As we learned on yesterday’s daf, the fifth perek of Massekhet Sota is a collection of homiletic interpretations of a number of biblical passages. The thread that holds these interpretations together is the fact that they were all said bo ba-yom – “on that day” – which is to say, on the day that Rabban Gamliel was removed from his post as head of the Sanhedrin and replaced by Rabbi Elazar ben Azarya. On that day a large number of open questions were examined and clarified – many of which appear in Massekhet Eduyyot.
It appears that the shift from Rabban Gamliel to Rabbi Elazar ben Azarya included a change in the method of learning in the beit midrash. This allowed for greater freedom among the scholars to present their own learning and interpretations, which brought up teachings that had never been shared before. While the first teaching of Rabbi Akiva that appears in our perek – which was, according to Rashi, taught bo ba-yom – relates directly to sota, the ones that follow deal with a wide variety of subjects.
The second bo ba-yom teaching brought in the name of Rabbi Akiva focuses on the question of tumah and specifically how far removed an object might be from the source of tumah, and still retain an element of ritual defilement. Generally speaking, the levels of tumah work as follows:
- A dead body is avi avot ha-tumah – the highest level of tumah.
- Contact with an avi avot ha-tumah creates an av ha-tumah (a tumah source).
- Contact with an av ha-tumah creates a rishon le-tumah (one level removed from the source).
- A rishon le-tumah can create a sheni le-tumah (two levels removed) only if it touches food or drink.
- A sheni le-tumah can create a shelishi le-tumah (three levels removed) only if it touches teruma.
- A shelishi le-tumah can create a revi’i le-tumah (four levels removed) only if it touches kodesh (e.g. a sacrifice).