THE BACKBONE AND THE SKULL: The question was propounded: Does the Mishnah say the backbone and the skull,10 or does it say perhaps the backbone or the skull?11 — Raba replied: Come and hear: A backbone that has been stripped of most of its ribs12 is clean,13 but if it is in the grave, even though it is broken in pieces or separated [into parts], it is unclean,14 because of the grave.15 Now the reason [that the backbone is clean] is that it has been stripped, but if it were not stripped, it would be unclean,16 and so may we [not] infer from this that the correct reading is, either the backbone or the skull? — Does it say, 'But if etc.'?17 What we are told is that when [the backbone is] stripped, it is clean;18 but the other case19 still remains doubtful.
Come and hear: R. Judah says: Six things were declared unclean by R. Akiba and clean by the Sages, and R. Akiba retracted his opinion. It is related that a basket full of [human] bones was taken into the Synagogue of the Tarsians20 and placed in the open air.21 Then Theodos, the Physician, together with all the physicians, entered, and said that there was not the backbone of a single corpse there.22 The reason [that it was declared clean] is that there was not a backbone from a single [corpse], but had there been either a backbone or a skull from a single [corpse],23 a nazirite would have been required to poll because of it, whence it follows that we read in our Mishnah, either the backbone or the skull? The case was put strongly. Not only was there not the backbone and skull of a single corpse, but there was not even the backbone of a single corpse or the skull of a single corpse.
Judge24 from the enumeration [of the six things]: And what are the six things that R. Akiba declared unclean and the Sages clean? A limb set up25 from two corpses, a limb set up [from bones sever ed] from two living men, and a half-kab of bones taken from two corpses, a quarter [log] of blood taken from two [corpses], a barleycorn's bulk of bone broken into two parts, the backbone and the skull.26
Nazir 52bNow if you assume that either the backbone or the skull [alone is unclean] there would [surely] be seven things there? — When [the number six] was mentioned,1 it referred to all those things where the majority differed from him, but excluded [the case of] a barley-corn's bulk of bone, since it is an individual who differed from him,2 for we have learnt: If a barley-corn's bulk of bone is divided into two, R. Akiba declares it unclean and R. Johanan b. Nuri clean.3
Alternatively, [the number six] referred to members coming from a corpse, but it did not refer to [the case of] a member [severed] from a living being.4
Alternatively, [the number six] referred to all those [cases] where a nazirite must poll because of 'overshadowing' them, but excludes [the case of] a barley corn's bulk of bone,5 since he need not.
Alternatively, [the number six] referred to all those [cases] from which he retracted, but excludes [the case of] a quarter [log] of blood, from which he did not retract. For Rabbi said to Bar Kappara, 'Do not include [the case of] a quarter [-log] of blood amongst the retractions, for R. Akiba had that as a [traditional]6 teaching, and furthermore the verse, Neither shall he go in to any dead body,7 supports him. — R. Simeon says: All his life he declared [a quarter-log of blood from two corpses] unclean, whether he retracted after his death, I do not know.8 — A Tanna taught that [R. Simeon's] teeth grew black because of his fasts.9
Come and hear: It has been taught: Beth Shammai say that a quarter [-kab] of bones, be they any of the bones, whether from two [limbs] or from three,10 [is sufficient to cause defilement by overshadowing]. And Beth Hillel say, a quarter [-kab of bones] from a [single] corpse [is required], [and these bones must be derived] from [those bones which form] the greater part [of a skeleton] either in frame11 or in number.12 R. Joshua asserted: I can make the statements of Beth Shammai and Beth Hillel one.13 For [when] Beth Shammai say 'from two [limbs] or from three,' [they mean] either from two shoulders and one thigh, or from two thighs and one shoulder, since this is the major part of a man's structure in height, whilst Beth Hillel say [the quarter kab must be taken] from the corpse, [viz.] from the greater part either in structure14 or in number, for this [numerical majority] is to be found in the joints of the hands and feet.15 Shammai says even a [single] bone, from the backbone or from the skull [defies by overshadowing]!16 — Shammai is different, as he takes the more stringent view.17
Can one infer from this that Shammai's18 reason is that he takes the stricter view, but the Rabbis would require both backbone and skull? — No! For the Rabbis may only disagree with Shammai concerning a single bone coming from the backbone or the skull, but where these are complete one alone [may be sufficient].
Rammi b. Hama propounded: What is the law in the case of a quarter [-kab] of bones [coming] from the backbone and the skull? When [our Mishnah] stated that a half-kab of bones [is required], was it only where there are present [bones] from its other limbs [too], but since [the bones] from the backbone and skull are treated more seriously, even a quarter [-kab] of bones [is sufficient], or perhaps there is no difference?19 — Raba replied: Come and hear: [We learnt:] THE BACKBONE AND THE SKULL.20 Now if you assume that a quarter [-kab] of bones coming from the backbone and the skull is to be taken more seriously,21 it should state 'for a quarter [-kab] of bones coming from the backbone etc.'?22 —
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