We are going to take a look at the categories of impurity which are mentioned in the Torah. These are called “Avot ha Torah” or “the father of impurity in the Torah.” A “father of impurity” is what you touch to become unclean. The rabbi’s added categories like idolatry, Gentile countries and a burial area. Those rendered impure by a “father of impurity” are called “toldot ha tumah” or “offspring of impurity.” Those rendered impure by a “father” are impure in the first degree. Those who are made impure by a first degree, are called second degree. With regard to secular produce, a second degree is impure but cannot pass on the impurity. With sacred produce (that which is dedicated to the Temple), there is a third and fourth degree (Mishnah, Sotah 5.2; Tohorot 1.8, 2.3). A corpse is “father of fathers of impurity” or “Avi Avot.” This is because it renders man, clothes, utensils and food and liquids impure. Remember, to come before the Lord you had to be pure. You needed to be on constant guard against becoming impure and unable to enter the Temple, so you had to be aware of your surroundings. You had to be conscious of what you ate and where you walked. You had to look for mold and also inspect your own body for leprous signs. This is not a “one day a week” mentality.
What principles are being taught? When do you start training a child? You should start them young, so that it grows up with this and can easily do it. This requires a certain environment, because being “outside of the camp” makes it hard to do because things are not set up for this. You have to continually discern between the holy and the profane, clean and unclean and light and darkness. Isa 2.2-4 and Isa 66.22-23 says that all nations will come before the Lord in the Kingdom, and that means they will be observing the laws of tahorot. This will happen soon. Now, if we don’t understand all the workings of it, at least understand that it is there. People will say “Thank God I am not a Jew and have all those commandments to do” but that is not the way to look at it. Ask yourself “why did the Lord give the commandments?
Let’s look at this concept of “father of impurity” with a woman who is called a “niddah.” That is a woman who is in here monthly cycle. If you touch her, you are now in first degree impurity and you become a “child of impurity.” If someone touches you, then they are in second degree impurity, and if someone touches them they become in third degree impurity. A corpse is a “father of fathers’ of impurity and the highest form. If you touch a corpse, that is first degree impurity. If someone touches you, that is second degree impurity. Then, if someone touches them, that is third degree impurity. The concept of “overshadowing” can be found in the Danby Mishanh, p. 649, 801; Kelim 1.4. A “tent” can mean “overshadowing” (Oholot=”tents”) and there are three manners of overshadowing, or “tenting.” They are what overshadows a corpse, what a corpse overshadows and what is overshadowed by something which overshadows a corpse. The concept of overshadowing can be seen in the following Scriptures, and this goes far beyond a corpse, as seen in Num 19.14; Psa 91.1; Hos 14.7; Luke 10.30; Acts 5.15. Much of the language of the Gospels and Epistles come right out of the language of the laws of purity.
There are several methods to contracting impurities. You can come into contact with an impure object. As we have said, “overshadowing” (ohel=tent) in Num 19.14. If a zara’at (leper) sticks his head into a house, then the house is impure. If a garment, at least the size of an olive< is put into a house, the house becomes impure, even if they don't touch it. A house with zara'at (leprosy) renders impure anyone who just sticks his head into it, as well as garments. An olive's bulk of stone, wood or earth from a house with zara'at renders a man and vessels impure by contact, as does entering into a house which contain them. Carrion of a clean bird does not render impurity by contact, except if eaten (who would want to eat something a buzzard had been eating?). In Deut 17.8-13 we have a passage establishing courts in Israel. In Matt 23.1-3, Yeshua refers to these courts when discussing the legal system of his day. By "seating themselves in the seat of Moses" the Scribes and the Pharisees were the interpreters of Scripture. They read and explained the Torah to the people. The word "sit" is an idiom for teaching because you sat when teaching (Luke 4.16) in the synagogue. This verse has nothing to do with legislative power. However, Yeshua recognized some of the oral tradition if it did not violate the Torah. When you look at Deut 17 and Matt 23, these verses need to be balanced out, weigh the Torah with what Yeshua was saying here. Now, we have a major concept to understand with all this in mind. We have a major factor in the messianic movement in the first century that all the other "Judaisms" didn't have. The non-Jews have come into the Malkut Shamayim (Kingdom of Heaven) just like the believing Jews did, through faith in Yeshua. This fact will not be acknowledged by the other "Judaisms." We must remember this fact as we study the purity laws in the first century. Remember the three things susceptible to impurity: man, utensils and food/drink. Numerous writings in the Epistles deal with this. The rabbi's (rabbinical rulings that were not found written in the Torah) saw some things alluded to in the Torah as "fathers of impurity." First, objects of idolatry were seen as a "father" based on Gen 35.2. The degrees will vary among the rabbis, from the same status as touching a reptile to a corpse. Idolatrous offerings or "passing under an Asherim" (idolatrous tree) renders impure, and the house it sits in. Second, Gentile lands were seen as making one unclean (Josh 22.19; Amos 7.17) but this was not in force at all times. Changing situations caused changes in the halakah. The roads and paths used by the pilgrims who came up to Jerusalem were considered clean. Towns within Israel populated by Gentiles were declared clean. In the first century, at the time of Yeshua, they were not. Cities like Tiberius were considered unclean, but this changed by the second century. The declaration of impurity of Gentile lands is not explicit in halakic sources. Third, burial areas were considered unclean, and called "Beit ha Peras." This is where a grave is plowed over and a bone exposed. It is also a field where the site of a grave is no longer known. Grave niches are called "kokim." Fourth, Gentiles were considered unclean and this is alluded to in the Mishnah and Tosefta. Josephus refers to it and so does the book of Acts, in chapters 10 and 11, especially Acts 10.28. This impurity is "scribal" (Matt 23.1-3) in origin and was not imparted to Gentiles from an external source, and it is unconnected to the impurities explicit in the Torah. In other words, the Torah does not say that the Gentiles are impure because they are Gentiles, or that coming into a Gentile's house causes impurity. All of this came from the "Scribes and the Pharisees" who did not have legislative power according to Deut 17 and Matt 23. Remember, just because the Scribes said it does not make it incorrect, but in this case it is incorrect in light of Acts 10, 11, 15, 21 and the book of Galatians. There is a tradition that this was one of the 18 Edicts passed by the Pharisaic School of Shammai (see the teaching on this site on Hillel, Shammai and the 18 Edicts) during the lifetime of Yeshua. These were passed by the house of Shammai, who were the antagonists of the School of Hillel, the school that taught the apostle Paul. These 18 Edicts were designed to separate Jews and the non-Jews (Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 17b; book "Jesus the Messiah" p 166 by Alfred Edersheim). Not understanding that these 18 Edicts existed will cause one to misunderstand Paul's attacks in Galatians, Ephesians and Acts. The Marcion Heresy which was against anything Jewish is a case in point. They saw Paul's attack on the 18 Edicts of the School of Shammai (he was from the School of Hillel that opposed Shammai) as an attack on the Torah, and Marcion and his flowers confused the two. This mistake is repeated in our day by those who are "anti-Torah" and base it on what Paul says in Galatians. They don't understand that Paul was not anti-Torah, but speaking against the 18 Edicts of Shammai. You cannot understand the epistles without understanding this concept. Gentiles were not allowed into the Azarah (inner courts) of the Temple (1 Maccabees 9.34; Mishnah Midot 2.3; Philo; Josephus Antiquities 12.115). The purification laws are the subject of this teaching, but as you can see, it deals with the Temple, an understanding of the Yom Kippur ceremony and the festivals, the sacrificial system, and understanding of idolatry and biblical eschatology. The benefits of studying this topic (or any topic on this site) is that we focus on what the Scriptures actually say (or doesn't say), on what Yeshua said, and it causes us to understand the Gospels, Acts and the Epistles. In Part 7, we will pick up here and start with the impurity of the hands.