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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.


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