What is Talmud Tweets?

What is Talmud Tweets? A short, personal take on a page of Talmud - every day!

For several years now, I have been following the tradition of "Daf Yomi" - reading a set page of Talmud daily. With the start of a new 7 1/2 year cycle, I thought I would share a taste of what the Talmud offers, with a bit of personal commentary included. The idea is not to give a scholarly explanation. Rather, it is for those new to Talmud to give a little taste - a tweet, as it were - of the richness of this text and dialogue it contains. The Talmud is a window into a style of thinking as well as the world as it changed over the centuries of its compilation.

These are not literal "tweets" - I don't limit myself to 140 characters. Rather, these are intended to be short, quick takes - focusing in on one part of a much richer discussion. Hopefully, I will pique your interest. As Hillel says: "Go and study it!" (Shabbat 31a)

Monday, July 8, 2013

Pesachim 18 – Purifying Liquid and Spreading Impurity

In discussing laws of shertz, “creeping things” in the Torah, Leviticus states:

And every earthen utensil, in which any of them falls, whatever is in it shall be unclean; and you shall break it (Lev. 11:33)

This shows, as is pointed out on our Talmud page, that this contamination – ritual impurity – follows over several levels:

R. Akiba lectured: And every earthen vessel, wherein any of them [sc. creeping things] falleth, whatsoever is in it shall be unclean [yitma]: it does not state tame [unclean] but yitma. [intimating that] it defiles [yetamme] others.

This intimation or hint is the basis for a whole range of levels of contamination – water from the vessel, for example, can contaminate food, which can contaminate other vessels, etc. to about the 4th level. This contamination is much discussed in rabbinic literature. Here is one example from our page:

Said R. Nahman b. Isaac, Come and hear: If a cow drinks the water of lustration (purifying liquid used in Temple ceremonies), its flesh is unclean. R. Judah said It [the water] is nullified in its bowels.

What purifies can also make unclean!

What does, ‘it is nullified in its bowels’ mean? It is indeed nullified from [imposing] grave uncleanness, but it does defile [with] light uncleanness. Hence it follows that the first Tanna holds that it is unclean even with the graver uncleanness; but surely he states, ‘Its flesh is unclean?’ The whole is R. Judah, but the text is defective, and it was thus taught: If a cow drinks the water of lustration, its flesh is unclean. When is that said? In respect of light uncleanness, but not in respect of grave uncleanness, for R. Judah maintained: It is nullified in its bowels. R. Ashi said: In truth it is completely nullified in its bowels, because it is [now] noisome liquid.

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