Visiting the Temple Mount in Our Time (Part 2 of 3)

  • Harav Aharon Lichtenstein
The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

Halakha: A Weekly Shiur In Halakhic Topics
Yeshivat Har Etzion


Shiur #10a: VISITING THE TEMPLE MOUNT IN OUR TIME

(Part 2 of 3)

Based on a Shiur given by HaRav Aharon Lichtenstein*

Last week we dealt with the various parts of Har ha-Bayit and the mitzva of revering the sanctuary.

III. RITUAL PURITY AND IMPURITY

An additional obstacle to entering the Temple Mount is the problem of ritual impurity. The Gemara in Pesachim 67b implies that the division into three camps has halakhic ramifications regarding banishing those who are unclean:

Rav Chisda said: If a leper entered within his barrier, he is exempt [from lashes], because it is said: "He shall dwell solitary; without the camp shall his dwelling be" (Vayikra 13:46) - Scripture transformed [his prohibition] into a positive command. An objection was raised: A leper who entered within his barrier [is punished] with forty lashes; zavim and zavot who entered within their barrier [are punished] with forty lashes; but he who is unclean by the dead is permitted to enter the levitical camp. And they said this not only [of] him who is unclean by the dead, but even [of] the dead himself. For it is said: "And Moshe took the bones of Yosef with him" (Shemot 13:19), "with him" implying within his barrier.

A leper, then, is sent out of Jerusalem. What is the law governing one who has become ritually impure through contact with a corpse and other ritually impure people? The Gemara implies that one who has contracted ritual impurity through contact with a corpse (or even the corpse itself) may enter the levitical camp, but may not enter the camp of the Shekhina. It should be noted that this division is by Torah law, whereas by rabbinic ordinance there is an additional boundary, which she shall deal with below.

Today, we are all considered ritually impure because of coming into contact with a corpse, but this does not prevent us from visiting the Temple Mount. Thus, the Rambam rules in Hilkhot Bi'at ha-Mikdash (3:4):

It was permissible for one unclean by the dead, and even the dead corpse itself, to enter the Temple Mount. For it is said: "And Moshe took the bones of Yosef with him" (Shemot 13:19) – "with him" into the levitical camp.

The problem of ritual impurity only arises in relation to people who are forbidden to enter the levitical camp – those who are ritually unclean because of ritual impurity that originates in their own bodies – a man suffering from gonorrhea (zav), a woman ritually impure because of menstrual (nida) or other bleeding (zava), and a woman who has recently given birth. In our context, a nida or a new mother, while she is still ritually unclean, is clearly forbidden to visit the Temple Mount by Torah law.

As for men, ziva is a rare phenomenon, and it has no practical ramifications. A question arises regarding a ba'al keri (a man who has emitted semen). The aforementioned Gemara in Pesachim 67b states:

It was said: "And every one that has an issue" is to include a ba'al keri. This supports Rabbi Yochanan. For Rabbi Yochanan said: The cellars [under the Temple] were not consecrated; and a ba'al keri is sent out of the two camps.

The Gemara states that a ba'al keri is sent out of the levitical camp. The Rambam, however, rules in Hilkhot Bi'at ha-Mikdash (3:1,3) as follows:

It was a positive commandment to banish all unclean persons from the Sanctuary. For it is said: "Command the children of Israel, that they put out of the camp every leper, and every one that has an issue, and whoever is unclean by the dead" (Bamidbar 5:2)…

Men and women who had an issue, and women in their menstrual period and after childbirth, were banished outside two camps; that is, outside the Temple Mount. For they convey uncleanness by sitting or lying on an object, even if it is under a stone; whereas [one unclean by] the dead does not convey uncleanness in that way.

The ba'al keri does not appear on the list of those who are sent out of the levitical camp. It would appear from the Rambam that a ba'al keri is indeed permitted to enter the Temple Mount, for he defines "those who are sent out of the two camps" - i.e., the camp of the Shekhina and the levitical camp - as those who render objects ritually impure by sitting or lying upon them, and a ba'al keri does not do this.

From the Gemara, on the other hand, it would seem that a ba'al keri is indeed sent out of the two camps. The Mishne Lemelekh deals with the difficulty posed by the contradiction between the Rambam and the Gemara. The Gemara's guiding principle in identifying those who are sent out of the two camps is similar to that set down by the Rambam – those who render objects ritually impure by sitting or lying upon them. The Gemara seems to have understood that the primary definition, "those whose ritual impurity originates in their own bodies," stems from their stringency, that they render objects ritually impure by sitting or lying upon them. But after the group has been characterized as a separate group that is governed by greater stringency, the entire group falls into the same category, even if a particular member of the group does not render objects ritually impure by sitting or lying upon them. Specifically, a ba'al keri falls into the category of "those whose ritual impurity originates in their own bodies," and therefore, even though he does not render objects ritually impure by sitting or lying upon them, he is nevertheless forbidden to enter the two camps.

IV. THE RITUAL IMPURITY OF A BA'AL KERI

The Tosafot on the Gemara (s.v. ve-itkash) write:

Here the implication is that a ba'al keri is also ritually impure because he saw [semen]. Ri says that this is in disagreement with what is stated at the beginning of chapter Ha-Mapelet (Nida 22a). For it says there: "Rava asked Rav Huna: What is the law regarding one who observes semen on a splinter [after it was inserted in his membrum]? … He said to him: You can infer the law from the fact that the man himself becomes unclean only when the quantity of semen emitted suffices to close up the orifice of the membrum." And it says: "This then implies that the man is regarded as having touched the semen." That is, from the fact that an amount that suffices to close up the orifice of the membrum is required.

The Tosafot relate to a question that arises in tractate Nida: When a woman experiences menstrual bleeding, the menstrual blood is indeed an av ha-temum'a – an original source of ritual impurity. But the woman's impurity does not stem from the fact that her body came into contact with this blood, for were this the case, the woman should only be regarded as a rishon le-tum'a – "the first degree of ritual impurity, and not an av ha-tum'a." We must, therefore, distinguish between two phenomena: the experience of menstrual bleeding turns the woman herself into an av ha-tum'a, and independent of that, the menstrual blood is also an av ha-tum'a, so that a person who comes into contact with such blood becomes a rishon le-tum'a.

We find a similar discussion with respect to a ba'al keri: Does a man's emission of semen define him as ritually impure, or does his ritual impurity stem from his coming into physical contact with his semen? The Gemara argues that this question has two practical ramifications:

1. What is the law governing a man who emitted semen that did not come into external contact with his body? Internal contact is regarded as "impurity in the concealed parts of the body" (tum'at beit ha-setarim), which does not impart ritual impurity. If the impurity of a ba'al keri is based on his experience of emission, such a person should be ritually impure. But if the ba'al keri's impurity is based on contact with the semen, such a person should not be ritually impure.

2. Is a minimum amount of semen necessary? If the ba'al keri's impurity stems from his experiencing an emission, any amount of semen should suffice. But if his impurity is based on his coming into contact with the semen, a minimum amount of semen must be present.

The Gemara draws a connection between these two ramifications. The Tosafot conclude that the ritual impurity of a ba'al keri falls into the category of ritual impurity imparted by contact, and it stems from the ba'al keri's coming into contact with the semen. This assertion is relevant to two questions that are connected to our discussion:

1) What is the status of a ba'al keri? If the impurity derives from contact, he is a rishon le-tum'a; but if the impurity stems from the experience of emission, he is an av ha-tum'a.

2) If the impurity derives from contact, a ba'al keri needs only to be sent from the camp of the Shekhina; but if it stems from the experience of emission, he must be sent out from two camps.

The Tosafot conclude that the matter is subject to a dispute between two talmudic passages:

There the implication is that he is ritually impure because of contact. But [the passage] in chapter Yotze dofen (Nida 42a), which states: "Semen for the one who experiences emission – any amount; for one who comes into contact with it – the size of a lentil," disagrees with the passage in Ha-Mapelet.

The Tosafot do not make explicit mention of the first ramification mentioned above, that this disagreement is relevant to the question whether a ba'al keri is regarded as an av ha-tum'a or a rishon le-tum'a.

The Rambam, in his commentary to the Mishna, understands that a ba'al keri is a rishon le-tum'a. It would seem that if he is only a rishon le-tum'a, he should be barred only from the camp of the Shekhina, but permitted to enter the other camps. In the Rambam's rulings, however, this point is a bit problematic. In Hilkhot She'ar Avot ha-Tum'a (5:1), he writes:

Semen is one of the avot ha-tum'a… Whether a man touches it or ejects it from his flesh, he is a rishon le-tum'a by Torah law.

The Rambam rules that one who experiences an emission of semen and one who comes into contact with it are both considered a rishon le-tum'a, but he mentions them separately. And indeed, despite the fact that both are a rishon le-tum'a, there is a difference between them regarding the minimum amount of semen that is required in each of the cases:

For one who touches it, a lentil's bulk; for one who ejects it, any quantity whatsoever.

We see then that a ba'al keri is a rishon le-tum'a, but he becomes ritually impure with any amount of semen. If we understand that according to the Rambam a ba'al keri is ritually impure because of his having come into contact with his semen, then it is possible that he omitted the law of sending a ba'al keri out of the Temple Mount, because he is merely a rishon le-tum'a, and need not be sent out of the two camps.

Let us summarize, then, that the Rambam's rulings present two difficulties:

1) If a ba'al keri is ritually impure because he came into contact with semen, why doesn't the Rambam require a minimum amount of semen to impart the impurity?

2) How can the Rambam be reconciled with the Gemara that states explicitly that a ba'al keri is sent out of two camps?

Practically speaking, we find one commentator – the Mei Nafto'ach (p. 87) – who explains that according to the Rambam, a ba'al keri is only a rishon le-tum'a, and therefore permitted to enter the Temple Mount. This, however, is a solitary opinion, primarily because of the passage in Pesachim that implies just the opposite. Most authorities maintain that a ba'al keri's entry into the Temple Mount is at the very least a possible violation of a biblical prohibition, and therefore stringency must be practiced.

Practically speaking, then, a ba'al keri is forbidden to enter the Temple Mount. Obviously, it is possible to cleanse oneself of the ritual impurity of a ba'al keri through immersion in a mikve. Indeed, people who were compelled to enter the Temple Mount – soldiers, and the like – and sought rabbinical direction as to how they should act, were told to undergo immersion prior to their visit.

V. TEVUL YOM (ONE WHO HAS IMMERSED HIMSELF DURING THE DAY)

How much time must the ba'al keri wait following his immersion before he is permitted to enter the Temple Mount? Basically, the impurity of a ba'al keri lasts until nightfall: he undergoes immersion during the day, and achieves purity at nightfall. Is he permitted to enter the Temple Mount following his immersion, but before nightfall? A person who immerses himself, but has not yet achieved purity, is called a tevul yom. The question about his entering the Temple Mount rises on two levels:

1) On the Torah level – do we say that those who are ritually impure with impurity that originated in their own bodies and who immersed themselves, are no longer categorized as being "ritually impure with impurity that originated in their own bodies"? In other words, if a ritually impure person underwent immersion, but is still impure, is he now in a separate category governed by its own laws? Or perhaps he is simply not pure yet, and he is governed by the very same laws as one who has not immersed himself at all? If immersion moves a person into a new category, then following immersion he should be regarded as having ordinary impurity that does not originate in his own body, and therefore he should be permitted to enter the levitical camp. Even if we understand that the status of a tevul yom is identical to that of one who has not undergone immersion, it is still possible that the prohibition to enter the Temple Mount only applies when the ritual impurity is in full strength, and not when it is about to disappear on its own. It is also possible that a distinction should be made between a ba'al keri and a zav.

2) On the rabbinic level – the Gemara in Zevachim 32b states:

Rabbi Yochanan said: That they introduced a new law here and ruled: A tevul yom must not enter the levitical camp.

A tevul yom is forbidden by rabbinic decree to enter the levitical camp. The Rambam rules as follows (Hilkhot Bi'at ha-Mikdash 3:6):

A person who immersed himself the same day was banished from the Ezrat Nashim (the Court of Women). A person lacking only atonement, however, was not banished; since the sun had already set for him. A person who immersed himself that same day was forbidden to enter the levitical camp by a ruling of the scribes.

It should be noted that the prohibition of entry in the case of a tevul yom does not apply to the entire levitical camp, but only to the Ezrat Nashim.

This week's shiur dealt with the purity requirements of a person entering the various areas of Har ha-Bayit.

Next week, in the last installment, we will touch on the wall surrounding the azara, communal responsibility for the Temple Mount, and the sanctity of the Temple Mount in our time.

*This lecture was not reviewed by HaRav Lichtenstein.