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public transportation and tumah


Rabbi David Sperling

Sivan 27, 5775
Shalom dear Rabbi, I wanted to ask concerning Vayikra 15,19-23 and also concerning verses 2-6 and verses 25-27 if there is any issue in our times, especially concerning public transportation. I didn’t read in the chapter about a specific prohibition. On the other hand, for example verse 21 says also "And whosoever toucheth her bed shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water ..." ,which would be an instruction that should be fulfilled. Is there a prohibition in general to become tameh in this way (and possibly not going to mikvah later)? I suppose that today there is no issue, but why? I’ve heard someone say that today there is general tumah but what if a person has already been to the mikvah (and is possibly not tameh)? I also wonder why if this is in the Torah it is not an issue in our days. I’ve heard about a person (though I don’t know if the story is 100% accurate) who used a folding chair on the train so that there would not be any issue. (apart from the practical issues of bringing the folding chair,) could one say that he has a point or that there is a spiritual benefit from what he did? Thank you very much
Shalom, Thank you for your question. The laws of ritual impurity are complex indeed, and certainly beyond the scope of this type of quick internet answer. However it will be useful to outline some basic concepts, which I hope will be a good place for you to start your learning from. There are many degrees of ritual impurity, each with its own laws of how it applies, and how to remove oneself from it. These range from coming into contact with a dead body, down to vessels that came into contact with certain dead animals. Also there are impurities that arise from certain gynaelogical issues, including a woman's regular monthly period, and certain different issues and flows from a man. The unifying theme of all these impurities is firstly that it is not forbidden to be impure – it is merely a state one finds themselves in. Secondly, the state of being impure (or in any one of the different levels of impurity) today has very limited practical application. The major places were impurity is an issue are to do with the Temple, and coming into contact with holy foods (such as offerings etc). Today, unfortunately, both these concerns do not apply. Because of this, and the fact that many forms of impurity require a purifying process that is unavailable to us today (for example, the ashes of a red hefer), we do not concern ourselves with these impurities today. That is – we know we are impure, but because it is no sin to be impure, and also we have no practical reason to become pure, and also because in many cases we cannot become pure today, we do not worry about these laws on a practical level today. Rather, we study them as part of G-d's Torah, and gain their spiritual benefits through the act of study. There are two exceptions to what I wrote above, where the laws of impurity still have major effect for our daily lives. The first is that a Cohen (a Jew from the priestly tribe) is still forbidden to come into contact with dead bodies. There are detailed laws for the Cohen, which explain how they are to act at funerals and in the case of death. The other most practical application of ritual impurity are the laws of the menstrual cycle and how it applies to a married couple having intimate relations. Here too, the laws described in the Torah (as you quoted) have only a limited application today – that is that many of them apply only to people who wish to enter the Temple or come into contact with Holy foods. These applications are not in force today (as we wrote above). That leaves us only with the application of menstrual impurity in the area of marital intimacy. This section of Jewish law is practiced by all Orthodox couples, and involves a period of refraining from intimacy and then an immersion in a ritual bath called a Mikvah before the couple returns to their regular intimate relations. (Needless to say the laws are much more involved than this – but I will leave that for your further study). I hope this short introduction will be of some help to you, and I wish you every success in your continued studies of these fascinating laws. Blessings.
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