We have learned about several cases where the stringencies related to kodesh (sacrificial food) do not apply to terumah (produce dedicated for consumption by the priests). Today’s daf takes up another one, in the process teaching us a new legal principle.
According to the mishnah on Chagigah 21, a person carrying an object stepped on by a zav (a male who becomes impure due to an abnormal seminal discharge) — which has first degree impurity — may simultaneously carry terumah, but not sacrificial food, lest there be inadvertent cross contamination. On today’s daf, we learn that this rule originated from an actual incident:
Rav Yehuda said that Shmuel said: There was once an incident involving someone who was transferring a barrel of sacrificial wine from one place to another, and the strap of his sandal (which had been rendered ritually impure by being trodden by a zav) broke off, and he picked up the strap and placed it on top of the mouth of the barrel, and it fell into the airspace of the barrel, thereby rendering the entire barrel impure.
To prevent this from occurring again, the rabbis issued a decree that when carrying an object that is impure by having been stepped on by a zav, one may not simultaneously carry sacrificial food. The Gemara raises an obvious objection: Why only apply this decree to sacrificial foods? Shouldn’t we be as concerned about maintaining the purity of terumah as well?
In response, the Gemara quotes Rabbi Hananya ben Akavya:
They prohibited it only in the Jordan River, and only in a boat, in a situation similar to the incident that occurred.
Hold on a minute. Didn’t Shmuel say that the ruling about carrying sacrificial food involved a broken sandal and a barrel of wine? Who said anything about a boat or the Jordan River?
Well, Rabbi Hananya ben Akavya did. But it turns out that he was talking about a different case. So why does the Gemara quote him here?
Let’s take a look at the other case, again reported by Rav Yehuda, to try and figure that out:
Rav Yehuda said that Rav said: There was once an incident involving a person who was transferring water of purification and ashes of purification in the Jordan river, and he was on a boat, and an olive-bulk from a corpse was discovered stuck in the floor of the boat. At that time the sages said: A person may not carry water of purification and ashes of purification and transport them across the Jordan on a boat.
In this rather strange scenario, a tiny bit of a human body was discovered in a boat, rendering the water and ashes in the boat impure. As a result, the rabbis banned the transport of water of purification and ashes of purification across the Jordan.
Initially, the sages sought to apply the restrictions not only to the Jordan river, but to all rivers. But Rabbi Hananya ben Akavya isn’t having it:
The sages prohibited these acts only in the Jordan River, and only if he transports them in a boat, and in circumstances exactly like those of the incident that occurred.
It’s not the details that are important here, but the larger point: Rabbi Hananya ben Akavya wants us to know that when a decree is made on the basis of a particular incident, it applies only to the specific circumstances that gave rise to it. So if the rabbis responded to the boat case by banning transport of sacrificial items across the Jordan in a boat, the ruling applies only to the Jordan — not to other rivers.
Likewise, in our case, since the decree forbidding simultaneously carrying food and an object rendered impure because it was stepped on by a zav emerged from a case in which sacrificial food was being carried, the decree applies only to sacrificial food — even if logic dictates that we be similarly concerned about cross-contamination of terumah.
Rabbi Hananya ben Akavya’s statement about boats and the Jordan river comes from a specific context, but the Gemara quotes it because it outlines a broader principle. This can be a bit confusing until the Gemara clarifies things by sharing information about the other case.
Both cases are examples of real-life occurrences — a broken sandal and the discovery of a small bit of flesh from a dead body — that rendered impure something that is supposed to remain pure. But it’s not actually forbidden to carry an impure sandal strap and sacrificial food at the same time, nor is it forbidden to bring waters of purification on a boat on the Jordan River. The rabbis prohibited these actions only because of mishaps that actually occurred. Rabbi Hananya seeks to protect against rabbinic overreach by preventing his colleagues from expanding the number of scenarios in which stricter rules apply.
Read all of Chagigah 23 on Sefaria.