Saturday, July 19, 2008

Kohanim in Cars in Cemeteries

A poster on a discussion list, commenting on a psak a few years ago by R' Zev Cohen that it's prohibited for kohanim to travel along a certain block of W. Pratt Ave. in Chicago because of trees that overshadow a Jewish cemetery and one side of the street, wondered why the car would not insulate the kohen. Another poster suggested that perhaps the prohibition is only if one were walking, or if a window was open.

According to the Rambam, Hil. TM 20:1, there are only three things that can protect against tum'a transmitted by an ohel: Tzamid p'sil, Ohalin, and Belu'in.

Acc. to Ch. 21, Tzamid p'sil (a tight seal - which would be negated by an open window) only works by earthenware vessels or, by extension, vessels that are susceptible to tum'a at all. Hence, this would not work for most cars, except perhaps the ones that are made of plastic. The protection of ohel b'soch ohel (a tent in a tent) would not work because a moving car constitutes an ohel zaruk (movable tent) that is not halachically considered an ohel (11:5/6), while the hatzalah of balu'a (swallowed object) only works for something inside a living creature (20/5:6).

Hence, I don't see how being in a moving car would prevent a kohen from becoming tamei. Are any of these restrictions subject to machlokes?

Update, 7/20: There are numerous fascinating articles on the issue of kohanim in airplanes available online, including this one by R' Daniel Wolf of Yeshivat Har Etzion and an article in Tradition by R' JD Bleich (only available to subscribers). To summarize a few points: The Rashba paskens like the opinion on Eruvin 33b which says that an ohel zaruk is a valid ohel, but Rambam and Tosefos argue. The P'nei Yehoshua and Shevus Yaakov hold that even the opinion which says that it's not an ohel zaruk is only based on a rabbinical decree, so that there would be a basis to be lenient in a case of doubt, but there wouldn't seem to be any doubt to base such a leniency on. There's also an interesting discussion regarding whether or not the aluminum that comprises the bulk of most planes is m'kabel tum'a (machlokes Rashi and Rambam regarding whether the list of metals in this week's parsha is exhaustive) and, were aluminum not to be m'kabel tum'a, whether the steel bolts, rivets, etc. that hold together the plane (ma'amid) would still render it m'kabel tum'a and whether the plane's seal satisfies the requirements of tzamid p'sil.

Update, 7/23: Another poster asked if cars would be exempted from the laws of tum'a because they are keilim ha-ba'im b'middah, vessels which are larger than 40 sei'ah in volume (3 cubic amos), and hence are considered to be immobile.

K'li ha-ba'ah b'midah (aka k'li he-asui l'nachas - a vessel intended to be stationary) is only a law by wood, hide, or cloth, as is learned out from a juxtaposition to a sack (which is intended to be movable even when full) in Vayikra 11:32 - see Chagiga 26b and Rambam Hil. Keilim 3:2 and 3:3.

RJDBleich in his article on airplanes that I previously mentioned (Tradition 36:4) mentions several other reasons why this heter would not apply to a vehicle, including that it has wheels (so is movable) and that it is used for seating (as excepted by Tos' Shabbos 44b DH Mucheni).

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Saturday, July 05, 2008

Why is the Parah Adumah Here?

OK, it's open mike time.

Parshas Chukas is perhaps most well-known for its opening section, which includes the laws of the parah adumah and tum'as mais. Why are these halachos inserted at this point, though? The question is amplified by the fact that parah adumah is known to be one of the three (four?) halachos that were taught at Marah before Matan Torah.

Rashi (20:1), citing Mo'ed Katan 28a, notes that Parah Adumah is juxtaposed to the subsequent death of Miriam to teach that just like the parah adumah is mechaper[1], so, too, is the death of tzaddikim.

The previous Rashi expounds on the passuk's use of the term "kol ha-eidah" to learn out that all of those who were condemned to die in the midbar had already died at this point, leaving only those who were designated to enter the land. Hence, perhaps the inclusion of a halachic parsha about death and purification serves as the Torah's summary of the thirty-seven years between the rebellion of Korach and the death of Miriam, which were entirely devoted to the deaths of the failed dor ha-midbar and nothing else (as indicated by HaShem's silence towards Moshe during these years).

Any other suggestions?

[1] Tosefos there quotes one of the numerous ma'amrei Chazal which indicate that the Parah Adumah was mechaper for the sin of the eigel, although it's interesting that the Yoma 2a specifically rejects the idea that the Parah Adumah is for kaparah, instead spending the next daf-and-a-half suggesting a whole litany of korbanos that
could instead be exegetically alluded to by the use of the word "l'chapeir" in a passuk, before finally settling upon the avodah of Yom Kippur. A variant text of Rashi compares the death of tzaddikim to korbanos, but as the Parah Adumah was not a korban, the basis for this comparison is difficult to me.

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Terumah Tidbits from the Rambam

1) "Because of my grandson the kohen gadol, I can't eat terumah. Who am I?"

A kohenes is allowed to eat terumah. If she marries a yisroel, she is no longer allowed to eat terumah. If her husband dies, she is again allowed to eat terumah, unless she bore a child to her yisraeli husband. If the child dies, also, she is again allowed to eat terumah, unless the child already produced a child of its own.

Hence, a kohenes marries a yisrael and bears him a daughter. The daughter marries a kohen and bears him a son, who is chosen to be kohen gadol. Even if the original kohenes loses her husband and daughter, and even though her only living descendant is a kohen, she is still prohibited from eating terumah, because her living descendant causes her to maintain a connection to her deceased yisraeli husband (unless she gets remarried to a kohen).

Interestingly, if the daughter were still alive but lost her husband, the existence of her son the kohen gadol would be the sole reason that she would still be allowed to eat terumah. See Rambam Hil. Terumos 6:11.

2) "I can eat terumah nowadays. No, really. Who am I?"

Although terumah min ha-torah is only in Eretz Yisroel, the nevi'im decreed that it also be observed in Bavel, because it is close to Eretz Yisroel and has frequent travelers to and fro, and the chachamim ha-rishonim decreed that it also be kept in Egypt, Amon, and Moav, which surround Eretz Yisrael. (Rambam 1:1)

Since this terumah is entirely rooted in a gezeirah d'rabbanan (as opposed to, I suppose, terumah in Suria or terumah bizman ha-zeh in Eretz Yisroel, which are perhaps gezeiros d'rabbanan that have a stronger connection to the din d'oraisa), the prohibition for a kohen who's tamei to eat terumah only applies to one who's intrinsically tamei - ba'al keri, zav, zavah, nidah, yoledes, or metzora - and not to one who extrinsically tamei - i.e., through maga, masa, or ohel. Hence, if a kohen (or kohenes) were to acquire terumah that grew in certain sections of Jordan, Egypt, or Iraq, he would be allowed to eat it once he was tovel to remove any intrinsic tum'ah that he might have. The Ra'avad, though (and the Rambam could perhaps also be read this way), states that this heter only works for a katan or a ketana who has a chazakah of tahara from tum'os keri and nida, because of a gezeirah on gedolim metuharim because of gedolim who are intrinsically tamei (Rambam 6:8-9).

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