Sleep in the Tosefta V: Seder Taharot

December 31, 2020 0 By admin

Continuing on in my series on sleep in the Tosefta, the final order to discuss is Taharot. As we shall see, the key concern around sleep is as a site of potential contamination.



Before getting into the frequent concern of impurity due to bodily emissions, we see a concern around beds being susceptible to impurity (Kelim Bava Metzia 8.6):

מיטה שעשה שתי לשונות שלה מלווחין מרוח אחת טמאה
עשה ארבעתן מלווחין או שנטלו שנים אלכסון טמאה
נטלה קצרה ושתי כרעיים טמאה מפני שהיא כשירי מטה מיטה וישן עליה
אם מתחלה עשאת לכן טהורה מפני שהיא כאדוניא
ארוכה ושתי כרעיים ר’ נחמיה מטמא מפני שניתנה בצד המטה או בצד האבוס וישן עליה וחכמים מטהרים[1]

A bed made out of two straps on it close together from one side, it is impure.
If one made four of them close together or took two of them diagonally, it is impure.
If one took a short one and two of them – if it bends, it is impure, since the fittings of the bed are below and one can sleep on it.
If, from the outset, he made it as such, it is pure, since it is like a footstool.
If one took one long one and two bend – Rabbi Nehemiah considers it impure, since one places it to the side of the bed or on the side of the feeding bowl; and one sleeps on it. And sages consider it pure.

For some context of what’s going on here,

M Kelim 18:5 tells what happens when a bed contracts midras impurity and someone removes one of the planks of the head or foot of the bed, and two legs. In such instances, the bed remains unclean, i.e., it still clearly functions as a bed, as it might be propped up or leaned against something.66 However, if one of the long sides and two legs were taken off, the Sages rendered it pure, although R. Nehemiah still considered it halakhically a bed, and impure. R. Nehemiah probably thought that such damaged beds could still be used, while the Sages thought this unlikely. Some actions clearly made the bed either too wobbly to function or too close to the ground to be considered a bed: cutting off two joints, in which the planks were fastened or “joined,” at a diagonal, cutting off a handbreadth from two legs at a diagonal; or reducing the height of the whole bed to less than a handbreadth.


Seminal Emission Impurity

The bulk of the mentions of sleep in this order of the Tosefta are primarily concerned with seminal emission impurity.

We have a discussion concerning an imbecile (Niddah 2.9):

שוטה מטבילין אותו ומאכילין אותו בתרומה לערב ומשמרין אותו שלא יישן ואם ישן ועמד טמא מיד
ר’ אלעזר בר’ צדוק אומר עושין לו כיס של עור ומלבישין אותו ובודקין אותו בתוכו ואם נמצא בתוכו שכבת זרע טמא ואם לאו טהור
אמרו לו נמצאת מבריח מן הספק ומביאו לידי ודאי מפני שבא לידי חימום
אמר להם לא מדבריכם טמא הוא
אמרו אם נמצאת שכבת זרע טמא ואם לאו טהור
ואנו אומרים יצאת ממנו טפה כל שהוא ונבלעה לה בכיס[2]

They dunk an imbecile and feed him heave-offering in the evening, and watch him so that he does not sleep. And if he slept, when he stands up, he is immediately considered to be impure.
An imbecile [male] — they dunk him and feed him with heave-offering [food] in the evening.
And they watch him as to sleeping, and if he went to sleep and got up, he is forthwith unclean.
Rabbi Eleazar, son of Rabbi Tzadok, says, “They make him a leather bag, and they put it on him and inspect its contents. If inside it, semen is found, he is unclean, and, if not, he is clean.”
They said to him, “You turn out to remove him from a situation of doubt and to place him into a situation of certain [uncleanness], because he ends up being heated by the bag.”
He said to them, “Yes. Is it not so that in accord with your opinion he is unclean [anyhow]?”
They said to him, “You say, ‘If semen is found [in the bag] he is unclean, if not, he is clean,’ and we say, ‘A drop in any amount exuded from him and was absorbed by the bag.[3]

This is an interesting discussion, especially since the main concern around sleep in Mishnah Niddah is potential menstrual emission (Niddah 9.4-5), an interesting swap of the sexes.
In contrast to an imbecile, we have others (Taharot 3.11):

הסומא והישן והמהלך בלילה ספיקן טהור מפני שיש בו דעת לשאול[4]

A blind man, one who is sleeping, and one who walks by night – they are matters of doubt that are resolved in favor of cleanness, because they have intelligence to be consulted.[5]

As opposed to the imbecile, one who is sleeping and is in doubt regarding their potential for impurity has the ability to both ask and to be asked.


Another potential instance of impurity while sleeping occurs from external potential impurifiers (Taharot 6:9):

ישן על גבי אבן ברשות הרבים בשחר ומצא עליה שרץ או רוק ר’ מאיר מטהר מפני שספק רשות הרבים טהור וחכמים מטמאין שכל הטומאות כשעת מציאתן ומודים חכמים לר’ מאיר שאם ראוה נקייה אף על פי שהוא בא שחרית ומצא עליה שרץ או רוק שהוא טהור שזה ספק רשות הרבים[6]

[If] one fell asleep on a rock in public domain; at dawn (and) he found on it a creeping thing or a drop of spit – Rabbi Meir declares clean, because a matter of doubt in public domain is deemed clean.
And sages declare unclean, for all matters of uncleanness are adjudged in accord with their condition at the moment that they are found.
And sages agree with Rabbi Meir that, if they saw it, that it was clean in the preceding evening, even though he came at dawn and found on it a creeping thing or spit, that he is clean, for this is a matter of doubt in the public domain.

This is similar, yet different from Mishnah Taharot 5:7, in that the Mishnah discusses midras uncleanliness; also, Rabbi Meir considers the person’s clothes to be impure, whereas the sages disagree.


One final set of instances are concerning people potentially impurifying a space in which they are sleeping (Taharot 8:2-3):

חבר שהיה ישן בתוך ביתו של עם הארץ וכליו מקופלין ומונחין תחת ראשו סנדליו וחביתו לפניו הרי אלו טהורין מפני שהן בחזקת המשתמר.
חבר שאמר לעם הארץ צא וישן בתוך הבית כל הבית ברשותו.
צא וישן על מטה פלונית אינה טמא אלא אותה מטה ועד מקום שהוא יכול לפשוט את ידו וליגע מאותה המטה[7]

A rabbinic colleague who was sleeping in the house of a commoner, with his clothing folded up and lying under his head, and his sandals and his jug before him — lo, these are clean, because they are in the presumption of being guarded.
A rabbinic colleague who said to a commoner, “Go and sleep in the house”, the whole house is in his domain.
[A rabbinic colleague who said to a commoner,] “Go and sleep on such-and-such a bed”, only that bed is impure and as far as his hand can extend to touch from that bed.

Something. While this largely similar to Mishnah Taharot 7:2, we do not have the debate between Rabbi Meir and Sages here, nor do we have the qualification concerning finding the commoner awake or asleep.



Sleep, as found in Seder Taharot in the Tosefta is largely concerned not only with impurification while sleeping, but particularly seminal emission (as opposed to menstrual emission in Mishnah Niddah). Of the four occurrences of sleep in Seder Taharot in the Mishnah, three of them have rough parallels in the Tosefta (the exception being Mishnah Zavim 4.4).

[1] Zuckermandel 587.

[2] Zuckermandel 643

[3] Largely utilizing Neusner’s translation, 209-210.

[4] Zuckermandel 663

[5] Largely utilizing Neusner’s translation, 269.

[6] Zuckermandel 666.

[7] Zuckermandel 668.