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Oholot

OHOLOT

OHOLOT (Heb. אָהֳלוֹת; "tents"), the second tractate in the Mishnah order of *Tohorot. It deals with the ritual impurity conveyed by a corpse (or parts of it) either through physical contact, or through being under a common roof. There are 18 chapters both in the Mishnah and the Tosefta. The original name of the tractate was Ahilot (literally, "overtenting"), by which name it is called both in the Tosefta and when it is mentioned in the Gemara. It also occurs in several manuscripts of the Mishnah. The name Oholot is a popularization attributable to the influence of the passage in Numbers 19:14: "Whoever dies in a tent." There is no Gemara to this tractate either in the Palestinian or Babylonian Talmud. Nevertheless, the great amount of commentary on it scattered in both Talmuds is reflected in the fact that G. Leiner published a large "synthetic" Gemara on the tractate by assembling and arranging all this material in an orderly manner. The Talmud (Ḥag. 11a) itself notes that the biblical treatment of the subject, consisting as it does of only four verses (Num. 19:11, 14, 16, 22), is very meager, yet rabbinic exposition has made Oholot one of the larger tractates of the Mishnah. The ritual uncleanness conveyed by a corpse is of the severest degree (lasting seven days) and requires sprinkling with water mixed with the ashes of the *Red Heifer (see *Parah) as part of the purification procedure. With the destruction of the Temple, this type of ritual purification became impossible to observe and it lapsed a century or so later. The laws of the tractate, however, retained their relevance for those of priestly descent, who, except in the case of close relatives, must avoid contact with the dead.

Like most tractates of the Mishnah, Oholot is composed of several layers. The basic layer (although not the earliest) reflects the teaching of R. Akiva, primarily as taught by his disciple R. Meir. Other sections reflect the interpretation of R. Akiva's teachings by other pupils: Judah, Simeon, and Yose. Because the greater part of the first tractate, Kelim, in this same Mishnah order is rightly attributed to R. Yose, several scholars were formerly of the opinion that Oholot was also largely written by him. It has been recently demonstrated, however, that the role of R. Yose in this tractate is even less than of his colleagues. English translations of the Mishnah were published by H. Danby (1939) and P. Blackman (1955), and J. Neusner published a translation of both the Mishnah (1991) and the Tosefta (2002) of Tohorot.

bibliography:

G. Leiner, Sidrei Tohorot, 2 (1903); H.L. Strack, Introduction to the Talmud and Midrash (1945), 60f.; A. Goldberg (ed), Massekhet Oholot (1955). add. bibliography: J.N. Epstein, The Gaonic Commentary on the Order Toharot (Heb.) (1982); S. Lieberman, Tosefet Rishonim, vol. 3 (1939); J. Neusner, A History of the Mishnaic Laws of Purities (1974–77), vol. 4–5; idem, From Mishnah to Scripture (1984), 45–51; idem, The Mishnah Before 70 (1987), 269–90; idem, The Philosophical Mishnah 3 (1989), 47–59; idem, Purity in Rabbinic Judaism (1994), 88–95.

[Abraham Goldberg]

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