ל׳ בתשרי ה׳תשע״ו (October 13, 2015)

Nazir 52a-b: Whoever Touches Them Shall Be Impure

The Gemara teaches that with regard to the issue of tum’at met many of the unique cases presented in the last Mishna (49b) will only take effect if we have the entire body of the dead person. If a limb is missing, then some of the laws will not apply. This ruling leads the Gemara to discuss other situations where a creature that has died is no longer whole – will that creature still be considered significant enough to make someone tameh? This daf discusses tum’at sheretz – the lower level ritual defilement that comes with contact with a dead animal – not tum’at met.

In an attempt to respond to this question, the Gemara quotes a baraita that compares two words in Vayikra (11:31, 32) – ba-hem, which seems to indicate coming into full contact with the animal will create a situation of tum’ah, and me-hem, which seems to indicate that even coming into contact with part of the animal will create tum’ah. The baraita‘s suggestion is that even part of an animal will create tum’ah if its size is large enough to have been an entire creature. This minimal size is fairly small – ke-adasha, “the size of a bean” – which the Gemara says is the size of a homet when it is first born.

The homet is one of the eight types of crawling creatures that are listed in the Torah as being tameh (see Vayikra 11:30), but it is not clear to us what its proper identification is. Two different traditions have developed over the years in identifying it:

  1. The Arukh, Rashi and others suggest that it is a snail. This identification works well with our Gemara, since a newly hatched snail is the size of a bean.
  2. Rav Sa’adia Ga’on and others suggest that it is a chameleon.

In modern Hebrew homet means “gecko” – a term generally applied to a sub-family of small lizards, which lends credence to the suggestion of homet referring to a chameleon.

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