The Mishnah discusses the laws relating to cases of doubt involving tumah. For example we learnt that the location of where the doubt originated can have a significant impact on the ruling. To generalise, if the doubt originated in the public domain, then the ruling would be tahor. If however the doubt originated in the private domain in many cases the ruling would be tameh.75
The Mishnah (4:5) however teaches that there are six cases of doubt in which even if they occurred in the public domain, would be ruled as tameh. Moreover, in such cases, if the doubt involved tumah, it could be burnt. Note that ordinarily, one is not allowed to burn trumah in a case of doubt as only trumah that is certainly tameh can be burnt. The ruling is a rabbinic enactment, but why were these cases specifically chosen?
The Mishnah Achrona cites a number of commentaries to explain our Mishnah.76 The six cases of doubt are ones that may involve tumah on a biblical level. Now there may be many other cases that at first appear to satisfy this definition. One such case would be if one was not sure whether they touched a sheretz. The Rash however explains that in our cases, the doubt is in the item itself. For example, in the case of spittle, there is a doubt that it may have originated from a zav. The doubt is in the item itself. With the distinction in hand, what is the reason for making it?
Tosfot explains that these cases are worse. In other cases, where the doubt is whether one touched something that is certainly tameh, people will be more cautious in future. This may not be the case where one certainly touched something whose status was in doubt.
Alternatively the Ritva explains that in general, in the public domain, when the doubt is about whether something touched certain tumah objects, the ruling is tahor since we maintain the item on its chazakah – it previously established status. In these cases, since the item definitely made contact – the doubt is with the potential source of tumah – the item loses its chazakah since it now shares that status as the object it made contact with.
The Mishnah Achrona however cites other cases where the doubt is with the potential source of tumah and did not make the list. One such of the cases is from the Mishnah in Mikva'ot (6:7) where the doubt involves whether part of a neveilah was the minimum shiur of a kezayit and is treated as tameh. (He explains that this must be referring to a case where the kezayit was subsequently lost otherwise the lack of expertise to make the accurate measurement does not constitute a doubt.)
Nevertheless the Mishnah Achrona explains that in those cases of doubt that made contact with trumah, where the doubt is in the object of potential tumah itself, the trumah could also be burnt. He however explains, citing the Tosfot, that the Mishnah only lists the case on which the Chachamim ruled in Usha where the decree was formulated.77
75 We have learnt for this to be true, the tumah must apply to a person that has da'at and the tumah must have a “place”.
76 See the Mishnah Achrona inside for all the sources that follow.
77 See the Tifferet Yisrael that cites other cases that are not included in this Mishnah even though they also share the same ruling by rabbinic decree. Those cases however, he explains, are not cases that stem from doubt.
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