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Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Nazir

Folio 52a

R. Judah of Diskarta1  replied: Judge from the following. [It has been taught: From the verse, Whosoever doth touch] them [… shall be unclean],2  it might be thought that this is [only if he touches] whole [reptiles], and so Scripture says, [And upon whatsoever any] of them [… doth fall].3  From 'of them' [alone] it might be thought that part of them [defiles], and so Scripture says 'them'. How are [the texts to be] reconciled? [He is not unclean] unless he touches a part of one equivalent to a whole one and the Sages estimated this to be the size of a lentil, since the sand-lizard4  at its first formation5  is of the size of a lentil. Hence it follows that tradition specifies [a certain] size.6  R. Shemaya demurred: The reason that we require a [particular] size, so that if it is not the size of a lentil it does not defile, is because there is no life in it,7  but when there is life in it, [it may be that] no [minimum size is required].8  It is this question that is being put to you.9

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

To Part b

Original footnotes renumbered.
  1. V. supra p. 126, n. 6.
  2. Lev. XI, 31. Referring to dead reptiles.
  3. Ibid. 32. 'of' meaning even 'part of'.
  4. One of the reptiles which defile; v. Ibid. 30.
  5. But if less, it does not defile.
  6. For the sand-lizard is the size of a lentil when whole.
  7. As in the case of the dead sand-lizard.
  8. But only that the creature should be alive.
  9. And R. Judah of Diskarta has not answered this.
  10. That both must be in the room for the nazirite to poll.
  11. And he must poll if only one is there.
  12. Cf. the Tosef. where the reading is probably, 'vertebrae'.
  13. I.e., it does not defile through 'overshadowing'.
  14. And defiles if 'overshadowed'.
  15. Which joins the pieces together. Tosef. Oh.II, 3.
  16. Though the backbone alone is mentioned in the Tosefta.
  17. Adopting reading of Asheri.
  18. Perhaps even when the skull is there too.
  19. Stripped and the skull removed.
  20. Other renderings are, 'weavers', 'bronzeworkers'; v. Aruch and A.S. 27b. [We find a synagogue of Tarsians in Jerusalem, Tiberias and Lydda. According to Krauss, Synagogale Altertumer, p. 201, they are identical with the synagogues of Alexandrians, who had brought over with them, to Palestine, the industry in Tarsian carpets — an industry which flourished greatly in Egypt; v. also TA. II, 625.]
  21. I.e., under an opening in the roof to prevent it conveying uncleanness by 'overshadowing'.
  22. And so it could not convey defilement by 'overshadowing'. Tosef. Oh. IV, 2.
  23. And a nazirite had 'overshadowed' it.
  24. Lit., 'come and hear'.
  25. I.e., made by taking one bone from one corpse and another bone from a second corpse.
  26. This enumeration appears to be a digest of Oh. II, 6 and 7, or Tosef. 'Ed. I, 6; but is not quite identical with either.
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Nazir 52b

Now 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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Original footnotes renumbered.
  1. In the text there occurs here the following mnemonic for the alternative methods of arriving at the number six: 'The mnemonic is: An individual who polls and another'.
  2. In which case the norm is in accordance with R. Akiba.
  3. Oh. II, 7.
  4. This excludes the case of a limb set up from bones severed from two living beings: Tosaf. reads here: 'Only those cases relating to corpses are included (in the six), not those relating to living bodies'.
  5. V. our Mishnah.
  6. So Asheri.
  7. Lev. XXI, II; v. supra 38a.
  8. Tosef. Oh. IV, 2.
  9. To atone for the not quite respectful reference to his teacher. Cf. Hag. 22b.
  10. I.e., the quarter-kab must contain parts of more than one bone. Some (e.g. Maimonides to 'Ed. I, 7) interpret: from two corpses or from three.
  11. Lit., 'building' i.e. those bones which go towards forming the greater part of the frame, e.g.' the shoulder and thigh bones.
  12. A body contains 248 bones, whence the greater part in number is 125 bones. V. Mak. (Sonc. ed.) p. 169, n. 5.
  13. So that the two schools refer to different things and their opinions are not mutually exclusive.
  14. This is the shoulder and thigh.
  15. I.e., the bones in the hands and feet form the greater number of bones in the body, without being so important that they form the major part of the structure.
  16. Thus backbone or skull is meant. This should solve the reading in the Mishnah. Part of this Baraitha occurs as a Mishnah, 'Ed. I, 7.
  17. He holds that even a single bone defiled, hence does not require both the skull and backbone, but the Rabbis may disagree.
  18. The printed text reads in error 'Beth Shammai'.
  19. And even here a half-kab is necessary. The Wilna Gaon deletes the last sentence as an interpolation based on false premises. He asserts that the query is whether a quarter-kab of bones from the skull or backbone conveys uncleanness by overshadowing, even as a quarter-kab derived from the great part of a skeleton either in frame or in number, and connects with Oh. II, 1 q.v.
  20. According to Rashi the Tosef. quoted at foot of 52a is referred to, Tosaf. thinks it is our Mishnah, whilst the Wilna Gaon refers it to Oh. II, 1.
  21. R. Elijah of Wilna reads: is unclean.
  22. For this is less than a whole skull and includes it.
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