INTRODUCTION TO SEDER TOHOROTH
[page xiii] Tohoroth ('Cleannesses'),1 which is the name given to the last of the six 'Orders' into which the Talmud is divided, has for its subject the laws of the 'clean' and 'unclean' in things and persons. These laws constitute a code of levitical purity and are of much more special application than those relating to the 'clean' and 'unclean' food (animals, birds, locusts, fishes), which are discussed and elaborated in the tractate Hullin, included in the immediately preceding Order Kodashim. Whereas these latter laws are absolute, and are valid for all times and all places, most of those treated in this 'Order' are connected inseparably with the sanctuary, and have no validity apart from it. Even in Temple times many of them did not affect the common man, and unless he was to visit the sanctuary precincts, or come into contact with consecrated food, he need have paid little regard to them. Nor did these laws of 'uncleanness' ever apply outside Palestine; and with the destruction of the Temple they have as a whole fallen into obsolescence even in the Holy Land itself. An exception to this strictly circumscribed character of the laws dealt with in this 'Order' is the law of the menstruant which remains in force to the present day; but even in this case the emphasis here is primarily on the levitical 'uncleanness', rather than on the prohibition of marital relations which this impurity involves.2 [page xiv]
This connection with the sanctuary makes the Seder Tohoroth a fitting sequel to Seder Kodashim, which deals principally with the Temple and its sacrificial system and rites.
The'Order' consists of twelve tractates, arranged according to the separate printed editions of the Mishnah in the following sequence:
[page xvi] Kelim is well qualified by its contents to serve as a sort of Introduction to the whole of the 'Order'.4 This alone, quite apart from its length, entitles it to the pride of place as opening tractate in most of the printed editions of the Mishnah. In the Talmud editions, the first place is assigned to Niddah, as being the only tractate within the 'Order' to which there is Gemara extant. Whether there has ever been Gemara to the other tractates is a question which cannot be answered with a definite 'Yes' or 'No'. There is clear evidence in the Talmud that in the days of Raba (299-352 C.E.) the Order Tohoroth was studied with the same intensity as the other 'Orders'.5 Significant in this connection is the mention of 'Ukzin', which we are told was discussed in the school of Raba at thirteen sessions;5 this indicates apparently that the studies covered the whole of the 'Order' to its very last tractate. Reference is also made in a Berlin MS. to a Palestine Gemara for "Ukzin".6 On the other hand, Maimonides, who speaks of a Palestine Gemara to Kodashim, of which nothing is known to us, declares that 'except for Niddah, there is to be found no Gemara of any kind to Seder Tohoroth, neither in the Babylonian norm the Palestinian version.'7 It is therefore natural to assume that, while the study of the other 'Orders' was continuous and regular, suffering no break or interruption through the centuries, that of Tohoroth was casual and intermittent; and, but for some exceptions, was undertaken in the schools of Palestine and Babylon only in so far as its principles and teachings had a bearing on the subjects of study. This comparative neglect of the 'Order' meant that much of its contents was left unelucidated and unexplained, and that little material beyond that which had already been distributed here and there throughout the other 'Orders', was provided for the Redactors of the Talmud to work up into a separate Gemara.8
This neglect was not due to the fact that the subject matter of Tohoroth had no relevancy to the times when the edifice of the Talmud was being reared. Had this been the sole explanation there would have been, apart from Hullin, no Gemara on Kodashim either, seeing that also this 'Order' is devoted to laws which had lost all practical significance. There must have been some deeper reason for this disregard of the study of precepts which were recognised as belonging to the 'essentials of the Torah'.9 The opinion may be hazarded that it was some vision of the Messianic future which inspired the different attitudes of the schools to Kodashim and Tohoroth. That vision embraced the restoration of the Temple [page xvii] with its sacrificial rites; but whereas the study of Kodashim was maintained with all diligence in order to keep the people prepared for the resumption of the Temple service, no similar motive applied to the laws of uncleanness which are treated in Tohoroth. They had been rendered obsolete with the destruction of the Temple, and no hope was set on their revival in the future. Not that there was no longing for purity, but Messianism itself spelled purity. The Messianic future, as Jewish teachers conceived it, was one in which, generally speaking, there would be no defilement, no uncleanness, God Himself appearing in His self-manifesting power and redemptive love to cleanse His people from all filthiness and pollution: 'Then I will sprinkle upon you clean water, and ye shall be clean from all your filthiness and from all your idols will I cleanse you' (Ezekiel XXXVI, 25); 'and I will also cause the unclean spirit to pass out of the land' (Zechariah, XIII, z). With the loss of all practical interest which this vision entailed, it was natural for the study of Tohoroth to fall into desuetude. There were nevertheless still teachers, particularly of, priestly descent,10 for whom the 'Order' had its fascination, perhaps in satisfaction of a wistful longing for a glory that was past. Preeminent among these was Rabbah bar Nahmani (d. 339 C.E.) who contributed greatly to the exposition of Tohoroth and whose pronouncement on a matter of levitical purity, uttered by him as he was breathing his last, received, according to Talmudic Aggadah, the stamp of Divine approval with the words: 'Happy art thou, O Rabbah bar Nahmani, whose body is pure and whose soul has departed in purity'.11 It is thanks to these teachers that the 'disciple of the Torah' may, notwithstanding the absence of Gemara, find his way through the branchings and windings of this 'Order' and through the maze of laws and regulations that compose it.
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE LAWS OF 'CLEANNESSES'
The laws of uncleanness elaborated in this 'Order' are based on a number of injunctions found in various places in the Pentateuch, principally in Leviticus Chapters XI-XV. There we find enumerated [page xviii] a list of things and persons which are deemed unclean in themselves and may communicate uncleanness either directly or sometimes even through an intermediary.
An examination of the sources of uncleanness shows that they are reducible to three categories: (a) Death; (b) Disease; (c) Sexual Functions.
Death: The most potent source of uncleanness is Death. A human corpse or part of it spreads uncleanness, conveying it not only to the person or thing that comes directly or indirectly in contact with it, but even (according to Numbers XIX, 14) to such as happen to be under the same 'tent' or 'cover' as itself. Uncleanness of a minor character also is attached to the carcass of animals, of birds and of certain species of vermin.
Disease. A very high degree of uncleanness is attached to various diseases comprehended under the general term, Zaraath ('leprosy'), of which there are three types: Leprosy of Men, Leprosy of Houses, and Leprosy of Garments.
Sexual Functions. Sexual functions, whether normal or pathological, carry with them a type of uncleanness varying in severity according to the nature of the affection. Included in this category is the menstruant, and the woman after childbirth.
Each type of uncleanness has its own specific rules defining both its character and the means by which it can be removed.
These laws are the least intelligible in the Torah. The words of the Wise King 'I said, I will get wisdom but it was far from me' (Eccl. VII. 2.3), were applied by the Rabbis of the Talmud to the laws of 'cleanness' and 'uncleanness'.12 Maimonides likewise in the Introduction to his commentary on Tohoroth describes the whole subject as 'bristling with difficulties, far from human understanding and one which even the Great Sages of the Mishnah found hard to comprehend.'13 This may perhaps be the reason that this Order has been designated in the Talmud as 'Da'ath'14 ('Knowledge'). While, that is to say, it communicates the knowledge of a body of divine [page xix] ordinances, to explain the reason for them is beyond the reach of human wisdom. Yet it was inevitable that the attempt should be made; for it cannot be supposed that these ordinances were devoid of some purpose of vital importance for the life of the Jew. Some there are who would define the object of these laws as mainly hygienic.15 And indeed when we read the directions for cleanness set forth in the Bible they seem not unlike hygienic orders of a General to soldiers on march, or the rules of a Board of Health. Yet while this will hardly be contested, it cannot be maintained that the hygienic motive is paramount in these laws. The fact that many of the regulations bear no relation whatsoever to hygiene is clear evidence to the contrary. The same criticism applies to other motives which have been suggested, such as taboos and totemism. While these might account for some of the regulations, it is obvious that much of the legislation regarding uncleanness has no connection with these ideas, and they cannot therefore be regarded as the operative reason for it.16
More satisfactory is the view of Maimonides,17 who declared that the object of these regulations was to impose certain limitations and conditions upon Israel's approach to God, which should have the effect of deepening in them the sense of awe and reverence for the majesty of their divine Father and King. It is for this reason, as he points out, that the whole of these laws apply only to relations with the sanctuary and the holy objects connected with it and not to other cases.
This basic principle provides Maimonides with a key to many of the details of the laws of uncleanness and purifications. The source of uncleanness is, in his view, physical dirt and filth. Human corpses, carcasses of animals, birds or creeping things, sexual functions, leprous diseases, are all dirt and filth and accordingly convey uncleanness.
While Maimonides is certainly correct in relating the laws of purity to the sanctuary, his idea of the source of uncleanness does [page xx] not appear adequate. It does not account for the exclusion from the Biblical list of 'uncleannesses' other things that are equally dirty and filthy. There is therefore much to be said in favour of the suggestion that the laws of uncleanness as related to the sanctuary were as a whole instituted to wean Israel away from the then prevalent animal worship and cult of the dead as well as from the sexual perversions that were inseparable from Caananite idolatrous cults.18 But while there is no reason to doubt that this motive is present in the institution of corpse and carcass uncleanness and the uncleanness of sexual functions, this would still leave most of the laws of uncleanness unexplained.
Many more suggestions in explanation of these laws have been made by Biblical commentators both Jewish and non-Jewish, mediaeval and modern, but notwithstanding the penetration and richness of thought that is to be found in some of them, particularly in those of Nahmanides, Gersonides and Abrabanel, they cannot be said to satisfy the student. The only correct attitude to adopt in regard to this legislation is that of Maimonides. With all his endeavour to give in his 'Guide' a rational explanation of these laws, even to their smallest details, he declares categorically in his Yad ha-Hazakah that they are to be treated as divine statutes which baffle human understanding. 'It is clear and obvious', he writes, 'that the regulations concerning uncleanness and cleanness are decrees of the Holy Writ, and do not belong to the subjects which a man can rationally explain. They thus belong to the category of statutes. Similarly the act of immersion to rid oneself of impurity belongs to that class of "statutes" because defilement is not material filth that can be removed by water. It is but a decree of the Holy Writ, and the removal is dependent upon the intention of the heart. On that account the Sages said, "If a man immersed himself without specific intention, it is as though he had not immersed himself at all." Nevertheless there is symbolical significance in this matter. In the same way that a person who directs his heart to self-purification attains cleanness as soon as he immerses although there has been no [page xxi] physical change in him, so the person who directs his heart to purify his soul from spiritual impurities, such as inquitous thoughts and evil notions, becomes clean as soon as he determines in his heart to keep apart from these courses, and bathes his soul in the waters of the pure knowledge.'19
This attitude follows logically from the belief in Revelation, and any other attitude is ipso facto a rejection of the Torah of Israel and of God who is its Author. This does not mean to say that the laws of the Torah are arbitrary, with no purpose and significance. Had this been admitted, Jewish religious thinkers throughout the ages would not have devoted so much of their energies to an inquiry into the specific reasons of the Commandments. But what it does mean is that whilst the laws of the Torah, by the very virtue of their educative character, cannot contain anything which is irrational and which cannot be made to fit into a general framework of reason, and that therefore every attempt to discover their significance is justified, they are nevertheless not reducible altogether to logical concepts; and over and above the reasons that may be adduced there are others that transcend all human thoughts and imagining.
Reverting to the laws of 'cleanness' and 'uncleanness', all that Jewish religious teachers sought to establish in their quest for a meaning of these ordinances was a rationale in accord with the moral and spiritual nature of man which would explain the inclusion of them in the Torah, without however attempting to penetrate into their innermost significance. This, they recognised, was related to a higher order of existence, incomprehensible to our state of human knowledge. Fundamental to their view of life is the close relationship of body and soul, so that what affects the one affects the other. Nor is there anything strange in this conception. In the words of R. Aaron Halevi, 'We may indeed be astonished at this close relationship between body and soul, but we do not know the nature of the soul nor its essence; how then should we know what is good or harmful for it? Just as a doctor can effect no cure without first ascertaining the cause of the malady, so is the reason for some of the commandments bound to elude us so [page xxii] long as we have no complete knowledge of the nature of the soul.'20 From this conception it follows that the soul is affected by the uncleanness of the body. The nature of this affection varies in accordance with the source of uncleanness, as determined by the wisdom of the 'Creator of all Souls'. In general, bodily uncleanness has a contaminating influence on the soul, disqualifying the person thus affected from approaching the sanctuary of God. Although no longer valid, the relevant laws have not lost their symbolic significance: the necessity of purity of body, mind and soul in order to gain acceptance with God. Graver in its consequences and in full force to the present day is the law of Niddah. The reasons for the Niddah ordinances are many and varied. They promote sexual hygiene, physical health, marital continence, respect for womanhood, consecration of married life, and family happiness. But over and above these weighty reasons, they concern the very being of the soul of the Jew. They safeguard the purity of the Jewish soul, without which no true religious moral and spiritual life — individual or corporate — as Judaism conceives it, is attainable.
While the Halachic student will turn to Seder Tohoroth in order to satisfy his thirst for knowledge in an important department of Jewish law, and to find intellectual delight in its dialectic, which is of a very high order, the non-Halachic student will be rewarded in his study of the Seder by the discovery of a wealth of material of archaeological, medical and general cultural interest. Of particular value are its deposits of linguistic elements which can supply much of the needs of New Judea for Hebrew norms of expression in keeping with the advance of technology, commerce, science, and modern life in general.
METHOD AND SCOPE
TEXT. The Text used for this edition is in the main that of the Wilna Romm Edition. Note has, however, been taken of the most important variants of manuscript and printed editions some of which have been adopted in the main body of the translation, the reason for [page xxiii] such preference being generally explained or indicated in the Notes. All the censored passages appear either in the text or in the Notes.
TRANSLATION. The translation aims at reproducing in clear and lucid English the central meaning of the original text. It is true some translators will be found to have been less literal than others, but in checking and controlling every line of the work, the Editor has endeavoured not to lose sight of the main aim of the translation. Words and passages not occurring in the original are placed in square brackets.
NOTES. The main purpose of these is to elucidate the translation by making clear the course of the arguments, explaining allusions and technical expressions, thus providing a running commentary on the text. With this in view resort has been made to the standard Hebrew commentators, Rashi, the Tosafists, Asheri, Alfasi, Maimonides, Maharsha, the glosses of BaH, Rashal, Strashun, the Wilna Gaon, etc.21 Advantage has also been taken of the results of modern scholarship, such as represented by the names of Graetz, Bacher, Weiss, Halevy, Levy, Kohut, Jastrow, Obermeyer, and — happily still with us — Krauss, Buchler, Gmzberg, Klein and Herford among others, in dealing with matters of general cultural interest with which the Talmud teems — historical, geographical, archaeological, philological and social.
GLOSSARY AND INDICES. Each Tractate is equipped with a Glossary wherein recurring technical terms are fully explained, thus obviating the necessity of explaining them afresh each time they appear in the text. To this have been added a Scriptural Index and a General Index of contents.
In the presentation of the tractates the following principles have also been adopted:
In presenting this Seder, the Soncino Press is resuming the publication of its English edition of the Babylonian Talmud, interrupted by the hard and bitter years of the world-engulfing and world-devastating war. These were years of unparalleled tragedy for mankind, but for none has the tragedy been so staggering and overwhelming as for the Jewish people. With many Jewries decimated and the flower of their kith and kin annihilated, the Jews stand today terribly diminished in numbers and in material and spiritual resources. As they gaze in horror on the universal scene of desolation left by the war, they cannot escape the particularly bewildering shock of the landscape as it affects Jewish life. They look out and see the ruins of many flourishing communities and famous Torah centres, which for generations sent forth beams of spiritual and cultural and religious light to Jews throughout the world. It is therefore only fitting on this occasion, for those of us who have been closely connected with this publication and been spared to this day, to utter the traditional [H]. We, in a spirit of sincere humility, thank God that to us has been granted the privilege of making a notable and specific contribution to the preservation of the Torah, so that it might not be forgotten from Israel, and of continuing the work which can provide a great and stimulating force to this generation in the mighty tasks of spiritual and religious reconstruction that lie ahead.
I should also like to take this opportunity of expressing my warmest [page xxvi] appreciation to the several translators for the learning and industry they have brought to bear upon their work; to Mr. Maurice Simon, M. A., for his helpfulness in many directions; to Mr. Eli Cashdan, M. A., for his valuable assistance, particularly in reading and checking the proofs; and to my dear wife for her help in many ways whilst I was engaged in this work.
Nor must I forget to express my very special thanks to Mr. Jacob Davidson, the Governing Director of the Soncino Press, whose inflexible resolve and dauntless energy enabled him to triumph over all obstacles and difficulties and to resume the publication of this gigantic work.
Nor can I take leave from the reader without a word in affectionate remembrance of the late Chief Rabbi, Dr. J. H. Hertz, who was, alas, not spared to see the completion of the Soncino version of the Talmud. As a patron of Jewish scholarship and learning, the Chief Rabbi took a keen personal interest in this work, as his Forewords to the Orders Nezikin, Nashim and Mo'ed testifiy. His sponsoring of this publication has indeed been most valuable.
For technical reasons, Seder Tohoroth, which is the last of the Sedarim, is published before the two remaining Orders — Zera'im and Kodashim. These two Sedarim will shortly be issued and thus bring this great and important task to completion. In the meantime, on behalf of all collaborators and co-workers, associated with me in this publication, I offer the time-honoured traditional prayers of the student of the Law as applied to this Seder:
'May it be Thy will, O Lord our God, even as Thou hast helped us to complete Seder Tohoroth, so to help us to begin the other Sedarim and complete them.'
Jews' College, London.
Directory of Sedarim and Tractates