We are going to take a look at the impurity of hands, and this is related to Paul’s statement in 1 Tim 2.8 where he says to “lift up holy hands” in a spiritual sense. We are going to take a look at the consequences of purity and impurity, methods of purification, purity and impurity at the present time and reasons for impurity and impurity.
Impurity can be on the hands in some cases, although he was not unclean and connected with the Temple. This was decreed so that holy things would not become impure in the Temple (Hag 2.11-13; Acts 21.26-31; Luke 10.25-37). Temple purity was taken very serious. This was to prevent the loss of sacred meats and eating it. This was very important. Aaron lost two sons and he did not eat the sacrificial meat because his heart wasn’t right (Lev 10.16-20). Moses was very upset with him for not eating this sacrificial meat, but understood once Aaron explained how he was feeling.
The concept of impurity of hands is very ancient. The Baraita (contained traditional Jewish law not found in the Mishnah) teaches that Shammai and Hillel taught it, possibly earlier. The regulation requiring washing of the hands is ascribed to Solomon. Remember, we are talking about ritual purity, which means that this is connected to entering the Temple and having contact with holy objects. This has nothing to do with sin. Impurity can be contracted in many ways. It was assumed that anyone outside of the Temple was impure ritually. It is the same thing with hands. They could have contacted something unclean, even unknowingly. So, they declared the hands unclean, while the body was clean.
Some first century “tannaim” (teachers and scholars in the years 100 BC to 200 AD) required washing of the hands before eating Terumah (holy food) and even common food. This teaching is the basis for the confrontation Yeshua had in Matt 15.2 and Mark 7.1-23. The School of Shammai and Hillel differed on this point. They decreed that this washing was not merely for cleanliness, but it had to do with hands that had become ritually unclean. The religious declared that hands in general were impure, even for common food. Josephus relates that the Essenes “bathed” before every meal, which was a ceremony for ritual purity.
Let’s look at the consequences of ritual purity and impurity. You could not eat of the sacred things or even enter the Temple. If you were a priest, you could not minister. You were not allowed to participate in the heave offering or the second tithe while impure. There was no prohibition which applied to common food or drink. It is permissible to touch things impure and to incur impurity from them. Scripture says that only the sons of Aaron and the Nazarite were not allowed to touch a corpse, or incur any impurity on account of one. This plays a role in understanding Luke 10.30-37 and the story of “The Good Samaritan.” The “camp of Israel” was considered to be from the entrance into Jerusalem to the Temple Mount. In conformity to this, the command of sending the ritually impure “out of the camp” was understood as the area of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount. Lepers are only sent out of the walled cities, but may go anywhere else. For example, could a leper walk in downtown Bethlehem or Nazareth? The answer is “yes” because they were not walled cities.
In Jerusalem, precautions were taken to protect the holy things and the priests. No burials were allowed there, no corpses left overnight. During the siege of Jerusalem in the first century, a famous rabbi named Yochanon Ben Zakkai got out of the city on this point. Nobody was allowed to go out of the city because the Zealots did not allow it, for fear that the people would go over to the Romans. So, Ben Zakkai faked his death and because no corpse could be buried in the city, he was “carried” out of the city. As a result, he was allowed to talk to the Roman general and he told him that he was going to take the city, and eventually become emperor. The general was impressed with him, and he saved many sages, scholars and teachers and was allowed to go to the city of Yavneh. One of those saved was Rabbi Zaddik, who was on a 40 year fast concerning the destruction of Jerusalem. This 40 year period corresponded to Yeshua’s predictions about the fall of Jerusalem 40 years earlier.
As a precaution, it was forbidden to maintain refuse heaps or raise chickens/roosters in Jerusalem (Maimonides Mishneh Torah, from Tumat Okelim 16.10). This prohibition is the story behind why the “rooster crowing” at Yeshua’s arrest was not a rooster, but the man called the “Temple Crier” or “gever.” He was a priest who gave a three-fold cry in the Temple for the priests to get ready, the Levites to the posts and the Ma’Amad (standing men, “lay” people who attended the services) to get ready for prayer. It was against the law to have a chicken or a rooster in Jerusalem. If you did, then Acts 21.27-30 would happen and you would be in trouble. They were radical when it came to desecrating the Temple. The Shulcahn Aruch ( meaning “set table” was a book that contained halachah) said that only human and chicken dung have an odor of its own, all others had to be disturbed to smell. So it was the odor that they considered a desecration of the Temple. So, this story of the “cock-crowing” at Yeshua’s trial tells you where the house of Caiaphas was. It was in the Herodian Mansions near the Temple where high ranking priests lived, otherwise, how could they hear the Temple Crier? There were five houses discovered in this area, and one had a huge courtyard and was probably where Yeshua was tried. The other sites are too far away from the Temple. Latrines were outside of the city, or taken by a chamber pot through the Dung Gate.
Ritually impure persons tried to avoid imparting impurity to the people of Jerusalem, or anyone else. A woman in her monthly cycle (a Niddah) dressed in special garments. You needed to know the laws of purification and you were responsible to others, especially from defiling a priest. The people went to great extents to safeguard the ritual purity of others. This brings into perspective the importance of the Temple. As we said before, Acts 21.27-30 says that the people were so upset with the idea that Paul brought a Gentile into the Temple (he didn’t, this was a false accusation) that they were ready to kill Paul. They probably didn’t even know what he did for sure, but the gates of the Temple were closed and there was a lot of shouting. The Romans didn’t know what was going on due to the chaos.
Spittle was declared clean in Jerusalem, except in the upper market of the city. Priests were strict about this, so that he could remove a dead reptile even in his girdle on the Sabbath. If a priest served at the Altar in a state of impurity, his fellow priests would not take him to a Beit Din (a court to be tried), they took him outside the city where he was killed. In reality, this was never done because a priest would never do this. This was probably where Paul was headed in Acts 21.
A “Chaver” is one who belonged to a “Chavurah” which was a group of “friends” who ate together. They ate in ritual purity and watched out for one another. The Pharisees, and even stricter groups, did this. They made sure that the food they ate was tithed off of, they had their own Beit Din (court) and they had at least 25 members. First century messianic congregations were based on the first century Chavurah’s. The purity laws could not be observed in total at all times due to difficulties. Certain rabbi’s taught that the purity laws only applied when there was a Temple (the correct view), but these laws were expanded by rabbinical decree to include all people, all the time. This eventually became the majority opinion. All views were written down (unlike Christianity) and it was believed that you could draw your own conclusions.
In Part 8, we will pick up here and begin discussing the methods of purification.