‘What Uncleanness Is There In A Nasal Discharge?’
(Niddah 55b- 56a)
The mishnah on 54b lists spittle (saliva) as one of the bodily secretions of a zav that convey tumah. This law appears in Vayikra 15:8: “Ve’chi yarok hazav batahor ve’chibes begadav ve’rachatz ba’mayyim ve’tamei ad ha’arev – And if the zav spit upon someone, that person shall immerse his garments and immerse himself in the water, and he remains unclean until the evening.”
A baraisa (on 55b) states that the term “if the zav spit” includes other secretions as well, such as mei ha’af (a nasal discharge). The Gemara then cites a dispute between Rav and Shmuel as to the meaning of mei ha’af: Shmuel says that it refers to all types of discharges – whether from the nose or the mouth since nasal secretions are no different than saliva.
Rav, on the other hand, asserts that a nasal secretion is not like saliva and therefore does not convey tumah. He says that the term mei ha’af in the baraisarefers to phlegm expelled through the mouth. The reason this phlegm conveys tumah is simply because it is impossible to discharge phlegm through the mouth without traces of saliva in it.
The commentators ask two compelling questions. First, the Aruch LaNer (ad loc.) asks why, according to Rav, must the baraisa derive the uncleanness of a nasal secretion from the pasuk “Ve’chi yarok.” Since the phlegm contains traces of saliva, it is self-evident that phlegm is unclean. Darshening the pasuk seems to be superfluous.
Second, the Be’er Avraham (Hilchos Metam’ei U’Moshav 1:14) asks why the small amount of saliva mixed in with the phlegm should be of any significance. Since the saliva comprises only a small percentage of the total mixture, it should be nullified in the majority (batal b’rov).
The Marcheshes (siman 37:1-10) explains that these questions present no difficulty. Indeed, each one provides the answer for the other. He explains that if not for the pasuk “Ve’chi yarok,” a zav’s phlegm would not be tamei despite the fact that it contains traces of saliva. Why? Because that small amount would, indeed, be batal b’rov as Be’er Avraham argues.
When Rav says that it is impossible to discharge phlegm through the mouth without traces of saliva, what he means to say is since orally-expelled phlegm invariably contains saliva, it is logical to treat such a discharge more stringently than a nasally-expelled discharge which contains no saliva. Rav assumes that “Ve’chi yarok,” which comes to include phlegm, does not include all discharges but only orally-expelled phlegm since it contains some saliva. Thus if not for the exposition from this pasuk, the miniscule amount of saliva would indeed be nullified.
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Rabbi Yaakov Klass and Rabbi Gershon Tannenbaum