ד׳ בטבת ה׳תש״פ (January 1, 2020)

Nidda 70a-b: Three Questions of Ignorance

As we learned on yesterday’s daf , Rabbi Yehoshua was presented with 12 questions by of Alexandria – three were of ḥokhma (wisdom), three were matters of aggada, three were ignorance and three were matters of behavior. The nonsense questions – together with the answers supplied by Rabbi Yehoshua – appear on today’s daf.

They asked: Does the wife of Lot (see Bereshit 19:26) transmit ritual impurity?
He replied: A corpse transmits ritual impurity but a pillar of salt does not.

Does the son of the Shunamite (see II Melakhim 4:35) transmit ritual impurity?
He replied: A corpse transmits ritual impurity but a living person does not.

With regard to the dead who will be resurrected in the future, will they require sprinkling with the ashes of the red heifer on the third and the seventh days (for purification after coming into contact with a corpse) (see Bamidbar 19:12) or will they not require it?

He replied: When they will be resurrected we shall go into the matter.
Others say that Rabbi Yehoshua said: When they come, Moses our teacher will come with them and teach us the correct.

There are different opinions about why these questions are labeled “questions of ignorance.” Rashi says that the questions are simply absurd. In his Ḥokhmat Bezalel, Rabbi Bezalel Ranschberg argues that rather than divrei borut (“nonsense”), the expression should be read divrei borot (“matters of interment”), which merely indicates that these were questions that related to issues having to do with those who died.

In his She’arim HaMetzuyim BaHalakha, Rabbi Shlomo Zalmen Braun points out that even though these questions that were posed to Rabbi Yehoshua ben Ḥananya were not of great significance, nevertheless he took them seriously and gave substantive answers to them, rather than reject them out of hand. The central idea is that a Sage must be willing to take all questions seriously, even if they are questions that have no significance, since if he refuses to do so the questioner will refrain from turning to him even when he has important issues that need to be discussed.