Ben-Tzion Spitz
Ben-Tzion Spitz
Former Chief Rabbi of Uruguay

Chukat: The dearness of impurity

 We are not naïve enough to ask for pure men; we ask merely for men whose impurity does not conflict with the obligations of their job. -Jean Rostand

The concept of ritual impurity plays a significant role in the Torah and Jewish law. The Torah deals extensively with a variety of scenarios where one contracts ritual impurity. There are several places and activities that are prohibited to a ritually impure person, and likewise, there are several processes enacted to purify such individuals and allow their return to either the places and/or the activities they were previously barred from because of their impure designation. The consequences of all of these laws had their greatest impact during Temple times, though some aspects remain in our current reality.

In its essence, the concept of ritual impurity in Jewish law can be most closely associated with death. Death, in a sense, is the ultimate source of impurity. The level of impurity is often a measure of the proximity of contact with death. A dead body is the highest level of impurity. People or items that touched or were housed together with the dead body can both contract and transmit lesser levels of impurity.

The Bechor Shor on Numbers 19:2 explains that some seemingly unusual comparisons can be made. For example, even a person as exalted and holy as the High Priest (Kohen Gadol), if he has died, he becomes a source of impurity, while the bones of a lowly donkey are considered pure.

Such a contrast became a source of contention and even ridicule on the part of the ancient Sadducees against the Rabbis of old. The Bechor Shor quotes their debate and brings the answer of the Rabbis (Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai, Tractate Yadayim 4:6) who states that “according to the affection for them, so is their impurity.”

A parent is incomparably more beloved than a donkey, and their remains should be treated with significantly more honor and respect. Hence, the fact that their remains contaminate, means we cannot utilize their remains for any other purpose. It reinforces the need for us to treat those remains with the utmost respect and give them an honorable burial. There are no such restrictions on using the remains of an animal.

According to this, there is not necessarily something wrong with a state of impurity. In fact, it can be considered a type of defense mechanism or even a status that demonstrates how dear something is to us.

May we understand and respect the few laws of impurity relevant in our days.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To the new Israeli government. Hoping good will come from it.

About the Author
Ben-Tzion Spitz is the former Chief Rabbi of Uruguay and a candidate for the Knesset for the Zehut party. He is the author of three books of Biblical Fiction and hundreds of articles and stories dealing with biblical themes. Ben-Tzion is a graduate of Yeshiva University and received his Master’s in Mechanical Engineering from Columbia University.
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