Sefek Tumah in Flight

Taharot (4:1) | Yisrael Bankier | 6 years ago

The Mishnah (4:1) teaches that if one throws tameh keys over tahor bread and there is a doubt whether it came into contact with the bread, the bread remains tahor. If however one threw tahor bread over tameh keys and there is a similar doubt then the final ruling is the subject of debate. The Chachamim rule that the bread is likewise tahor, whereas in this case R’ Yehuda maintains that the bread is tameh. How do we understand the debate?

In order to do so, we need understand a bit more about doubts in general regarding tumah. The principles are based on Sotah (Gemara Sotah 28a) from which we learn that if a doubt arises in a reshut hayachid (private domain) and it concerns something that has daat lishael (understanding enough to be interrogated) then the doubt is ruled stringently and deemed tameh. In the same Gemara, Rav Gidel brings another source in the name of Rav for the case of ein bo daat lishael specifically, derived from the pasukim that deal with kodshim that come into contact with tumah.

The Bartunera understands that the debate here is regarding yesha bo(it has) daat lishael. According to the Chachamim, irrespective of which item was in flight and which was in rest – this is a case of ein bo (it does not have)daat lishael and is therefore ruled as tahor. R’ Yehuda however understands that since the item originated from a person who threw it, it is considered as if yesh bo daat lishael. The Tifferet Yisrael explains that since a person threw it, it is as if he is holding it when it (potentially) came into contact with the bread. Consequently, if one threw the keys over the bread, since the doubt originates in a private domain, the bread is tameh. In the reverse case however, R’ Yehuda provides a different reason why the bread is tahor. It is because the source of tameh is in flight and not stationary.

The Mishnah Achrona however understands the debate is focused on the essence of yesh bo daat lishael. The Chachamim understand that it is based on a logic – since there is nothing that can present the doubt before us we need not begin suspecting that perhaps it became tameh. It is only once a person asks the question regarding a doubt if he came into contact with tumah that the we need to address the issue. In this case, since at the point of doubt, when the item was in flight, the person is not holding the bread, it is considered ein bo daat lishael.

R’ Yehuda on the other hand understands that the law of ein bo daat lishael is a gezeirat hakatov (a Torah decree) or halacha (Sinai tradition). Consequently, the scope of the law is limited to the case from which it is learnt and there can be no human involvement.

HaRav Lichtenstein (Shiurei HaRal –Taharot) notes that the Mishnah Achrona is presenting quite a novel understanding. According to the Mishnah Achrona,the position of the Chachamim is that yesh bo daat lishael is not connected to the ability to clarify the matter. Instead it is connected to one actually asking; without that, there is no doubt. While this position that a doubt has substance if there is a subject for which the clarification is relevant is logical, it is nonetheless a chiddush. We normally view doubts as an objective issue where as this understanding is a subjective one. Here, even if one has the capacity, without the amira from the person connected, there is no doubt.

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