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For Want Of A Miracle
‘Levi Taught: [It Is The] Liquids of the Altar’
(Pesachim 17a)



According to R. Yosi b. Yo’ezer (cited on 16a), liquid (e.g., blood) in the area where shechita is performed in the Beis HaMikdash is always tahor. R. Yosi maintains that only food is biblically susceptible to tumah; beverages do contract tumah, but only due to a rabbinic decree, and the Sages limited their decree to beverages outside the Temple.

They didn’t extend it to beverages inside the Beis HaMikdash because they wished to minimize the loss of sacrifices due to tumah.

Two Versions

The Gemara (17a) cites two versions of R. Yosi b. Yo’ezer’s statement. Rav’s version was “mashkin bei mitbechaya – liquids in the place of shechitah,” whereas Levi’s version was “mashkin bei madbechaya – liquids of the mizbe’ach.”

According to Rav, R. Yosi’s leniency is limited to blood and water (which are found in the place of shechitah), but according to Levi, R. Yosi’s leniency applies even to oil and wine (since these, too, were offered on the mizbe’ach).


The Miracle Of The Oil

In relating the story of Chanukah (Shabbos 21b), the Gemara states that the triumphant Hasmoneans, after routing the Greeks from the Temple, found one sealed cruse of undefiled oil which, when lit, miraculously burned for eight days.


R. Yosi b. Yo’ezer’s View Difficult

The gaon Rabbi Itzel Hamburg (cited in the Novellae of Rabbi Shmuel Shmelke Toibash found in the back of our Vilna Shas), citing our sugya, questions the necessity for the miracle of Chanukah. Even had the Greeks opened all the sealed vessels of oil, they still should have been valid for use in the menorah according to R. Yosi b. Yo’ezer who maintains that beverages in the Temple are impervious to tumah.


One Solution

To answer this question, Responsa Sho’el Umeishiv (section 3, vol. 1:42) cites a Gemara (Avodah Zarah 52b) that derives from Ezekiel 7:22 – “The ravagers will enter the Beis HaMikdash and desecrate it” – that when the Beis HaMikdash was breached by the Greek armies, its sanctity was revoked. Since the Beis HaMikdash had lost its sanctity, any liquids lying in it at the time no longer were impervious to tumah.


Another Solution

Rabbi Uri Shraga Toibash (cited in the Novellae of Rabbi Shmuel Shmelke Toibish) suggests another answer. He points out that the question is only relevant according to Levi’s version of R. Yosi b. Yo’ezer, who says oil, too, is impervious to tumah.

The Gemara (17a) states that Levi concurs with Shmuel, who maintains that R. Yosi b. Yoezer never said liquids of the altar are always pure; all he said was that these liquids after contracting tumah lack the ability to transmit tumah to other foods or liquids. Thus we see the need for the miracle of Chanukah.


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Rabbi Yaakov Klass is Rav of K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush; Torah Editor of The Jewish Press; and Presidium Chairman, Rabbinical Alliance of America/Igud HaRabbonim.