Makhshirin, Chapter Six, Mishnah Eight



Last mishnah of Makhshirin and the longest!

The argument here is over whether cow’s milk renders produce susceptible even when its flow wasn’t desired.


Mishnah Eight

1)      A woman’s milk renders unclean whether [its flow is] desired or is not desired, but the milk of cattle renders unclean only if [its flow is] desired.

2)      Rabbi Akiva said: there is a kal vehomer argument here: if a woman’s milk, which is specifically for infants, can render unclean whether [its flow is] desired or is not desired, all the more should the milk of cattle, which is for infants and adults, should render unclean both when [its flow is] desired and when it is not desired.

3)      They said to him: No; a woman’s milk renders unclean when [its flow is] not desired, because the blood issuing from her wound is unclean; but how could the milk of cattle render unclean when [its flow is] not desired, seeing that the blood issuing from its wound is clean?

4)      He said to them: I am stricter in the case of milk than in the case of blood, for if one milks for healing, [the milk] is unclean, whereas if one lets blood for healing, [the blood] is clean.  

5)      They said to him: let baskets of olives and grapes prove it; for liquids flowing from them are unclean only when [the flow is] desired, but when [the flow is] not desired they are clean.  

6)      He said to them: No; if you say [thus] of baskets of olives and grapes which are at first a solid food and at the end become a liquid, could you say [the same] of milk which remains a liquid from beginning to end?  

7)      Thus far was the argument.  

8)      Rabbi Shimon said: from here on in we used to argue before him: let rain water prove it, for it remains a liquid from beginning to end, and renders unclean only when [its flow is] desired.

9)      But he said to us: No; if you say [thus] of rain water, it is because most of it is intended not for human usage but for the soil and for trees, whereas most milk is intended for human usage.



Section one: This section lays down the rule concerning milk from a woman and milk from cattle. The rule is stricter with regard to the former—even if she didn’t desire its flow, it still causes susceptibility. When it comes to cattle milk (milk from a cow, sheep or goat) it causes susceptibility only if he wanted it.

Section two: The remainder of the mishnah is a long argument between the sages and Rabbi Akiva, who wishes to prove that cattle milk causes susceptibility even when its flow was not desired. He proves his point by saying that there is a kal vehomer argument, one made from by analogizing from the stricter to the more lenient case. Human milk is only for infants and nevertheless it causes susceptibility in all cases. All the more so should cattle milk which is for both human infants and human adults, cause susceptibility in all cases.

Section three: The other rabbis show that the rules governing a human are sometimes stricter than those governing an animal. Blood from a human wound causes susceptibility whereas blood from an animal wound does not. Therefore, there is no “kal”—lenient or “homer”—stringent when comparing humans to animals. The rules are simply different.

Section four: Rabbi Akiva responds by finding saying that the rules governing milk are more stringent than the rules governing blood. One who milks not because someone needs to drink the milk but just to get the milk out for health reasons, the milk does not cause susceptibility. But one who blood lets for health reasons, the blood is clean. Therefore, we should be strict with regard to milk—it causes susceptibility even if it was not desired.

Section five: The other rabbis resort to another analogy—the liquids that flow from grapes and olives while they are still in the basket before they begin to be pressed. Such liquid doesn’t cause susceptibility because he doesn’t desire it. So too when it comes to cattle, if the milk comes out and is not wanted, it doesn’t cause susceptibility.

Section six: Of course, Rabbi Akiva has an answer. Olives and grapes are turning from solid food into liquid food and therefore when liquid comes out that he doesn’t want, it doesn’t cause susceptibility. The same cannot be said with milk which is always a liquid.

Section seven: That was the end of the historical argument between Rabbi Akiva. In sections 8 and 9, Rabbi Akiva begins to argue with his students, including Rabbi Akiva.

Section eight: Rabbi Shimon argues that rainwater should prove that milk renders unclean only when he desires its flow. Rainwater causes susceptibility only when he wanted it to get his food wet. Therefore, cattle milk, which is also a liquid from beginning to start, should do the same.

Section nine: Rabbi Akiva points out that since most cattle milk is for human consumption, it is always considered a liquid, even when it wasn’t desired. Rain is mostly not for drinking—it is for watering the ground and for the trees. Therefore, cattle milk causes susceptibility no matter what.


Congratulations! We have completed Tractate Makhshirin!

As I always write, it is a tradition at this point to thank God for helping us finish learning the tractate and to commit ourselves to going back and relearning it, so that we may not forget it and so that its lessons will stay with us for all of our lives.

Tractate Makhshirin was probably the most obscure topic you could ever imagine—what liquids make food susceptible to impurity. I’ll admit, it’s not the topic you’ve dreamed about learning. Still there was one thing I found very interesting throughout the whole tractate—the role that intent plays in matters of purity and impurity. As we’ve seen over and over again, things are pure or impure not just based on what happens to them, but based on the intent of the human being who owned the object or who performed the activity. The central halakhah in this tractate is that food is susceptible only if the person wanted it to come into contact with the liquid. Indeed, this opens a window to one of the largest issues in the entire mishnah—how human intent actually affects the world. The rabbis believed that humans could affect the world not just by what they did but by their intent while doing it.   

As always, a hearty yasher koach upon completing the tractate and keep up the good work. Tomorrow we begin Zavim.