Toharot, Chapter One, Mishnah One



Today’s mishnah deals with purity rules that govern the carrion of a clean bird. Leviticus 17:15 states, “Any person, whether citizen or stranger, who eats what has died or has been torn by beasts shall wash his clothes, bathe in water, and remain unclean until evening, then he shall be clean.” The rabbis interpret this verse as referring to clean birds, meaning birds that can be eaten if slaughtered in a valid manner. This distinguishes the impurity of the carrion of a bird from the carrion of a beast which is referred to in Leviticus 11:39-40.

There are thirteen rules with regard to the carrion of a clean bird. They are outlined in today’s mishnah and in tomorrow’s.


Mishnah One

Thirteen rulings govern the carrion of a clean bird:

1)      There must be intention; 

2)      It need not be rendered susceptible; 

3)      It conveys food uncleanness if its minimum bulk is that of an egg;

4)      And it conveys uncleanness  when in one’s gullet  if its minimum bulk is that of an olive;

5)      He that eats of it must wait  until sunset [to be clean]; 

6)      Guilt is incurred on account of it for entering the sanctuary;  

7)      Terumah is burned on account of it;  

8)      He who eats a limb of it while it is alive suffers forty lashes;  

9)      Slaughtering it or nipping [off its neck] cleanses it even if it is terefah, the words of Rabbi Meir.  

a)      Rabbi Judah says: they do not cleanse it.

b)      Rabbi Yose says: the slaughtering  does cleanse it but nipping does not.



Section one: For the carrion of the clean bird to be impure he must have thought about using it for food. For instance, he might have thought about giving it to a non-Jew. In contrast, regular food that is permitted to a Jew need not have been intended to be eaten for it to be susceptible to impurity.

Section two: The carrion need not be rendered susceptible to impurity through contact with a liquid for it to defile. This is because it itself is impure, unlike other foods that are merely susceptible to impurity. The bird carrion is treated like impure food even though it did not come into contact with anything impure.

Section three: If clean food comes into contact with a piece of bird carrion the size of an egg, the clean food becomes defiled with second degree impurity.

Section four: If a person eats of this carrion (it is forbidden to do so, but he does so anyway) as long as the carrion is in his gullet he is a “father of impurity.” During this period he will defile clothes and vessels which he is contact with. This is how the rabbis interpreted the verse quoted in the introduction above.

Section five: The person who eats the carrion remains impure until the evening. He is not purified just by immersing in the mikveh. This is stated explicitly in the verse above.

Section six: If one eats the carrion and then unwittingly enters the Temple while still impure, he is liable for entering the Temple while impure. He will need to bring a sacrifice to atone for his sin.

Section seven: If the carrion touches terumah it defiles it and the terumah must be burned. Similarly, if a person eats the carrion and then touches terumah, it must be burned.

Section eight: If one eats a limb torn from a living clean bird he is liable for eating a limb torn from a living animal. Elsewhere we learn that other sages say that this law is applicable only to limbs torn from beasts. The punishment for this is forty lashes, the same punishment that is, at least theoretically, applicable to one who transgresses any negative commandment.

Section nine: A terefah is a bird/animal that has been found to have a defect that would have caused it to die (for a list of such defects see chapter three of Hullin). A bird that is a terefah defiles, as does carrion. According to Rabbi Meir, if one slaughters a bird correctly, or if it is a sacrificial bird one nips off the head at the neck (this is how birds were sacrificed), and then it turns out that the bird is a terefah, the bird is not impure. In other words, since the bird was properly slaughtered, it doesn’t defile, even if in the end, it was not edible.

Rabbi Judah says that since the bird is after all inedible, it still defiles.

Rabbi Yose argues that melikah (nipping off the head of a bird sacrifice) does not cause it to be pure, if it is found to be a terefah. Rabbi Meir and Rabbi Yose argue out their logic in Zevahim 7:6, see there for more information.