Mikvaot, Chapter One, Mishnah One



Mikvaot begins with a list of “six degrees” of the purity of mikvaot. [We should note that many tractates begin with numbers. For instance, Shabbat, Shevuot, Kiddushin, Ohalot, etc. It seems that the tannaim liked starting mishnayot in this way].

 “Mikveh” here refers to any water gathered in the ground.

Our mishnah deals with laws concerning water gathered in pools that don’t have forty seah in them. This shall be the topic of the first five mishnayot of the chapter.


Mishnah One

1)      There are six degrees of mikvaot, each superior to the other. 

2)      The water of pools [smaller than 40 seah]  — if an unclean person drank of it and then a clean person drank of it, he becomes unclean; 

3)      If an unclean person drank of it and then drew water from it in a clean vessel, [the vessel] becomes unclean; 

4)      If an unclean person drank of it and then a loaf of terumah fell in:

a)      If he washed [his hands] in it, it becomes unclean;

b)      But if he did not wash [his hands] in it, it continues clean.



Section one: This is the introduction to the entire first chapter.

Section two: If an unclean person came and drank from a pool of water, and then a clean person came and drank from the same water, the clean person becomes unclean. This is because it is possible that the clean person drank from the exact water that the unclean person touched. Although water that is still “connected to the ground” by virtue of it being in a pool cannot become impure (see Leviticus 11:36) the mishnah considers the water that was removed from the pool and then put back in by the unclean person to be separate from the other water. This already-defiled water does not mix back in with the pool and become nullified. When the clean person removes some water, this water is now detached from the ground and since there will be some of the unclean water with it, all of the water is defiled. The water then defiles the clean person by contact.

Section three: Similarly, a clean vessel is defiled by contact with this water. Again, the water inside does not become nullified.

Section four: In this case a loaf of bread falls in and then someone takes it out. If the person who took it out first washed his hands off in the water, then he hands are unclean and he will defile the loaf.

If, however, he does not first wash his hands off, then the loaf remains clean. The reason is a bit complicated. The water in the pool cannot become impure until it has been removed from the pool. When he removes this water, the clean water is greater in quantity than the unclean water and therefore the unclean water is nullified. In this case, we don’t say that the unclean water defiles the clean water, as we said in section two because we hold that the unclean water has been absorbed by the loaf. Since this water cannot be seen, it is considered to be nullified by the clean water.

I realize that this is complicated. Just remember—I didn’t write it.