R. Yosi b. Yoezer (cited on 16a) maintains that liquids (e.g. blood) in the area where shechita is performed in the Beis Hamikdash are always tahor (even if they come in contact with something impure). As mentioned previously (16a), R. Yosi argues that only food is biblically susceptible to tumah. Beverages, on the other hand, contract tumah only due to a rabbinic decree, and the Sages limited their decree to beverages outside the Temple. They lifted their decree on beverages inside the Beis Hamikdash because they sought to minimize the loss of sacrifices due to tumah.
The Gemara (on 17a) cites two versions of R. Yosi b. Yoezer’s statement. Rav’s version is “mashkin bei mitbachei – liquids in the place of shechita” whereas Levi’s version is “mashkin bei midbachei – liquids of the mizbeach.” According to Rav, R. Yosi’s leniency is limited to blood and water which are found in the area of shechita, whereas according to Levi, R. Yosi’s leniency applies even to oil and wine since these, too, are offered on the mizbeach.
The Miracle Of The Oil
In telling the story of Chanukah (Shabbos 21b), the Gemara relates that the triumphant Hasmoneans, after routing the Greeks, found one sealed cruise of undefiled oil in the Temple which miraculously burned for eight days.
R. Yosi b. Yoezer’s Difficult View
The gaon Rabbi Itzel Hamburg (cited in the novellae of Rabbi Shmuel Shmelke Toibash, found in the back of our Vilna Shas – Shabbos, folio 52a, to Shabbos 21b) questions why the miracle of the oil was necessary. Even had the Greeks opened all the sealed vessels of oil, they still would have been tahor, and thus valid for use in the menorah, if R. Yosi b. Yoezer is correct that beverages in the Temple are impervious to tumah.
To answer this question, Resposa Sho’el Umeishiv (section 3, Vol 1:42) cites Avoda Zara 52b which states that when the Beis Hamikdash was breached by the Greek armies, it lost its sanctity. Therefore, liquids in the Temple no longer had the status of “liquids in the place of shechita.” That’s why all the oil except the small cruise that the Hasmoneans found could not be used for the menorah.
Rabbi Uri Shraga Toibash (cited in the novellae of Rabbi Shmuel Shmelke Toibash, ad loc.) suggests another answer. First, he points out that the question is only relevant according to Levi’s version of R. Yosi b. Yoezer’s statement (which talks about liquids in the place of the mizbeach, and thus encompasses oil).
Second, the Gemara (on 17a) states that Levi concurs with Shmuel who maintains that R. Yosi b. Yoezer never said that liquids of the altar are always pure. All he said was that these liquids, after contracting tumah, cannot transmit tumah to other foods or liquids. They themselves are not impervious to becoming tamei. Thus the need for the miracle of the oil.