Skip to main content

Thought for the Day: Bit of Corpse In Dead Dog Lying Across Threshold -- Questions?

I know one country western song joke.  (Apparently there is only one joke in that genre; as verified by the Google search I just did.)  This joke will only be funny to you if you grew up in the 60s and 70s when people were playing records backwards (trying doing that with them newfangled DVDs!) looking to find hidden messages from the obviously enlightened teenagers and 20somethings who were writing rock songs back then; even then, though, your mileage may vary.  Here's the joke:  What happens when you play a country western song backwards?  Answer: you get your dog back, your truck back, and your wife back.  (If you tell me that's an old one, you will only merit a blank stare.)

The mishna in Ohalos (11:7) asks a similar question: If a dog eats a k'zayis of corpse, then dies lying across your threshold, under what circumstances will your house be tamei?  (Ok, there's no truck, but I guarantee that your wife is out of there until you clean up this mess.)  It turns out you can pack a lot of halachic concepts into this macabre situation.

For example, an ohel/tent needs to be be at least one tefach (roughly 4") long by one tefach wide by one tefach high to cause the tuma to spread.  If the cavity is not at least that high (and wide and long) then then tuma simply breaks out; causing tuma only directly above and below the chunk of corpse.  There is a machlokes about how to measure that cubic tefach.  R' Meir measures the circumference of the entire neck, whereas R' Yose measure only the cavity of the throat.

Here's another one: when a corpse is lying in a room, then any rooms and doorways between him and the outside world (ie, cemetary, which is where he is headed) are tamei even before the corpse goes through them.  Other rooms and doorways through which the corpse will definitely not travel, however, remain tahor.  That's the heter for a cohein to go into the front doors of a hospital, by the way.  Even though there very likely are corpses in there, they never bring them out through the front doors (bad marketing).  R' Elazar, therefore, feels that whether or not the house is tamei has less to do with how big his neck is and more to do with which end is in the house.  If the mouth end is in the house, then the house is tahor, because that is not the usual exit route for already swallowed food.  R' Yehduda takes a much more Machiavellian approach; the dog, being dead, is now just an organic tent; the tuma comes out both ends.

One more thing: if the dog lives long enough after munching on the corpse, then we don't have any problem with tuma at all.  Ultimately, if his untimely end is delayed enough, then the corpse bits will have been digested and therefore have become just more dog; perhaps a bit disgusting, but perfectly tahor.  The mishna notes that food takes three full days (72 hours) to digest.  Apparently dogs in Bavel didn't live as well as they do in America and they didn't have aisles in the supermarkets dedicated to dog food and dog nutrition.  Dogs in Bavel had to scrape together a living, so HaShem provided them with slow digestion so they wouldn't feel hungry all the time (TB Shabbos 155b).

Physics, engineering, biology, physiology, anatomy, and even psychology all in one, little, unassuming mishna.


Popular posts from this blog

Thought for the Day: Battling the Evil Inclination on all Fronts

Yom Kippur.  When I was growing up, there were three annual events that marked the Jewish calendar: eating matzos on Passover, lighting candles on Chanuka, and  fasting on Yom Kippur.  Major news organizations around the world report on the "surreal" and "eerie" quiet of the streets in even the most secular neighborhoods of Israel.  Yom Kippur.

As you know, I am observant of Jewish law.  Some have even called me "ultra orthodox" (not in a kind way).  Given that, I have a question.  How likely do you think that I would be tempted to eat on Yom Kippur, that most holy day of the year?  Let's make the scale zero to ten, where zero is "as likely as driving through McDonald's on Shabbos and ordering a Big Mac with extra cheese." and ten is "as likely as breathing regularly".  Take your time.  If you answered "zero"; thank you, but -- sadly and penitently -- no.  The answer is more like nine; I'd like to say lower, but i…

Thought for the Day: Sometimes a Food Loses Its Identity When It Loses Its Bracha; Sometimes It Doesn't

Let's start with a question: Why are We Allowed to Drink Coffee and Whiskey Made by Non-Jews?  Before you ask,"Why would I think that I shouldn't be able to drink whiskey and coffee made by non-Jews?", I'll tell you. Simple, we all know that Chazal made a decree -- known as בישול עכו''ם/bishul akim -- that particular foods cooked by non-Jews are forbidden.  There are basically two criteria that determines if a dish falls into this category:
Is not consumed raw.Fit for a royal banquet. Cooked carrots, therefore, are not a problem since they can be eaten raw (I actually prefer them that way).  Baked beans are find because the are not prestigious enough.  (For great synopsis of the laws, see the article on the Star-K site, FOOD FIT FOR A KING, by Rabbi Moshe Heinemann, shlita.)  There are lots of cool questions and details (baked potatoes are prestigious, does that make even potato chips and issue?) which are for another time.  Clearly, though, both coffee an…

Thought for the Day: Coming Into This World for Torah, Avodah, and Acts of Loving Kindness

This TftD is so self-serving that I should be embarrassed.  But I am not... talking about grandchildren is always off budget.  I have, bli ayin hara, a beautiful new grandson; born at 6:11 PM CDT last Friday night.  The secular (aka -- by me, anyway -- slave) date is October 20, 2017 CE.  The Hebrew (aka Real) date is certainly Rosh Chodesh חשון/Cheshvan and certainly in the year 5778 since Creation.  The date, you ask... good question!

Sundown on Friday night was 6:01 PM CDT, which means he was born either at the end of the last day of תשרי or the beginning of the first day of Cheshvan; a period know as בין השמשות/twilight.  What's the big deal, you ask... I am so glad you asked.  We all deal quite handily with בין השמשות every week and every holiday; we're just stringent.  We start Shabbos and the first day of Yom Tov before בין השמשות; that is, before sundown.  Likewise, we end Shabbos and the first day of Yom Tov after בין השמשות; some 42, 50, 60, or 72 minutes after sundo…