A debate ensues in our masechet (3:2) regarding which tumah can make hands tameh:
Anything that invalidates trumah [a sheni le’tumah] makes hands sheni le’tumah. One [tameh] hand can make the other tameh. These are the words of R’ Yehoshua. The Chachamim say that a sheni le’tumah cannot make [another thing] sheni le’tumah. [R’ Yehoshua] said to them, kitvei kodesh are sheni le’tumah and make hands tameh! [The Chachamim] responded... one cannot derive conclusions from one rabbinic law to another.
On a simple level, the debate is regarding whether a sheni le’tumah can make hands tameh. The problem with this understanding is that this Mishnah would be repeating the previous one (3:1). There R’ Yehoshua and the Chachamim argue regarding whether food or keilim that became sheni le’tumah through contact with tameh liquids can make hands tameh. Why is this debate repeated?
The Mishnah Achrona explains that there are different reasons behind the eighteen cases of rabbinic sheni le’tumah. Some are due to derara detumah - concerns regarding the risk that tumah will arise. For example, the gezeirah regarding contact with tameh liquids arising out of concern about contact with liquids from a sheretz or zav. Another reason is related to rabbinic prohibitions. For example one who immerses his head and a majority of his body in drawn water; the concern there is thinking that immersing in drawn water is valid. Similarly the tumah that applies to kitvei kodesh was born after people placed their trumah with the sifrei kodesh which attracted rodents that damaged the sifrei kodesh.
The Mishnah Achrona therefore explains that the previous Mishnah is referring to cases of sheni le’tumah connected to derara detumah; it discusses food that became tameh through tameh liquids. With respect to derara detumah, Chachamim accept that in some cases a sheni can make another item sheni when liquid is the intermediary. Consequently their response there is that they have a tradition that only items that became a rishon le’tumah can metameh yadayim. Our Mishnah does not refer sheni le’tumah that stem from derara detumah. Consequently the Chachamim argue differently that, where there is no derara detumah, we do find that a sheni makes a sheni.
Is there a difference between the types of sheni le’tumah? The Mishnah Achrona, citing the Rash, explains that the second case in our Mishnah, relating to one hand causing the other to be tameh, is only with respect to kodesh and not trumah. In other words, R’ Yehoshua and the Chachamim argue whether the second hand would be tameh for kodesh. The problem is that the Mishnah in Chagigah rules that one hand can metameh the other for kodesh recording no debate. The Mishnah Achrona explains that the case in Chagigah is one of derara detumah. There everyone agrees that with respect to kodesh it should be treated stricter. Our Mishnah’s case of yadayim is with respect to stam yadayim (Bartenura) – normal hands. Since the concern is with dirt and cleanliness (Tosfot Yom Tov 2:2) it is debated. Consequently, we find the even though the “bottom line” Halacha may appear to be the same, the driving force behind them can be very different thereby having other implications when looking at the finer details.
This lesson can perhaps shed light on another Mishnah (4:6). The Tzedukim criticised the Chachamim for making sifrei kodesh while leaving heretical texts tahor. R’ Yochanan ben Zakkai responded that one could also be critical that a donkey’s bones are tahor while the kohen gadol bone’s are tameh. The Tzedukim responded that they understand that the reason that a human’s bones are tameh is out of respect for the deceased preventing their offspring from crafting ladles from their bones. R’ Yochanan ben Zakkai responded that the Chachamim too, out of dear respect from the sifrei kodesh also make them tameh. The Tosefta elaborates: R’ Yochanan ben Zakkai explained that this was to prevent one from using the parchment of sifrei kodesh as a rug for their animals.
A question raised on that Mishnah is why R’ Yochanan ben Zakkai did not provide them with the real reason. The Tifferet Yisrael answers that it is forbidden to teach such people the real reasons as they would mock it. The Mishnah Achrona however understands that they already knew the real reason, but questioned it nonetheless; calling sifrei kodesh tameh appeared degrading. R’ Yochanan had to dispel that notion. Perhaps we can add that whether or not they knew the real reason, R’ Yochanan had to teach them this important lesson. They lumped everything that the Chachamim made sheni le’tumah together. R’ Yochanan cleverly demonstrated to them using their own logic (Tosfot Yom Tov) that even though the bottom line may be the same, the motivation behind this law was different and out of love and respect for sifrei kodesh.
Receive our publication with an in depth article and revision questions.
Listen to the new Mishnah Shiurim by Yisrael Bankier