Sleep in the Mishnah II: Seder Taharot

Having discussed sleep in the Mishnah in Seder Moed, I now turn to Seder Taharot, the seder with the least amount of sleep references in the Mishnah, aside from Seder Kelim, which has none. Unlike Seder Moed, there are no references to sleep in the abstract in Seder Taharot. Unsurprisingly sleep occurs in Seder Taharot as a temporal site of lack of knowledge, resulting in someone being impure or impurifying due to lack of awareness of what may or may not have happened while sleeping.

One of the most noticeable instances of sleep is found in two places in Niddah:

שלוש נשים שהיו ישנות במיטה אחת, ונמצא דם תחת אחת מהן–כולן טמאות;
בדקה אחת מהן, ומצאתה טמא–היא טמאה, ושתיים טהורות ותולות זו בזו.
אם לא היו ראויות לראות, רואין אותן כאילו הן ראויות.

שלוש נשים שהיו ישנות במיטה אחת, ונמצא דם תחת האמצעית–שלושתן טמאות; תחת הפנימית–שתיים הפנימייות טמאות, והחיצונה טהורה; תחת החיצונה–שתיים החיצונות טמאות, והפנימית טהורה.
אָמַר רַבִּי יְהוּדָה אימתיי? בזמן שעלו דרך מרגלות המיטה; אבל אם עלו שלושתן דרך עלייה, כולן טמאות.
בדקה אחת מהן, ומצאתה טהור–היא טהורה, והשתיים טמאות.
שתיים, ומצאו טהור–הן טהורות, והשלישית טמאה.
שלושתן, ומצאו טהור–כולן טמאות.
למה הדבר דומה? לגל טמא, שנתערב בין שני גלים טהורים: בדקו אחד מהן, ומצאו טהור–הוא טהור, ושניים טמאין.
שניים, ומצאו טהורין–הן טהורין, ושלישי טמא.
שלושתן, ומצאו טהור–כולן טמאין, דברי רבי מאיר: שהיה רבי מאיר אומר, כל דבר שהוא בחזקת טומאה–לעולם הוא בטומאתו, עד שתיוודע הטומאה.
וחכמים אומרין, בודק עד שמגיע לסלע, או לבתולה

Three women who were sleeping in one bed and blood was found under one of them, they are all unclean.
If one of them examined herself and was found to be unclean, she alone is unclean while the two others are clean, [for] they may attribute the blood to one another.
And if they were [all] not likely to observe blood, they must be regarded as though they were likely to observe one.

If three women slept in one bed, and blood was found under the middle one, they are all unclean.
If it was found under the inner one, the two inner ones are unclean while the outer one is clean.
If it was found under the outer one, the two outer ones are unclean while the inner one is clean.
Said Rabbi Yehudah: “When is this so? When they passed by way of the foot of the bed, but if they passed across it, they are all unclean.”
If one of them examined herself and was found clean, she remains clean while the two others are unclean.
If two examined themselves and were found to be clean they remain clean while the third is unclean.
If the three examined themselves and were found to be clean, they are all unclean.
“To what may this be compared? To an unclean heap that was mixed up with two clean heaps: If they examined one of them and found it to be clean, it is clean while the two others are unclean;
If they examined two of the heaps and found them to be clean, they are clean while the third one is unclean;
And if they examined the three and they were all found to be clean, they are all unclean,” Rabbi Meir’s words, for Rabbi Meir used to say: “Any object that is presumed to be unclean remains unclean until it is known to you where the uncleanness is.”
But the sages say: “One continues the examination of the heap until one reaches bedrock or virgin soil.” (Niddah 9.4-5)

The function of sleep here is to introduce a lack of consciousness when one or more of them may have menstruated, but no one knows which one may be menstruating. We see a similar instance with a zav:

זב שהיה מוטל על חמישה ספסלין, או על חמש פונדיות–לאורכן, טמאין; לרוחבן, טהורין.
ישן–ספק נתהפך עליהן, טמאין

A man with an abnormal seminal emission who lays across five benches, or five money-belts: If lengthwise, he [makes them] unclean; But breadthwise, they are clean.
If he slept [on them], and it’s unclear if he had turned over onto them, they are unclean. (Zavim 4.4)

Here, too, it’s unclear whether something happened in this man’s sleeping to have impurified an object or not, so the sages identify those benches/money-belts as unclean.

Here is yet another instance of sleeping

מי שישב ברשות הרבים, ובא אחד ודרס על בגדיו, או שרקק ונגע ברוקו–על רוקו שורפין את התרומה, ועל בגדיו הולכין אחר הרוב.
ישן ברשות הרבים, ועמד–כליו טמאין מדרס, דברי רבי מאיר; וחכמים מטהרין.
נגע באחד בלילה, ואין ידוע אם חי אם מת, ובשחר עמד, ומצאו מת–רבי מאיר מטהר; וחכמים מטמאין–שכל הטומאות, כשעת מציאתן

If a man sat in a public domain and someone came and trod on his clothes, or spat and he touched his spit, on account of the spit, terumah must be burnt, but on account of the clothes, the majority principle is followed.
“If a someone slept in the public domain, when he rises, his clothes have midras uncleanness,” Rabbi Meir’s words. And the sages consider them clean.
If a man touched someone in the night and it is not known whether it was one who was alive or dead, but in the morning when he got up he found him to be dead: Rabbi Meir considers it clean, and the sages consider them unclean, since all doubtful cases of uncleanness are [determined] in accordance with [their appearance at] the time they are discovered. (Taharot 5.7)

Again, this Mishnah discusses sleep as an instance of possible impurity, with Rabbi Meir advocating for this person’s clothing to have received midras uncleanness, while the sages consider the clothing to not have been impurified through this activity.

המניח עם הארץ בתוך ביתו ער, ומצאו ער, ישן, ומצאו ישן, ער, ומצאו ישן–הבית טהור.
ישן, ומצאו ער–הבית טמא, דברי רבי מאיר;
וחכמים אומרין, אין טמא אלא עד מקום שהוא יכול לפשוט את ידו וליגע

If one left a common person awake in one’s house and found him awake, or asleep and found him asleep, or awake and found him asleep, the house remains clean.
“If he left him asleep and found him awake, the house is unclean,” Rabbi Meir’s words.
And sages say: “One is not unclean except until the place that he is able to stretch out his hand and touch it.” (Taharot 7.2)

Just as in the previous Mishnah, Rabbi Meir advocates for a greater amount of uncleanness caused while someone is sleeping than do his rabbinic colleagues. What is neat about this Mishnah is the status of awake or sleeping at the beginning and end of one’s sleeping; I know it’s not major, but it’s neat, nonetheless.

In sum, sleep in Seder Taharot of the Mishnah concerns itself with lack of consciousness that could lead to potential impurity, whether of bodily emissions or of other activities that could impurify.

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