ט״ו בסיון ה׳תשע״ב (June 5, 2012)

Nidda 15a-b: When Doubt Trumps Certainty

Rav Shmu’el quotes Rabbi Yohanan as teaching that if a woman has a set menstrual cycle, her husband can figure the day when she is ritually pure and they can engage in relations – even if she does not tell him that she has already immersed in the mikvah. This ruling leads to a general discussion about the relationship between safek – a doubtful situation – and vadai – a firm reality. Will a possible change in status (e.g. immersion in a mikvah) allow us to assume that the reality (that the woman was a ) has changed?

One of the cases that is brought to help clarify this issue is the following:

It once happened that the handmaid of a certain tax-collector in Rimmon threw the body of a premature child into a pit, and a priest came and gazed into it to ascertain whether it was male or female, and when the matter came before they pronounced him clean because huldah and bardelas are commonly found there.

In this case it is clear that even though we know for certain that the dead body was in the pit, the kohen remahins ritually clean since one of these animals is likely to have removed it.

The huldah discussed in this case is most likely the black rat Rattus rattus or one of its close relatives like the Alexandria black rat Rattus rattus alexandrinus. This is a large rodent that grows up to 25 centimeters in size with its tail. These creatures eat just about anything. The black rat (whose color is really a dark grey) even catches small animal as prey, including house mice that are smaller and weaker than the rat.

From its appearance in different places in the Talmud, there are three different creatures that are referred to as a bardelas: a leopard, a hyena and the animal that is discussed in this case, usually identified as a genet. A genet is a small, carnivorous animal about the size of a cat. It usually has a pale grey and black spotted coat, with a long striped tail. In ancient times, the Egyptians would domesticate these animals and train them to catch mice. In this family there is a type of genet that is specific to the land of Israel – the genetta terrasanctae.