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.)