כ״ה בתמוז ה׳תשע״ב (July 15, 2012)

Nidda 55a-b: Eye Applications

Aside from the discussion about menstrual blood and corpses, the Mishna on yesterday’s daf also discusses other sources of ritual defilement and whether they transmit impurity when they are both wet and dry. For example, the bodily secretions of a zav –a man suffering from a venereal disease – that transmit ritual impurity, including semen, mucous from the nose or mouth and spittle, will only render someone tameh if they are wet and not if they have dried out.

In the course of discussing why tears are not included in this discussion and are not considered a secretion that renders one tameh, the Gemara quotes the following statements of early Babylonian amora’im:

Rav stated: He who wishes to blind his eye shall have it painted by an idolater, and Rabbi Levi stated: He who wishes to die shall have his eyes painted by an idolater.

The makeup mentioned by Rav and Rabbi Levi was, apparently, a popular eye application that was used during Talmudic times. Kohl appears to be a black-blue color that was derived from the mineral stibnite (Sb2S3). The stibnite crystals were ground up and women would use them to color the area around their eyes to emphasize them and make them appear larger; apparently it was also used for medicinal purposes.

According to the Talmud Yerushalmi, Rav did not use this type of eye application, while Rabbi Levi did make use of it. Based on this, the Pnei Moshe explains that Rav was less familiar with the procedure and unaware of the greater danger that it contained.

The concern expressed by the contemporaries Rav and Rabbi Levi regarding the possibility of poisoning by non-Jews may be based on the political upheaval that took place during their lifetimes in Babylonia, with the overthrow of the Parthian Empire that had offered autonomy to the flourishing Jewish community. At first the Sassanid Empire was antagonistic towards the Jews, although that soon changed with the friendship that developed between Shmuel and King Shevor Malka.

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