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Thought for the Day: How Tuma Leaks Out and How to Contain It

Tuma is kind of like the spiritual equivalent of radioactivity.  You can't see it, taste it, nor smell it; but it's there and it can do damage.  It only affects Jews, though it affects some Jews -- notably kohanim -- more than others.  So let's suppose you have a kohein coming for dinner and you have a ladle full of corpse lying around.  (I don't know how you ended up with that problem -- kasha af ah maisa/figure out a scenario.)

First of all, like everything else in halacha, there are shiurim/sizes.  It takes at least a k'zayis of corpse to cause any problems at all.  If the ladle of corpse (LOC, going forward) is under the sky, then the kohein would have to actually step over or under it to be affected (unless its in a cemetery, but he probably shouldn't be anyway).  If, however, the LOC is covered by at least a tefach (about 4") square of ceiling that is at least a tefach away, then the tuma is contained; the kohein could even pick up that box and walk around with it.  That's because one cubic tefach is the minimum size of a halachic oheil (tent/room -- would still likely run you pr 100$/month in Manhattan).  If the box is smaller than that in any dimension, then you have "tuma r'tzutza"/crushed tuma and it again leaks; straight up and straight down, just as if it weren't there.

The down side of being inside an oheil is that the tuma essentially fills all available space.  Suppose you have a house with a hole in the ceiling/attic/roof (all the way through).  If your LOC is directly under that opening, then the tuma goes straight up (and straight down), but the house itself is not filled with tuma.  On the other hand, if the LOC is not under the chimney, then your kohein friend can walk on the roof and even step over the chimney without fear of tumafication.  More than that, your other kohein friend can stay in the house as long as he restricts himself to the area directly under the chimney (think Mr. Freeze vs Batman).

All of this, of course, is true as along as your friend on the roof doesn't actually step on the chimney, thus completing the roof and causing the tuma to fill the void previously left pristine.  In that case your friend in the house has just been dosed with tumas meis and will need to wait for the next (and final) red heifer before he can begin  the purification process.  What about your friend on the roof with the big foot?  If the chimney is less than a tefach square, then he is fine.  You see, tuma can't travel through holes that are smaller than a tefach square.  If the chimney is bigger than a sqare tefach, of course, then the tuma will not only fill the house, but it will also travel through the chimney and also tumify the roof walker.

What if half the LOC is under the roof and half under the chimney?  Go see the 10th perek of the masechta ohalim... I don't want to ruin it for you.


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