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Ritual Purity Laws of Judaism, Table of Contents

 

 

Laws of Religion

Laws of Judaism

Concerning Ritual Purity and Cleanliness

 

6.  Ritual Purity and Animals

 

from the Biblical Books of Moses (Torah)

and the Code of Maimonides (Mishneh Torah)

 

 

6.  Ritual Purity and Animals

From the Biblical Books of Moses (Torah)

 

(Editor’s note: While there are numerous laws concerning ritual purity in Judaism, only certain specific practices based on these laws are observed today, as hexplained in the Introduction to this section. Ritual purity laws whose procedures are still followed today are so noted in our summaries.)

 

A person is made impure by the carcass of an animal that does not have cloven hooves or one that does not chew its cud or an animal that goes on its paws, among those who go on all four. One who touches such a carcass will be made impure until evening. A person who carries part of such a carcass is to wash his clothes and will be impure until evening.[1]

 

A person is also made impure until evening by touching the carcass of a creeping animal, including the weasel, the mouse, the lizard (or tortoise), the gecko and the chameleon.[2] (Editor’s note: The names of these creeping animals vary from translation to translation because their identities are not completely known.) The Lord commands the Israelites not to make themselves abominable or impure with creeping creatures.[3]

 

When the carcass of any of these creeping things falls on an object, whether it is something made of wood or skin or is clothing or a sack, if it is useful then it is to be put in water and it will be impure until evening, at which time it will be pure again.[4]  Whatever such a carcass falls upon becomes impure. An oven or stove becomes impure in this way and must be broken into pieces.[5] Exceptions, which remain pure when a carcass of a creeping animal fall onto them, are a spring, a cistern with water[6] and a dry seed to be planted;[7] if the seed has water on it then it becomes impure when any part of the carcass falls upon it.[8] If the carcass falls on an earthenware vessel, then everything in that vessel is rendered impure and the vessel is to be broken.[9] Any liquid that can be drunk becomes impure. If water comes on any food that may be eaten, that food becomes impure.[10] (Editor’s note: The meaning of this last sentence, taken from Leviticus 11:34, varies from translation to translation. Some say that it refers to water coming on food in the earthenware container into which the dead creeping animal has fallen. Others say it refers to water from such an earthenware container getting onto any food that may be eaten or to water coming onto food that then is in contact with a carcass of a creeping animal. This is the Torah commandment which Maimonides cites in saying that all foods or drink can become impure.[11] Maimonides specifically cites the necessity of a seed being wet before the carcass of the forbidden animal can cause it to become impure (Leviticus 11:37-38) as the basis for the rule that only foods that are made wet by one of seven particular liquids are susceptible to becoming impure.)

 

Touching an animal of a type permitted for eating that died by itself makes a person impure until evening.[12]  If a person carries or eats such an animal, he is to wash his clothes and he will be impure until evening.[13] A person who eats an animal that died by itself or was torn by other animals is to bathe himself and wash his clothes and he will be impure until evening, at which time he will become pure.[14]

 

 

Ritual Purity and Animals

Jewish Law (Halakha) from the Code of Maimonides (Mishneh Torah)

 

The flesh of a dead animal,[15] including its bone marrow,[16] is a Father of Impurity. (A dead animal is one that died other than by proper ritual slaughter. Its flesh is referred to as dead meat.)

 

The flesh from an animal that is not permitted for eating is dead meat and therefore a Father of Impurity, whether or not the animal was slaughtered according to ritual procedures.[17] A person or useful object susceptible to impurity becomes impure by touching such flesh as does a person who carries it without touching it. Useful objects that are susceptible to impurity become impure if a person carrying flesh of a dead animal touches them.[18] The flesh of any animal slaughtered improperly[19] or by a non-Jew[20] is dead meat and transfers impurity to a person who carries it.

 

Unlike dead meat from other animals, discussed above, dead meat from a bird that is permitted for eating makes a person impure only when it is eaten, not when it is touched or carried.[21]

 

Touching a dead creeping thing makes a person or an object impure.[22] Only the eight types of creeping things specified in Leviticus 11:29-30 make a person impure. Other disgusting or swarming things, like frogs, snakes and scorpions do not convey impurity even when dead, even though they are forbidden for eating.[23] Touching a living animal does not make a person or anything else impure even if it is forbidden to eat the meat of that animal;[24] thus, creeping things do not convey impurity until they are actually dead.[25]

 

Even when the flesh of a dead animal is a Father of Impurity, the bones, horns, hooves and skin of that animal do not transmit impurity when they are separated from the flesh.[26] Neither does the rennet or milk of such an animal transmit impurity.[27] Skin removed from the carcass of a pig or certain parts of a camel is considered to be flesh and is therefore impure and makes a person impure when it is touched, but tanning of that skin renders it pure.[28] Although living pigs are pure, the raising of pigs anywhere was prohibited by the Sages. They said that this was because of the damage they cause rather than because of any consideration about their being pure or impure. Similar concerns about damage led the Sages to prohibit the raising of dogs anywhere except in a town near the border, and to require that the dogs be chained up during the day.[29]

 

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Laws of Religion is a project of the Religion Research Society.

 

Updated October 16, 2016

 

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Ritual Purity Laws of Judaism, Table of Contents

 

Abbreviations used in footnotes:

Gen: The Biblical book of Genesis.

Exod: The Biblical book of Exodus.

Lev: The Biblical book of Leviticus.

Num: The Biblical Book of Numbers.

Deut: The Biblical Book of Deuteronomy.

MT:  The Mishneh Torah of Maimonides (Code of Maimonides). The names of the specific books and treatises within each book are given according to the Yale University Press translation and also the Moznaim/Touger Hebrew transliterations to facilitate locating the texts posted here.

F:  indicates page numbers in the Feldheim Publishers, Ltd., translation of Book 1 of the Mishneh Torah of Maimonides, the Book of Knowledge.

M:  indicates page numbers in the relevant volume of the Moznaim Publishing Corporation’s Touger translation. (Some of the books of Mishneh Torah are published in several volumes by Moznaim, so the Moznaim volume numbers do not correspond to the Book numbers of Maimonides’ work.)

Y:  indicates page numbers in the translation of the Yale University Press Judaica Series.

●  The sources cited are described on the page Source Texts Used for Laws of Judaism.

 



[1] Lev 11:24-28

[2] Lev 11:29-31, Lev 11:40-44

[3] Lev 11:43-44

[4] Lev 11:32

[5] Lev 11:35

[6] Lev 11:36

[7] Lev 11:37

[8] Lev 11:38

[9] Lev 11:33

[10] Lev 11:34

[11] MT Book 10, The Book of Cleanness, Sefer Taharah; Treatise 5 on Other Fathers of Uncleanness, Chapter 7, sec 1 (page 278Y); MT Book 10, The Book of Cleanness, Sefer Taharah; Treatise 6 on Uncleanness of Foodstuffs, Note (page 332Y)

[12] Lev 11:39

[13] Lev 11:40

[14] Lev 17:15

[15] MT Book 10, The Book of Cleanness, Sefer Taharah; Treatise 5 on Other Fathers of Uncleanness, Chapter 1, secs 1-2 (page 255Y)

[16] MT Book 10, The Book of Cleanness, Sefer Taharah; Treatise 5 on Other Fathers of Uncleanness, Chapter 1, sec 4 (page 256Y)

[17] MT Book 10, The Book of Cleanness, Sefer Taharah; Treatise 5 on Other Fathers of Uncleanness, Chapter 1, sec 3 (pages 255-256Y)

[18] MT Book 10, The Book of Cleanness, Sefer Taharah; Treatise 5 on Other Fathers of Uncleanness, Chapter 1, sec 1 (page 255Y)

[19] MT Book 10, The Book of Cleanness, Sefer Taharah; Treatise 5 on Fathers of Uncleanness, Chapter 1, sec 2 (page 255Y)

[20] MT Book 10, The Book of Cleanness, Sefer Taharah; Treatise 5 on Other Fathers of Uncleanness, Chapter 2, sec 10 (pages 262-263Y)

[21] MT Book 10, The Book of Cleanness, Sefer Taharah; Treatise 5 on Other Fathers of Uncleanness, Chapter 3, sec 1 (pages 263-264Y)

[22] MT Book 10, The Book of Cleanness, Sefer Taharah; Treatise 5 on Other Fathers of Uncleanness, Chapter 4, secs 1-2 (page 267Y); sec 14 (page 269Y)

[23] MT Book 10, The Book of Cleanness, Sefer Taharah; Treatise 5 on Other Fathers of Uncleanness, Chapter 4, sec 14 (page 269Y)

[24] MT Book 10, The Book of Cleanness, Sefer Taharah; Treatise 5 on Fathers of Uncleanness, Chapter 2, sec 1 (pages 259-260Y)

[25] MT Book 10, The Book of Cleanness, Sefer Taharah; Treatise 5 on Other Fathers of Uncleanness, Chapter 4, sec 14 (page 269Y)

[26] MT Book 10, The Book of Cleanness, Sefer Taharah; Treatise 5 on Fathers of Uncleanness, Chapter 1, sec 7 (pages 256-257Y)

[27] MT Book 10, The Book of Cleanness, Sefer Taharah; Treatise 5 on Other Fathers of Uncleanness, Chapter 1, sec 15 (page 259Y)

[28] MT Book 10, The Book of Cleanness, Sefer Taharah; Treatise 5 on Fathers of Uncleanness, Chapter 1, sec 9 (page 257Y)

[29] MT Book 11, The Book of  Torts, Sefer Nezikin; Treatise 1 on Damage by Chattels, Nizkei Mammon; Chapter 5, sec 9 (pages 58M 21Y)