Even after Ze’iri quoted the ruling that abolished the decree of Ezra the Scribe requiring immersion and purification prior to Torah study (see above, daf 20, the Gemara continues to discuss those who followed this practice. Thus we find Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi asking: “What is the essence of those who immerse themselves in the morning?” The Gemara clarifies this question to be one of why immersion in a full 40-se’ah ritual bath would be necessary when other options are available, e.g., pouring nine-kav of water over the individual.
Those mentioned here as “immersing in the morning” may have once comprised a clearly defined group who deviated from the path established by the Sages in different ways.
Those who immerse in the morning said: We rail against you Pharisees, for you recite the Name of God in a state of impurity. They replied: We rail against you who immerse in the morning, for you recite the Name in an impure body. Apparently, those who immersed in the morning considered themselves separate from the Pharisee Sages of Israel. Indeed, some theorize that this refers to an Essene cult that was particularly strict with regard to the laws of purity and whose members stringently purified themselves after seminal emissions by immersing in an actual ritual bath.
It is clear, however, that throughout the Talmudic period purification before Torah study was commonplace. The Gemara relates:
Rav Pappa and Rav Huna son of Rav Yehoshua, and Rava bar Shmuel ate bread together.
Rav Pappa said to them: Allow me to recite Grace after Meals for the group, as I am ritually pure because nine kav of water fell upon me; i.e., he poured it over himself.
Rava bar Shmuel said to them: We learned, in what case is this statement that nine kav purify, said? In a case involving Torah study for himself. But, in order to purify himself that he may teach Torah to others, and by extension to fulfill the obligation of others, he must immerse himself in forty se’ah. Rather, allow me to recite Grace after Meals for the group, as forty se’ah of water fell upon me; i.e., I immersed myself in a ritual bath.
Rav Huna said to them: Allow me to recite Grace after Meals for the group, as I have had neither this nor that upon me because I remained ritually pure.
Ultimately the Gemara concludes that there is no difference between the need to purify oneself for personal Torah study or to teach others, and, as we have learned, that the decree of Ezra no longer applies.