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Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Shabbath

Folio 84a

Now according to Hananiah, carrying by means of oxen is regarded as carrying.1  For we learnt: There are three waggons: That which is built like a cathedra2  is liable to uncleanness as midras;3  that which is like a bed4  is liable to uncleanness through the defilement caused by a corpse;5  that of stones6  is completely clean. Now R. Johanan observed thereon: But if it has a receptacle for pomegranates, it is liable to uncleanness through the defilement of a corpse.7  There are three chests: a chest with an opening at the side is liable to uncleanness as midras;8  at the top, is liable to uncleanness through the defilement of a corpse;9  but an extremely large one10  is completely clean.11

Our Rabbis taught: The midras of an earthen vessel is clean;12  R. Jose said: A ship too. What does he mean?13  — Said R. Zebid. He means this: The midras of an earthen vessel is clean, but contact there with renders it unclean,14  while an earthen ship is unclean, in accordance with Hananiah;15  R. Jose ruled: An [earthen] ship too is clean, in agreement with our Tanna. R. Papa demurred: [if so,] why say, A ship too?16  Rather said R. Papa, This is its meaning: The midras of an earthen vessel is clean, whilst contact therewith defiles it; but [in the case of a vessel] of wood, both its midras and its touch are unclean; while a boat of the Jordan is clean, in agreement with our Tanna; R. Jose said: A ship too is unclean, in accordance with Hananiah.

Now, how do we know that the midras of an earthen vessel is clean? — Said Hezekiah, Because Scripture saith, and whosoever toucheth his bed.17  this assimilates 'his bed' to himself [the zab]: just as he can be cleansed in a mikweh,18  so can 'his bed' be cleansed in a mikweh. The School of R. Ishmael taught: It shall be unto her as the bed of her impurity [niddah]:19  this assimilates her bed to herself: just as she can be cleansed in a mikweh, so can 'her bed' be cleansed in a mikweh, thus excluding earthen vessels, which cannot be cleansed in a mikweh.20 

R. Ela raised an objection: How do we know that a [reed] mat [is susceptible to defilement] through the dead?

Original footnotes renumbered. See Structure of the Talmud Files
  1. For the boats of the Jordan are too large to be loaded and carried overland otherwise than by oxen.
  2. Short and three sided, like an armchair.
  3. Since such are made specifically for sitting; v. supra 59a.
  4. Long, its purpose being the carriage of goods.
  5. I.e., it is susceptible to every form of defilement save midras, because it ranks as a utensil, in that it can become unclean, but it is not made for sitting thereon.
  6. A cart made for carrying large stones. Its bottom was perforated with large holes, and therefore could not be used to carry articles as small as a pomegranate or less, and for a vessel to be susceptible to defilement it must be able to hold pomegranates.
  7. Though the same waggon cannot be moved when full except by oxen. Thus though it is a wooden vessel, and therefore must be capable of being moved full or empty (supra 83b), the fact that it can be moved by oxen is sufficient.
  8. Because a zab can sit on its top without being told 'get up and let us do our work' (v. supra 59a). as things can be put in or taken out from the side.
  9. I.e., it is susceptible to all forms of uncleanness save that of midras, because a zab if sitting on it would be told to get off it, v; supra p. 312, n. 9
  10. Lit., 'one that comes in measurement'.
  11. it is unfit for lying or sitting upon on account of the opening at the top, and therefore it is not susceptible to midras, while since it cannot be moved about owing to its size, it is free from other defilement (v. supra 83b).
  12. I.e., if a zab sits upon it, it without actually infringing upon the air space within it.
  13. A ship is not susceptible to any form of defilement.
  14. Viz., if a zab touches it on the inside.
  15. Supra 83 b.
  16. He certainly must mean that it is clean even from defilement, it through contact; then how explain 'too', which intimates that the first Tanna has stated that a certain article cannot be defiled by contact and R. Jose adds this?
  17. Lev. XV, 5. 'His bed' denotes anything upon which the zab has lain, and this passage teaches the law of midras.
  18. V. Glos.
  19. Ibid. 26, q.v.
  20. This is deduced from Lev. XI, 33, q.v. Since they cannot be cleansed, they cannot become unclean in the first place through the midras of a zab.

Shabbath 84b

This follows a fortiori: if small [earthen] pitchers which cannot be defiled by a zab1  can be defiled through the dead,2  then a mat, which is defiled by a zab,3  is surely defiled through the dead? But why so [it may be asked], seeing that it cannot be cleansed in a mikweh?4  Said R. Hanina to him: There it is different, since some of its kind [of the same material] are [capable of being cleansed in a mikweh].5  The All Merciful save us from this view! he exclaimed.6  On the contrary, he retorted, The All Merciful save us from your view! And what is the reason?7  Two verses are written: [i] and whosoever touches his bed; and [ii] every bed whereon he that hath the issue lieth [shall be unclean].8  How are these [to be reconciled]? If something of its kind [can be cleansed in a mikweh], even if that itself cannot be cleansed in a mikweh [it is susceptible to midras]; but if nothing of its kind [can be cleansed in a mikweh], his bed is assimilated to himself.

Raba said: [That] the midras of an earthen vessel is clean [is deduced] from the following: and every open vessel, which hath no covering bound upon it[, is unclean]:9  hence, if it has a covering bound upon it, it is clean.10  Now, does this not hold good [even] if he had appointed it [as a seat] for his wife, when a niddah, yet the Divine Law states that it is clean.11


GEMARA. How is this implied? — Said Rab judah: For as the earth bringeth forth her bud: 'bringeth forth' [denotes] one, [and] 'her bud' [denotes] one, which gives two; 'her seeds' [denotes] two,15  making four; 'causeth to spring forth' denotes one, making five [in all],

Original footnotes renumbered. See Structure of the Talmud Files
  1. They are not susceptible to midras, as he cannot sit upon them. Again, an earthen vessel can be defiled only through the contaminating thing coming into contact with its inner air space, which is here impossible, as the neck of a small pitcher is too narrow to permit a zab to insert his finger. Furthermore, they cannot become unclean through hesset, as hesset and contact are interdependent, and only that which is susceptible to the latter is susceptible to the former.
  2. They become unclean when under the same roof as a corpse, v. Num. XIX, 15.
  3. With the uncleanness of midras, since it is fit for lying upon.
  4. This is R. Ela's objection: how can the Baraitha state axiomatically that a mat can be defiled by a zab?
  5. E.g., when they are provided with a receptacle.
  6. That a mat should be susceptible to midras merely because something else of the same material can be cleansed in a mikweh.
  7. On what grounds does R. Hanina base his thesis?
  8. Lev. XV, 4. The first verse implies that the bed must be like himself, on account of the suffix 'his', but not the second, since the suffix is absent there.
  9. Num. XIX, 15.
  10. The contamination must, as it were, penetrate into the inner air space of the vessel, which it is unable to do on account of the covering which interposes a barrier. — This shows that the reference is to an earthen vessel, where the defilement must enter its atmosphere (cf. Ps. 402, n. 1).
  11. Now in such a case it is regarded as a seat, and if it were susceptible to midras the cover would not save the vessel from becoming unclean, because whatever is itself liable to defilement cannot constitute a barrier to save something else from same. Hence it follows that an earthen vessel is not subject to midras at all.
  12. Without infringing the prohibition of sowing diverse seeds (kil'ayim) together (Deut. XX, 9).
  13. Isa. LXI, 11.
  14. Rashi: almost the whole of each side is sown with one species, and one seed is sown in the middle, as in Fig. 1. The shaded part is sown. Though the corners come very near each other, and their roots certainly intermingle, that does not matter, as their very position makes it clear that each side has been sown as a separate strip. But with respect to the middle seed there is nothing to show that it was not sown indiscriminately together with the rest, and therefore a substantial space (three handbreadths) between it and the sides is required. Maim. explains it as in Fig. 2.
  15. The minimum number of the plural.