Zavim, Chapter Two, Mishnah Two



Zivah comes only from a genital disease or dysfunction. The rabbis considered it to be in a sense diseased semen (I know, this sounds a bit humorous). It has a different color from semen. If the rabbis could establish that the zivah came from another cause besides some genital disease, then they didn’t consider it be zivah. Our mishnah talks about what else we could attribute the zivah to.  


Mishnah Two

1)      There are seven ways in which a zav is examined as long as he had not become subject to zivah: 

2)      With regard to food, drink, as [to what] he had carried, whether he had jumped, whether he had been ill, what he had seen, or what he had thought.

3)      [It doesn’t matter] whether he had thoughts before seeing [a woman], or whether he had seen [a woman] before his thoughts.  

4)      Rabbi Judah says: even if he had watched beasts, wild animals or birds having intercourse with each other, and even when he had seen a woman’s dyed garments.

5)      Rabbi Akiva says: even if he had eaten any kind of food, be it good or bad, or had drunk any kind of liquid.  

a)      They said to him: Then there will be no zavim in the world!’  

b)      He replied to them: you are not held responsible for the existence of zavim!’ 

6)      Once he had become subject to zivah, no further examination takes place.  

7)      [Zov] resulting from an accident, or that was at all doubtful, or an issue of semen, these are unclean, since there are grounds for the assumption [that it is zivah].  

8)      If he had at a first [issue] they examine him; On the second [issue] they examine him, but on the third [issue] they don’t examine him.  

a)      Rabbi Eliezer says: even on the third [issue] they examine him because of the sacrifice.



Section one: When a person sees zivah, he can come to an expert and the expert could tell him that the appearance of the zivah is due to some other cause, not actual genital disease. If they find another reason as to why it occurred, they can keep him from becoming pure. However, this only works before he has become a zav, as we shall see at the end of this mishnah. Once he has already been declared a zav, the zivah can’t be attributed to anything else.

Section two: There are seven other things to which the rabbis attribute the appearance of zivah. Most of these are self-explanatory. Seeing refers to seeing a woman and having some sexual thoughts about her. “What he had thought” refers to having sexual thoughts about a woman. The rabbis also thought that the zivah could have been a result of eating some food, drink or carrying something, perhaps heavy.

Section three: It doesn’t matter whether he had the sexual thoughts before or after he saw the woman—in both cases, we can attribute the appearance of zivah to his sexual thoughts and not to genital disease.

Section four: Evidently, Rabbi Judah assumes that a man might be sexually aroused by seeing animals have sex or by seeing colored women’s clothing. Therefore, if he saw any of these and then saw zivah, we can attribute it to sexual arousal and not disease.

Section five: Rabbi Akiva is willing to attribute the appearance of zivah to anything whatsoever. As his students note, this will make it so there will never be any more zavim in the world. Remarkably, Rabbi Akiva responds that if his definition of zivah and why it occurs should make it such that there are no more zavim, then so be it. To me, this is the ultimate statement of Rabbi Akiva’s belief that law trumps reality. If he, the rabbi, dictates that we can attribute zivah to eating or drinking anything and it results in there never being any more zavim, then so be it.

Section six: If he has already seen zivah twice, then there is no more room to attribute it to anything else. In other words, these questions must be asked immediately, not after he is already considered a zav.

Section seven: If he has a seminal emission at the outset and a little bit of zivah also comes out, this zivah is not impure for one who has an emission does not defile through zivah for a 24 hour period. In other words, until he is decidedly impure the semen purifies the zivah, which is considered to have been an “accident.” However, after he has already seen zivah, a seminal emission does not purify the zivah, for we can’t assume that the zivah was a result of the semen. Therefore, in this case it counts as seeing zivah.

Section eight: If he saw zivah one time, they examine him as we explained above. If he saw it again, they can examine him again to see if they can attribute it to something else. But if he saw it a third time (without having been examined the first two times), they don’t examine him, for after the second time he was already a zav.

Rabbi Eliezer says they even examine him after the third time to ascertain that he is truly liable for a sacrifice. If he experienced the third issue for some other reason, then he is not liable for the sacrifice, even though he is a zav.