The first Mishnah of Masechet Taharot discussing thirteen laws that apply to a neveilat ohf tahor. An ohf tahor refers to a bird of a kosher species. A neveilat ohf tahor refers to the carcass of such a bird that was not given a valid shechita. It was necessary for the Mishnah to outline all these laws because the way in which this bird is a source of tumah is unique. Indeed, the Gemara (Zevachim 70a) comments that neveilat ohf tahor is a chidush (novel). Most striking way is that, under normal circumstances, it cannot transfer tumah at all – not when carried (masa) and not even by direct contact (maga). It is only once a kezayit of the bird is consumed and it is in the beit ha’beliya (gullet) that the person and anything he is contact with becomes tameh – he becomes a rishon le’tumah.
Rav Wolf (Mincha Tahora) analyses the neveilat ohf tahor. One of the questions he addresses is nature of the tumah transfer. There two potential ways of viewing it (as we have discussed in previous issues). The first is that there is a transfer of tumah. The bird is a source of tumah but is only capable of transferring tumah when it is in the gullet.1 Alternatively, the person is tameh by definition. In other words, the bird itself is not a source of tumah. Yet, the Torah decreed that when the bird is in the gullet a person, that person is tameh.
Rav Wolf provides a number of proofs that suggest that with respect neveilat ohf tahor, the latter understanding fits. Firstly, the beginning of masechet Keilim includes a list of the avot ha’tumah – sources of tumah. Amongst those absent from that list is the neveilat ohf tahor. This suggests that it is not a source of tumah in and of itself. Instead it must be eating it is defined as a new source of tumah.
A similar proof is found in the Mishnah (Ohalot 13:5-6) that lists those items that can act as separation for tumah; more specifically, those items that can reduce the size of a window preventing tumat met from transferring through. Even though, something that is tameh cannot reduce the size, neveilat ohf tahor is listed.
In Keilim (17:14) the Mishnah taught that there is no tumah found in those things created on the fifth day. Since birds were created on that day, the Rishonim question the Mishnah’s statement. The Rash addresses the questions by answering that the Mishnah’s focus is on keilim constructed from the things created on those day. The Rambam however answers that neveilat ohf tahor is a chidush and does not transfer by way of contact. Rav Wolf suggests that the Rambam is consistent with our second understanding above.
The final proof Rav Wolf provides is found in another debate. The Gemara (Nida 42b) discusses whether the beit ha’bliya is consider beit ha’starim (concealed) or balua (absorbed). The difference is that tumat masa but not tumat maga applies to beit ha’starim whereas no tuma applies to a place that is balua. The Gemara records that Rava holds the first understanding while Abaye maintains the latter. According to Abaye, if it is a makom balua and no tumah transfer can apply, how does he explain neveilat ohf tahor? The answer, suggests Rav Wolf, is that there is no transfer and transfer is unnecessary. According to Abaye, tumat neveilat ohf tahor is by definition. The person becomes tameh since he fits the criteria of a person eating a neveilat ohf tahor.
1 Rabbi Wolf suggests that there are two different possibilities to understand the transfer as well. Either it is a standard transfer by way of maga or masa, albeit limited to that region. Alternatively, there is a new type of transfer unique to nevielat ohf tahor.
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