כ״ט בתשרי ה׳תשע״ו (October 12, 2015)

Nazir 51a-b: the Dust of the Heel

As we discussed on yesterday’s daf, one case of tameh met that disqualifies a nazir is melo tarvaad rakav – “a full ladle of dust.” This is one of several situations where the nazir is considered tameh met.

Our Gemara asks what appears to be a very odd question. Rabbi Yirmeya asks whether rakav that comes from the akev – the heel- will make someone tameh met. In the end the Gemara concludes by saying, “teiku” – there is no clear ruling in this case.

The commentaries have a very difficult time explaining why a dead person’s heel should be treated any differently than the rest of his body. The Meiri – who appears to have a variant reading in the text – suggests that Rabbi Yirmeya is not referring specifically to the heel, rather the question is about any part of the body that a person can survive without, and we are discussing a case where that body part is cut off of the person and buried.

The direction taken by most of the rishonim is that the term akev really does mean a heel, and the question is whether the heel, which has less active functions in the body than other limbs, would have the same rules and regulations with regard to the issues of tum’at met.

In truth, the flesh and skin of the human heel are markedly different than most of the rest of the human body. This difference manifests itself in the blood vessels and nerves, as exhibited in the fact that we find that there is much less sensitivity to pain and injuries. This fact has led important contemporary scholars to suggest that the entire physical development of the heel differs from that of the flesh of the rest of the body.

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