Thursday, November 29, 2007

Living In Moshiach's Times, Part I : Social Interactions

I've been giving some thought to what life will be like after Moshiach's arrival. Almost certainly the world order as we know it will cease to exist and be replaced by some other model. This will probably affect everyone at every level, from the worldwide and national down to the very personal.

Over the next few months, I hope to try to examine some of the issues that we might expect to face, when we are all living according to the Torah in Eretz Yisroel. I think that this kind of examination is necessary simply because the lives that we lived when we last lived under these rules (almost 2000 years ago) are far different than the lives we live now; and I'm not so certain that laws that worked well 2000 years ago can suddenly and swiftly be re-instituted without causing major and drastic changes to the lifestyles that we currently lead.

Today's post will cover the world of social interactions with regard to the laws of tumah and taharah. It's difficult for most of us to imagine living under such a system since these laws have not really been in force for so long and our lives have evolved to the point where we would not be able to observe the societal norms that we do under the laws that once governed us.

The system of social interaction that we currently know would be thrown into chaos if we suddenly had to return to the laws of t'rumos, ma'aseros, kadoshim, tumah and taharah. A simple exercise such as shaking the hand of a person whom you just met would be fraught with all sorts of problems. A kohen would really have problem if he had t'rumah in the house... how could he shake hands with anyone when the person might be an Av HaTumah? His kids can't play with other kids because they might touch kids who are Avos HaTumah and become able to transmit tumah to the t'rumah and other foodstuffs in the house.

Having guests over is another problem. A woman who is a niddah can present a big problem: do you want to invite a couple over to your house when it's possible that the wife (or teenage daugther) of the couple is a niddah? A niddah can transmit tumah to utensils (or people) through touch. Heaven forbid she touches your china bowl or plate that you use for food -- the only way to purify it is by breaking it! Presumably your wife has touched every utensil in your house while she was a niddah -- or would couples need a set of "niddah dishes?"

Another consequence of returning to a system of being careful with tumah and taharah is that the paradigm that we have now, where a woman's niddah status is strictly between her and her husband (and the mikvah lady), would have to be abolished. A woman's niddah status would, as a practical matter, *have* to be known. Can a wife of a kohen risk having her friend touch her because she's a niddah? The friend won't render the kohen's wife a niddah, but she will make her a rishon (rishona?) l'tumah, capable of causing foodstuffs to become tamei. Of course, it's possible for her lie and says that she's a t'maiah for some other reason, but considering the fact that most women (absent any birth control) are usually a niddah close to two weeks out of every month, I think that most people would come to recognize that when a woman says "t'maiah ani" to another person, it usually means she's a niddah, even if she claims otherwise.

Of course, the whole issue of tumah and taharah *really* becomes an issue with regard to formal social functions. Catering halls with constantly have dishes that are tamei, simply by dint of the fact that hundreds (and at some affairs, thousands) of people touch the utensils at such affairs and certainly a good portion of the women (and a percentage of the men as well) are tamei. Even a matter as simple as chairs by a wedding becomes a real big problem. A niddah who sits on a chair causes the chair to become an Av HaTumah. Anyone else who subsequently sits in that chair becomes a rishon l'tumah. Will they have dedicated "niddah chairs?" Well, if we've thrown out the concept of a person's niddah status being private, then I suppose it doesn't make a difference... the niddah women will sit in the "niddah chairs." However, care will have to be taken that the chairs don't get mixed up with each other. Can a kohen (or someone who wants to remain tahor) ever hope to retain his taharah while attending a social function?

Of course, similar problems would exist with any food establishment. Restaurants could not possibly hope to keep an establishment in the confines of taharah. Women cooks would present problems two weeks out of each month and even men would have to stop working if they become tamei. As with the social hall, seating would be problematic as well, as all the benches or chairs would quickly become tamei from a niddah sitting on them. Even if a restaurant owner decides not to admit people that are tamei, how does he enforce this? At least with kashrus, the restaurant owner has the advantage in that he controls all the food coming into the establishment and can hire professionals to ensure that his establishment meets the necessary standards for kashrus. But for tumah? There's no way to enforce compliance and make sure that the establishment remains tahor.

Another consideration is that there are certain types of people who will be, in essence, permanently tamei. In the past, the only such people were grave-diggers. However, in today's world, there are far more people who would be permanently tamei -- doctors (or nurses, or administrators, or janitors, or anyone else) would work in hospitals would just about always be tamei. People who work in funeral homes is another obvious one. Gynecologists are probably always touching women who are niddos and obstetricians certainly are (as a women is always a t'meiah after giving birth). People who work in places that handle non-kosher meat (pet food manufacturers come to mind) also have a problem (although if they only use non-kosher meat from properly slaughtered animals then they should be okay -- but I don't know how much of that is really available).

For most people who aren't kohanim, this probably isn't that big a deal. After all, as a non-kohen, I can eat food that is tamei with no real consequence... it's not like I'm going to want to eat t'rumah or kodashim most of the time. For a kohen, or someone who wants to maintain a tahor standard (or for anyone within a week of the Festivals) all this can cause major chaos. Unless one secludes himself (and his wife and children) from all neighbors and friends, never goes out to eat and never goes to social functions, I don't see how one can reasonably expect to remain tahor.

(Yes, I know that I left out the other sources of tumah that a person can contract, from semen to sheratzim, to all sorts of other items. I tried, however, to keep the post to things on the level of an Av Hatumah or higher -- since that's the level that can impart tumah to other people.)

The Wolf

24 comments:

-suitepotato- said...

I rather doubt that any of this would be very important when and if Moshiach shows up. I'm pretty sure we also aren't going back to thousands of years old rules.

"G-d is not a sadistic bastard" is one of my guiding principles and he's never been one to jerk the people he's created around uselessly or for his own ego. He's let us change and evolve culturally and socially for thousands of years and I don't think He's going to throw mental whiplash at us by making us change on a dime.

Though, your post does bring to mind the question, "which of the clever rabbinical rationalizations will be looked at and make G-d shake His finger and go 'no no no, that's not what I mean there'?"

Oh well, guess that's His problem when He wants it to be and I can only do whatever I'm asked.

Gil Student said...

You might appreciate this novel, which attempted to describe through a murder mystery the situation in Yerushalayim right after Bi'as Mashi'ach: http://hirhurim.blogspot.com/2005/08/visualizing-temple.html

Mike S. said...

Well, if everyone is really keeping the laws of tumah and tahara, it isn't as hard as all that, because you will be able to count on your fellow to warn you if he is tamei, and not offer to shake your hand.

Also, with the exception of the chevrah kaddisha, most of these people will not be permenently tamei, as most of these tumahs have taharah in a mikveh (i.e. you only are tamei until you go to mikveh, at which point you become a tevul yom, and then become tahor at night.)

Ha-historion said...

I though there would be no tumah and tahara in yemot hamashiach.

BrooklynWolf said...

Suitepotato,

You may be right. We'll wait and see.

Rabbi Student,

Thanks. It looks interesting. I'll see if I can find it and give it a read.

Mike,

It goes well beyond simple hand-shaking. It goes to handling utensils in one's house to just about all aspects of normal social interaction.

Ha-historian,

Maybe. However, I've always found concepts such as that (as well as the concept that the Yomim Tovim will be annulled) troubling because it flies directly in the face of the principle that the Torah is eternally binding and that HaShem will not add, subtract from or change the mitzvos.

The Wolf

Josh M. said...

I was going to refer you to R' Student's post on /Murderer in the Mikdash/ which does a fine job of bringing some of these issues into the real world, but I see that he already did so.

L'ma'aseh, there's no reason why someone has to be tahor year-round. If a kohein wants to eat terumah, it's more complicated, but a regular Yisroel only has to be tahor to eat kodshim and maaser sheni in Yerushalayim - and the rest of the year, he needn't bother to be m'taheir from his tum'a, making the issue considerably simpler (although still a major paradigm shift).

Warren Burstein said...

Are people going to resume eating chulin al taharat hakodesh, and if soe will there be a category between amei haaretz and chaverim, e.g. people who know how to make themselves tahor when they go to the mikdash, but don't live that way all the time?

zach said...

Fodder for another post: what would it be like living under a Jewish king? Can anyone who has lived in a democracy say that such a government is inferior to a monarchy? History has show us otherwise. Even our "greatest" leaders such as David Hamelech and Shlomo Hamelech were seriously flawed individuals - I certainly don't want to live in a society ruled by the likes of them!

BrooklynWolf said...

Zach,

I already had that one planned. :)

The Wolf

Ezzie said...

This is something I never understood well. How did people live back in the days of the Bais Hamikdash like this? Did they never have guests? Obviously not - a strong focus is placed on guests from Avraham down. It makes me wonder about our understanding of these halachos.

As a note, the sheva niki'im would likely be gotten rid of, no? That would make a large difference.

BrooklynWolf said...

Sadly, neither the New York Public Library nor the Brooklyn Public Library have Murderer in the Mikdash. I guess that means I'll have to go out and buy it.

The Wolf

cipher said...

This is something I never understood well. How did people live back in the days of the Bais Hamikdash like this? Did they never have guests? Obviously not - a strong focus is placed on guests from Avraham down. It makes me wonder about our understanding of these halachos.

I think this is an extrememly important consideration. From my (non-observant) perspective, it calls into question much rabbinic intrepretation (although I think the party line would probably be, "everyone was observant back then").

Wolf, I think the ideas is that when Moshiach comes, we will be living in a state of elevated consciousness. It isn't necessarily that Torah will cease to exist - we'll implement it differently.

Also, from a frum perspective - is it acceptable to believe that rabbis living at the time will be qualified to interpret, as they did centuries ago? That the restrictions against innovation will no longer apply?

Pesky Settler said...

I wasn't aware that unmarried women and girls could have the status of Niddah... I though the 'state of being' only applied to married women in relationship to their husband.

Joe said...

Thinking about this subject makes my head hurt!

BrooklynWolf said...

I wasn't aware that unmarried women and girls could have the status of Niddah... I though the 'state of being' only applied to married women in relationship to their husband.

Any woman could be a Niddah, regardless of her marital status. Being a niddah has two ramifications: (1) The woman becomes tamei and (2) she becomes forbidden to her husband (or anyone else) as a niddah. Since we don't observe the rules of tumah and taharah nowadays, the first aspect doesn't apply and only the second one does. That's why unmarried women are not allowed to use the mikveh. In the times of the Mikdash, however, going to the mikvah was also m'taher the woman from her tumah (regardless of her marital status), so that she could eat t'rumah (if she was eligible) or kodashim. Since it had a practical benefit, unmarried women did go to the mikvah.

The Wolf

Mike S. said...

Wolf: I know about kelim and everything else. However, I imagine that you just get used to it, kind of like you are used to two sets of dishes.

With regard to Mikveh, I wonder if the current (and obligatory in our times) practice of counting seven clean days for a drop of blood like a mustard seed will be tenable in the time of the Mikdash. It seems to me that women will then be obligated to distinguish between zivah and nidah, since the former requires a korban and the latter does not. ye

Lion of Zion said...

ZACH:

"Fodder for another post: what would it be like living under a Jewish king? Can anyone who has lived in a democracy say that such a government is inferior to a monarchy? History has show us otherwise. Even our "greatest" leaders such as David Hamelech and Shlomo Hamelech were seriously flawed individuals - I certainly don't want to live in a society ruled by the likes of them!"

for some jews this is not a theoretical question about the messianic era, but a rather practical question that applies to contemporary israel as well. a number of turn-of-the-century zionist rabbis who had been exposed to life in a democracy already wrote about this, e.g., abraham gershon jacob lesser and hayyim hirschenson. hirchensohn in particular has been the focus of study recently by israeli academics.

zach said...

Lion of Zion: interesting - do you have any names of references that I could persue?

dd said...

rabbi yisoel reisman says that this can be one of the reasons y now as we get closer to the times of mashiach hashem made it that we have a new product called disposable utensils so that we have less of an issue with niddah and tumah in general - otherwise we would have to have milchig and flaishig for niddah and non niddah days and then if u have shabbas dishes u would have to have seperate ones for yimma tumah and then repeat the whole process for pesach dishes

Guravitzer said...

Although you might question changes in the future based on HaTorah Hazos Lo Tihye Muchlefes, the issue of Tuma is clear in Torah as well: Ve'Es Ruach HaTumah Aavir Min Haaretz.

mlevin said...

But if there won't be anymore death once Mashiach comes, isn't it logical to assume that births will cease too? And if there are no more births, then there is no more need for needah. Right? So, the whole question of clean/unclean will be out.

My only problem is: doesn't korban also require a death of an animal?

Orthoprax said...

Wolf,

I think it's fairly obvious that when tumah was important, it couldn't have practically have been lived the way the Talmud rules.

Anonymous said...

If you look at most of mishnayos taharos, & the rules for diffrentiating (sp?) between chaveirim (those who were careful not to become tamei) & amei ha'aretz (those who were not), it is very clear that the mishna assumes that the majority of the population was not observant (or at least not to the level of the chaverim.), although the mishna assumes that they knew & cared enough not to be metameh chaveirim with tumas mes.

The extent of the observance of the perushim would put quite a crimp in their social life. If an am ha'aretz entered the house under certain circumstances, everything in the house could be considered tamei!

badrabbi said...

Have you read my blog on Moshiach?