This paper examines the rabbinic concept of impurity in terms of the essence of the reality that this term implies. Did the Rabbis consider impurity to be a force of nature, or rather an abstract formalistic structure devoid of any actual existence? A review of rabbinic sources regarding corpse impurity reveals that the essential structures of tannaitic halakhah are grounded in a natural, immanent perception of impurity, which gave rise to an entire system, intricate and coherent, of “natural laws of impurity.”
Layered onto this system, as a secondary stratum of sorts comprising exceptions and “addenda,” is a more subtle halakhic tapestry woven from a diametrically opposed perception. This view subjects the concept of impurity to human awareness and intention, severing it from reality and, in so doing, also stripping it of its “natural” substance.
The rabbinic halakhic system, with its many facets and the literary works that comprise it, reflects a new Jewish culture, almost completely distinct in its halakhic content and scope from the biblical and postbiblical culture that preceded it. By examining Jewish legislation in the area of corpse impurity as a test case, the article studies the implications of Qumranic halakhah, as a way-station between the Bible and the Mishnah, for understanding how Tannaitic halakhah developed. The impression obtained from the material reviewed in the article is that the direction of the “Tannaitic revolution” was charted, its methods set up, and its principles established, at a surprisingly early stage, before the destruction of the Second Temple, and thus at the same time that the Qumran literature was created.
Journal of Ancient Judaism – Supplements The Journal of Ancient Judaism Supplement Series (JAJS) addresses the history, texts, and religious formations that make up the rich cultural trace extending from the Babylonian Exile through the Babylonian Talmud. This new interdisciplinary series will serve as a forum of discussion for scholars from all scholarly and religious backgrounds. The editors are especially interested in contributions that cover wide-ranging topics through detailed, closelyworked arguments. Between two and four volumes will typically appear each year. Studies that situate particular inquiries in Hebrew Bible, Second Temple Judaism, or Rabbinics within the broader context of academic Jewish Studies are especially welcome, as are collected studies or edited volumes that reflect on the nature of disciplinary boundaries. As a peer-reviewed series, JAJS has an advisory board whose members will anonymously review manuscripts. Submissions will be accepted in English, German, and French.