Semen, Shit, and Piss

Daf 22. Summary. At one time, zavim, lepers, and those who had relations with menstruating women were permitted to study Torah, while those who had seminal emissions were not. It is more lenient now. “Matters of Torah do not become ritually impure.”

The gemara looks at how Ezra came to institute a decree forbidding study by one who had an emission– a decree that has proved impossible to enforce and was thus rescinded.

Mishnah. One must be at a distance of at least four cubits from human waste when reciting Shema.

Gemara. One who discovers that human waste was present when he prayed must distance himself from it and repeat the prayer. One who inadvertently wets himself while praying should pause until his stream ceases and, according to some, repeat the prayer and, according to others, resume where he left off.

Comment. Stringency with regard to seminal emissions would empty the study hall, on the one hand, and “suspend procreation,” on the other hand, so the rabbis relent, but they remain uneasy from the thought that leniency might lead Torah scholars to be with their wives “like roosters.” Regulating human conduct, or at least putting distance between the emissions and excretions, both voluntary and involuntary, of the human body and the obligation (and, indeed, the heartfelt desire) of the human soul to connect to divinity requires a balance between stringencies that will discourage engagement and leniencies that will distract from engagement.

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