What is the status of a korban that was brought by a tamei person?
We discussed this on 22a–22b this week. Our Mishnah states that if a tamei person performs one of the essential avodos, sacrificial services, that avodah is invalid. On 22b, the Elders of the South limit this to a case where the kohen contracted impurity from a dead sheretz, one of the creeping animals that the Torah decrees a source of tumah. But if the kohen became tamei from a human corpse and performed an avodah, that avodah would be valid.
This sounds counterintuitive; if anything, we would expect corpse-tumah, which entails a more lengthy purification process, to be treated as more stringent than sheretz-tumah.
The Elders of the South explain their reasoning. For a corpse-tumah we find a leniency that a communal sacrifice can be brought in a state of impurity. If, for example, the community was tamei on the 14th of Nissan, they would bring korban Pesach in a state of impurity rather than postpone the korban until Pesach Sheini. So, the Elders reason, even though a kohen is not supposed to bring an individual’s korban while impure with corpse-tumah, after the fact, the korban will be valid.
So, evidently, the Mishnah’s ruling that a korban brought in impurity is not valid must refer to a different type of tumah that lacks this justification; it must be referring to a kohen who has sheretz-tumah.
The Gemara critiques the Elders of the South, first pointing out that the Elders must hold the position that a person who has sheretz-tumah on the 14th of Nissan may simply have a korban Pesach brought on his behalf (and when he becomes pure at night he will partake of his offering). For if, in their opinion, a person with sheretz-tumah on the 14th has no recourse other than bringing his korban on Pesach Sheini, then, by definition, if the community had sheretz-tumah on the 14th, they would bring a regular korban Pesach (this is based on the established rule that any tumah that forces an individual to wait until Pesach Sheini does not prevent the community from bringing korban Pesach). And if the community could bring a korban Pesach in a state of sheretz-tumah, the Elders’ logic would dictate that an individual’s korban brought in a state of sheretz-tumah be accepted after the fact, which the Elders stated is not true. So, it must be, in the Elders’ view, if an individual had sheretz-tumah on the 14th, he is allowed to simply send in his korban Pesach. (If you need to review that a few times until it makes sense, I’m glad I have company!)
The Gemara now has what it needs to drop its bomb on the Elders’ reasoning. Ulla makes the observation that if an individual had corpse-tumah on the 14th, he does not have the option of sending in the korban. This is obviously true based on the teaching found in the Torah of bringing korban Pesach on Pesach Sheini. The Torah teaches this law is in response to the query of some people who had corpse-tumah and wanted to know how to proceed with respect to their korban Pesach. The Torah instructs them to bring their korban a month later, on the 14th of Iyar. Apparently, people with corpse-tumah cannot just send in their korban. If so, a kal v’chomer (fortiori argument) against the Elders’ view on corpse-tumah presents itself: if even sheretz-tumah, which has the option of having someone else bring the korban Pesach, is nevertheless completely invalid where the kohen has sheretz-tumah, then certainly corpse-tumah, where there isn’t even an option of sending it in, should be invalid if the kohen has this type of tumah!
The Gemara attempts to defend the Elders by making the novel suggestion that although the basic teaching of Pesach Sheini (i.e. that someone with corpse-tumah waits until Pesach Sheini) is the way it is supposed to happen, if someone with corpse-tumah did otherwise and sent in his korban Pesach on the 14th of Nissan, it would be valid after the fact. This would appear to knock out the premise of the kal v’chomer that was made to refute the Elders.
However, the Gemara later points out that the kal v’chomer is actually still alive and well. For even if we accept the notion that it is possible for a person with corpse-tumah to send in his korban Pesach, it is clear from the Torah that this is not the preferred course of action, as opposed to someone who has sheretz-tumah where it’s perfectly fine to send in the korban Pesach. Hence, we still have a kal v’chomer against the Elders of the South: even in sheretz-tumah, where it’s perfectly fine to have someone else bring the korban Pesach, it is nevertheless completely invalid where the kohen has sheretz-tumah, then certainly corpse-tumah, where it’s for sure not ideal to send in one’s korban Pesach, should be invalid if the kohen has this type of tumah!
The Gemara leaves this as a question on the Elders of the South. What could be said in their defense? Perhaps the Elders of the South would respond that this is not a situation where a kal v’chomer actually dictates the correct course of action.
The Elders can argue that by teaching the acceptability of a communal offering brought in a state of corpse-tumah, the Torah is in effect telling us what the halachah is where the individual’s korban was brought with this type of tumah. That is, since the Elders clearly feel that there is a direct relationship between communal and individual offerings as far as accepting the problem of impurity, it’s as if the Torah is specifically telling us not to go by the above kal v’chomer.
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