Today’s section discusses whether a slave goes free if his master castrates him. The discussion is cased in quite a humorous story, and who knows, maybe the humor is a response to the subject?
Evidently not going to R. Hisda’s study session is a real no-no. But the elders of Nezunia have an answer, and we’ll see how it plays out.
R. Hamnuna cannot answer the question of whether a master who castrated his slave must set him free. Does this count as an open blemish, one that others will notice, and therefore the slave goes free. The elders of Nazunia laugh at Hamnuna and changed his name to Karnuna. Evidently Hamnuna is read as meaning a “hot” (ham) fish “nuna.” But Karnuna is a cold fish. Good one elders!
R. Hisda tells R. Hamnuna that he could have answered the question from a mishnah. The mishnah refers to a person who has a skin affliction. If there is a healthy, unaffected spot within the affliction, then he is rendered impure. The mishnah lists parts of the body which if unaffected do not count as a healthy spot and do not render him impure. On this mishnah a baraita is taught according to which a slave goes free if his master cuts off these parts (ouch). Since Rabbi includes castration we have the answer to our question. A slave castrated by his master goes free.
This clarifies that castration refers to cutting off the testicles and not the penis. I will add here that there is a great reference to this passage in an episode of Game of Thrones. For more information, contact me.
Today’s passage discusses whether cutting off the tongue causes the slave to go free. If yesterday’s discussion reminded me of Game of Thrones, today’s discussion reminds me of the Handmaid’s Tale, a book that made a deep impact on me, but a television show I did not enjoy all that much.
Rabbi [Yehudah Hanasi] says that the slave goes free if he is castrated, but he does not seem to agree with Ben Azzai that he goes free if his tongue is cut off. But there is a baraita that seems to contradict this. This baraita is about sprinkling a person with the red heifer waters in order to purify him. According to Rabbi, if he is sprinkled in his mouth, which we at first interpret as on his tongue, then the sprinkling is considered valid. This implies that the tongue is an exposed organ and that a slave would go free if the master cut it off.
The Talmud solves the difficulty by saying that the water fell on his lips, not on his tongue. But if it falls on his lips, then it should be obvious that he is pure—after all the lips are an external part of the body. The answer is that sometimes when his lips are tightly closed, the lips are not exposed to the outside. Therefore Rabbi needed to say that if the water falls on the lips, he is pure.
The problem with the above resolution is that there is an explicit baraita in which Rabbi teaches that if the water falls on his tongue he is pure. And there is another baraita about blemishes that disqualify a priest from serving on the altar in which Rabbi agrees that even if only part of his tongue was removed, he cannot serve. Clearly, Rabbi considers the tongue an external part of the body.
The Talmud now offers a different reading of the debate. Both tannaim hold that loss of tongue causes the slave to go free. They just disagree about castration.
If Ben Azzai does not agree with Rabbi then why does he say “the tongue too.” He should have just said “the tongue.”
The Talmud answers that Ben Azzai is adding on to the list that appears before Rabbi, and not to Rabbi. But then why didn’t the baraita put his words first. The Talmud answers that the author of the baraita listed the opinions in the order in which he heard them. But he did not change the wording of Ben Azzai’s statement, even though it could lead to some confusion.
The Talmud explores the dispute over whether the tongue is considered an external organ.
A sheretz, a creepy-crawly thing conveys impurity. All sages agree that if it touches one’s tongue, the person is impure [EWWW]. In this case, the tongue is considered to be an exposed organ.
When it comes to immersing in the mikveh, all sages agree that the tongue need not come into contact with the mikveh (that would again, be EWWW).
The dispute between Rabbi and the sages is only about a person who is sprinkled on his tongue. According to Rabbi sprinkling on the tongue purifies, just as being touched on the tongue by a sheretz defiles. Rabbi reads the verse as connecting sprinkling with the source of impurity—if the water lands on a part of the body that can be defiled, the person is pure.
The other sages say that sprinkling on the tongue is compared with immersing. Just as a tongue need not be immersed for it is not considered an external organ, so too if the person is sprinkled on the tongue, he is not pure.
The sages prefer to learn a rule related to purification from another rule related to purification.
Rabbi compares it to impurity and not immersion because there are a few words that separate “and purify him” with “and bathe himself in water.” This interruption prevents us from connecting the purification method with the immersion.
The Talmud discusses Rabbi’s opinion that with regard to immersion, the tongue is considered an external organ and need not be immersed.
In this story, Rabbi seems to require that the waters of the mikveh enter one’s mouth. So how can we say that he considers the tongue to be concealed such that it need not be immersed?
The Talmud answers that we do not require that the water actually enter the mouth and hit all the teeth and the tongue. But there cannot be anything preventing it from doing so, had the person opened his mouth.
This is compared with the case of mixing flour and oil for a grain offering. If the flour is fit to be mixed, then the mixture if valid even if it was not actually mixed. But if the flour is not fit to be mixed, then mixing becomes indispensable. In other words, you don’t actually have to mix the flour. You just have to be able to mix the flour. So too the tongue need not be immersed, it just needs to be able to be immersed.