In the first Mishnah of Masechet Uktzin we learn about two concepts relating to tumat ochlin – the yad and shomer. In short, a yad is part of a food that is used to handle the food when eating it (Bartenura), e.g. the stalk of a date. A shomer on the other hand, is part of the food that protects the food; for example the peel of an orange.
The Mishnah teaches that a yad has the ability to transfer tumah to and from the food. In contrast the shomer is considered part of the food when calculating its volume, aside from acting as a “conductor” of tumah. A practical ramification is where the food is already tameh and the size of a ke’beitzah only when including the shomer. Since the shomer can be included in this measure, it would satisfy the minimum shiur to transfer tumah to something else.
The Gemara (Chulin 118a) learns the source of these laws from pesukim. The yad ha’tumah is learnt from the pasuk: “But if water had been placed on a seed and then their carcass falls on it, it is contaminated to you” (Vayikra 11:38). The Gemara learns that any additional parts of the food that are for your needs can transfer tumah to and from the food. The law of the shomer is learnt from the previous pasuk. Let us however turn our attention to the yad in order to get a better understanding.
One issue that is debated is whether the yad itself can become tameh. The Rambam understand that the yad can. This is only however while the yad is still attached, because it only becomes tameh because it is tafel to the food (Ritva Sukkah 13b). Therefore when the Mishnah mentions that a yad can transfer tumah in each direction it is referring to transfer between the food and the yad. The Tosfot (Chulin 128a) however understand that even though the yad serves as a conduit, it itself does not become tameh. Consequently the Mishnah is referring to the yad’s ability to transfer tumah to and from the food to another object (Rash, Rosh).
According to the two different understanding above there does not appear to be any practical ramification in Halacha. The yad transfers tumah while it is attached and is tahor when detached. Nonetheless they do provide two very different appreciations of a yad. An analysis of another issue will help to develop this idea.
One requirement that was mentioned in the introduction was that the yad must be attached to the food. The Mishnah Achrona notes that this requirement appears to be more extreme than what is implied by the derivation from the pesukim – “for all your needs”. A simple reading might lead on to believe that even a utensil should be considered a yad for the liquid it contains for one cannot handle liquids without it. Why must the yad be attached?
The Mishnah Achrona provides two reasons. The first is that this requirement is learnt from the laws of a shomer. In the pasuk from which a shomer is derived, the shomer is attached to the food – wheat in their shells. Consequently this requirement applies to a yad as well. In the second answer, he explains that pasuk is required because a yad on its own is not susceptible to tumah. The pasuk then teaches that since it is required for the food it is considered like the food. Now since food must be attached to other food well for it to combine for one shiur, the yad, which is really not even food, must also be attached. In slight contrast the Mishneh LeMelech (Tumat Ochlin 5:1) explains that a yad must be attached such that it can bear the food’s full weight (see Tosfot ibid. 128b). That requirement is much stricter than the requirement for different foods to combine where a moderate attachment is enough.
Perhaps then we can use the second answer of the Mishnah Achrona to explain the debate about whether the yad itself becomes tameh. Recall that the Mishnah Achrona explains that a yad would ordinarily not be susceptible to tumah. The pasuk comes to teach us that the yad is like food. What does this mean? One option is that the pasuk made the yad while attached, into something close to food, but not equal to it (“food-minus”); it still cannot combine with the food like a shomer can. According to this understanding it makes sense that the yad can now become tameh – its status has changed. Also we understand why according to Mishnah Achrona understands that there is a requirement that it must be attached in the same way as two foods must be attached. The other option is that the pasuk does not change the status of the yad at all – it still is not food. Nevertheless the Torah made it like food only in the sense that it conducts tumah (“not-food-plus”). According to this understanding it makes sense that the yad does not become tameh – it is not food. Furthermore, we can understand why according to the Mishneh LeMelech the level of attachment require for a yad is greater than between two foods.
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