Sunday, 29 March 2015

The Kohanic Prohibition of Tumah

Continuing on in מנחה טהורה to the chapter on איסור טומאה לכהנים, the main chakira here is the question of how to characterize the prohibition on Kohanim:

  • It is forbidden for Kohanim to become impure from Tumat Met
  • It is forbidden for Kohanim to come in contact with a corpse

For most cases, these conditions coincide, but there are nevertheless many cases where only one condition occurs, for example:

  1. If a Kohen is already tamei met, is he still forbidden from contact with a corpse? If the prohibition is on becoming impure, then it apparently wouldn't apply.
  2. Can a Kohen come into contact with a גוסס on his deathbed, who is not yet tamei yet still has the status of a corpse to some degree? It may be a problem of contact with a corpse.
  3. Why can the pregnant mother of a potential Kohen enter the tent of a dead body? No Tumah can reach the baby, yet the baby is still in a place of death so we may need the Rokeach’s sfeik sfeika to allow it.
  4. Are cherev kechalal or sof tumah latzeit forbidden to a Kohen? There is tumah, but no hitkarvut lamet.

Rav Wolf also points out that the psukim reflect both approaches, so it may be that there are two independent issurim, at least for a Kohen Gadol:
  • "לנפש לא יטמא בעמיו"(ויקרא כא:א)
  • "ועל כל נפשת מת לא יבא"(ויקרא כא:יא)

Monday, 9 March 2015

On Cherev Kechalal

The time has come, dear friends, for us to have a serious talk about Cherev Kechalal.

Cherev Kechalal is a rule by which a sword receives the same level of Tumah as the corpse itself. While not explicit in the Torah, this rule is nevertheless learned exegetically (נזיר נג:) from the pasuk "וכל אשר יגע על פני השדה בלל חרב או במת" חרב—הרי זו כחלל.

Not only that, but the actual parameters of Cherev Kechalal are a matter of some controversy:
  • The Rambam says it applies to all kelim that touch a dead body
  • Rabeinu Tam says it applies only to metal kelim that touch a dead body
  • The Raavad says it applies specifically to a sword(or other weapon, I assume)

In explaining this debate, Rav Wolf(מנחה טהורה, "חרב כחלל") returns to the classic chakira of Haavara vs. Hagdara. He points out that the Rambam seems to see Cherev Kechalal as a type of Haavarat Hatuma, while Rabeinu Tam and the Raavad seem to see it as Hagdarat Tuma Chadasha.

Similarly, Rav Wolf points out another distinction based on the source of the Cherev’s tumah:
  • If a corpse itself was the source, then perhaps we’re talking about Hagdara
  • If, however, some other tamei met object is the source, then apparently we’re talking about Haavara

This possibility that Cherev Kechalal is a type of Hagdara raises a number of interesting halachik questions as to what degree it is similar to normal Tumat Met. Some examples of this are the debates over whether it is Metamei Beohel, and whether it is forbidden to Cohanim.