Shnei Shvilin - Two Paths

Taharot (5:3) | Yisrael Bankier | 12 years ago

In the fifth and sixth perakim we dealt with more complex cases involving doubt regarding tumah. Some of these are the well known cases of shnei shvilin. These cases involve two paths, one of which contains tumat hamet and the other is tahor. The problem is that we are unsure which of these paths contain the tumah.78

If one had walked on one of these paths, since they are in the public domain, this is no different to any other case of doubt arising in the public domain and the ruling should be tahor. However one case brought is where one person travelled on both paths. If he did not purify himself in between journeys then he is certainly tameh by the end. Conversely the Mishnah teaches that if he does purify himself in between and the taharot (trumah or kodshim) that he touched after the first journey were consumed prior to the second, then each journey can be treated independent and everything remains tahor. The case which we will focus on is where he purified himself prior to the second journey, but all the taharot that he touched after both journeys are present when he poses the question for ruling.

The Mishnah rules that the taharot are both tluyot. This means that they effectively remain in limbo. They cannot be consumed as they might by tameh and they cannot be burned in case they are tahor; both possibilities forbidden for the kadosh items. Let us probe further asking why they are deemed tluyot?

The Tosfot (Pesachim 10a) explains that this rule is rabbinic since on a biblical level they would both be tahor. The reason is because we do not know which of the two sets of taharot are tameh. Consequently, the Torah-solution is to maintain each of them on their chazakah – their established and presumed status – which is tahor.

The Tosfot Ha’Rosh (Nazir 7a) explains that the reason for the decree is that since both taharot are still present in the world, there is a concern that if we deemed them both tahor, then one person might eat both sets (or trumah might touch both sets) and would definitely, yet unknowingly, be tameh. Even though above we explained that we can rely on the chazakot to deem them tahor, the Rash MiShantz explains that if tumah becomes a certainty (egg, where one person eats both sets) then one can no longer rely on the chazakah.

The Raavad (Pesachim 5a) however argues that this ruling has implications on a biblical level as well.79 He explains that since the two sets are present, one is certainly tameh and the other is certainly tahor and they are therefore “as if being certainly tameh.” The Mishnah Achrona explains further in a similar manner. They must be ruled as tluyot since there is nothing swaying us to make one set tahor over the other, and we are not allowed to burn both.

We have therefore seen two different directions as two why, if both taharot are present when the question is posed, the ruling is that they are tahorot. The first is that there is an external concern that motivated the Chachamim to enact a stricter ruling. The second is that this is essentially the only possible result in order not to present a contradiction in the final ruling.80


78 See the Mishnah Achrona who explains that it cannot be that the location of the tumah is known but one is unsure which path they travelled on in the later cases of shnei shvilin.

79 See inside as the Raavad argues against the Baal HaMeor who claims the Gemara in Pesachim is only learning from our case to bedikat chametz (which is rabbinic) but does not have any bearing on the question of bitul chametz.

80 For further learning see the Shita Mekubetz to Ketubot (27a) for an explanation of the debate later (5:5) between R’ Yosi and R’ Yehuda.

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