely on the chazaka but we should nonetheless apply the leniency of a double-doubt?

The Mishnah Achrona suggests that if the source that we rule stringently in the case of a single doubt is biblical then the question is a good one. If, however it is rabbinic, then one can suggest that since the Torah was strict anyway in the case of a single doubt with Sotah, the Chachamim were strict in the case of a sfeik sfeika. He suggests this question is behind the debate between R’ Elazar and the Chachamim.

The Kovetz Shiurim (246) however explains that the reason we we are ordinarily lenient in the case of a sfeik sfeika is as follows. In the case of a single doubt, we rule stringently, however since it is a doubt, the prohibition has been “lightened”. Consequently, when adding an additional doubt, it is further lightened and there is no longer a reason to rule stringently. In our case however, we learn from Sotah that in the case of a single doubt, it is treated as definitely assur and disregards the doubt. A further doubt will therefore not be able to change the ruling.

According to the above explanations, it appears that our Mishnah is according to the opinion of the Chachamim since it has been reasoned that R’ Elazar rules leniently in the case of a sfeik sfeika. The Ritva (Bava Batra 55b) however argues that our Mishnah is according to all opinions. In other words, R’ Elazar agrees with the Chachamim that the ruling is tameh in the cases of a sfeik sfeika. He explains that the case of Sotah, in which the Torah rules stringently, is where she was definitely in seclusion and the doubt was only regarding the tumah. R’ Elazar however argues that a doubt whether the person entered the location with the tumah is remote and not covered by the principles derived from Sotah.1


1 The Rashbam(Bava Batra 55b) however explains that the debate is whether the case is a safeik or sfeik sfeika. Consistent with our explanation above, the R’ Elazar understands that this is a sfeik sfeika. The Chachamim however argue that there is a single doubt as to whether the person came into contact with the tumah. The fact that there are multiple fields in the valley is of no impact. Consequently, according to the Rashbam everyone agrees that in the case of a sfeik sfeika everyone would agree that the ruling would be tahor. If that is case, our Mishnah is not consistent with either opinion and would be presenting a third opinion in this debate. There are Achronim that attempt to explain otherwise, but it is beyond the scope of this article.

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