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ZAVIM (Heb. זָבִים; "Sufferers from Flux"), ninth tractate in the order Tohorot in the Mishnah; there is no Gemara either in the Babylonian or in the Jerusalem Talmud. The scriptural basis of this tractate is Leviticus 15:1–15, which speaks of the ritual impurity of the zav, i.e., a man who has a running issue (probably gonorrhea), and describes in great detail how anybody and anything coming into contact in any manner (directly or indirectly) with the zav contracts impurity. Mishnah Zavim consists of five chapters.

Chapter 1 discusses the significance of the frequency, intensity, and continuity of the discharge in determining whether the person concerned is considered definitely a zav in terms of Leviticus 15:1–15, or whether he is afflicted with a lesser degree of impurity (e.g., a ba'al keri, one who suffered an accidental discharge of semen, in terms of Lev. 15:16). Chapter 2 first lists the categories of men to whom the law of running issue applies (including, for example, slaves, minors, and even eunuchs) and then discusses the seven ways of examining a suspected person to ascertain whether or not he is really a zav. The last paragraph touches on the difficult problem of midras (lit. "treading"), denoting the very high degree of impurity ("father of uncleanness") imparted by a zav to a thing on which he stands, sits, lies, etc. (without touching it) and which this thing in turn imparts to a person (including his garments) who stands, sits, lies, etc., on it. The "thing" in question here is called mishkav ("couch"), but the law of midras would apply to anything used for standing, lying, or sitting on, or for any other relevant activity (e.g., leaning, riding, etc.).

Chapters 3–4 discuss various cases of midras in contrast to cases of hesseṭ (lit. "shaking"), i.e., the lesser degree of impurity imparted by the zav's moving a person or object without touching him or it, or by the zav's being moved in the same manner. For example, if a zav rides with another person on a beast, even if their garments did not touch, an uncleanness of the midras category is imparted to the other person. Instances of hesseṭ mentioned are, for example, the sitting of the clean and unclean on a beam not firmly fixed, or if they pull a rope in opposite directions. Chapter 5 at first continues the subject of hesseṭ, but then discusses different aspects of the impurity of a zav, partly in comparison with other kinds of impurity. The last paragraph deals with rabbinical stringencies regarding the imparting of uncleanness to terumah. A point to which particular attention may be drawn is that holy books which touch terumah make the latter unclean. The apparently strange practice of the priests of storing their holy food next to scrolls of Holy Scripture should be set against the background of this remarkable regulation. It was out of concern not for the holy food, but for the Holy Scriptures, lest they become damaged by proximity to food, that the regulation was made, thus preventing the placing of holy food near books (Shab. 14a).

Mishnah Zavim is mainly of ancient origin (Epstein, Tannaim, 96). Mishnah 3:1 is its only Mishnah discussed in the Babylonian Talmud (bm 105b). Several sources can be detected in Zavim. Epstein (Tannaim, 64) attributed chapter 5 (except for mishnayot 4–5) to R. Joshua b. Hananiah, and Mishnah 1:1 to Akiva's earlier view, which he later changed (cf. Tosefta 1:4–6). Mishnah 1:2 is according to the view of R. Meir, while the corresponding passage in the Tosefta 1:8 stems from R. Judah, who refers to Meir in his work as "a certain disciple." The Tosefta contains several topics not mentioned in the Mishnah, such as the discussion on the zav, zava, and the leper in chapter 3, on the defiling caused by idol worship in 5:6–8, and the topic of yayin nesekh ("wine used in idol worship"). One passage of this Tosefta (1:5) discloses the origin of the mishnayot of Akiva: "As R. Akiva stood before his disciples classifying the halakhot, he said: Let anyone who knows a reason or law [pertaining to the topic at hand], arise and speak… R. Simeon then spoke in his presence… whereupon [Akiva] said: Not everyone who jumps up [to state a halakhah] is to be praised, unless he gives the reason thereof." An English translation is in Danby's Mishnah (1933).


Epstein, Mishnah, index; Ḥ. Albeck, Shishah Sidrei Mishnah, Tohorot (1959), 437f.

[Arnost Zvi Ehrman]