The Mishna on today’s daf turns its attention to a woman whose fetus dies in utero and the questions of ritual defilement that stem from that situation. According to the Mishna, if the midwife reached into the womb and touched the dead fetus, she contracts ritual defilement of contact with the dead; the mother remains ritually pure until the fetus is delivered.
The Gemara explains that on a Torah level the dead fetus does not defile as long as it has not been delivered since this is a situation of tum’ah belu’ah – “encapsulated defilement” – which does not ritually defile. The defilement contracted by the midwife is a rabbinic decree, lest the fetus’ head is delivered – which determines that the fetus defiles – and the midwife believes that it has not yet attained that status.
With regard to the mother, however, there are several different explanations offered by the commentaries for the ruling that tum’ah belu’ah does not ritually defile.
- In our Gemara, Rashi explains that we view the ritually defiled object as digested, so it does not defile anything else; in a similar vein we find in Massekhet Nidda (daf 42b) that he explains that once tum’ah becomes belu’ah in an animal it is as though it had disappeared and cannot spread the tum’ah by touching it nor by carrying it.
- The Meiri and others suggest that given its minor status within the host animal, it is seen as negligible.
- Rabbeinu Ḥayyim HaLevi (Mishnah Torah, Hilkhot Tum’at Met 22:2) presents the Rambam’s opinion that the rule of tum’ah belu’ah is limited only to things that are enveloped within a living creature and argues that the body serves as a ḥatzitza – a separation that protects the ritually defiled object from affecting others, just like a cover on an earthenware vessel keeps the tum’ah restricted to that vessel so that it cannot affect others.