Weekly Daf: Does nullification apply to a mixture of similar items?


Does nullification apply to a mixture of similar items?

Rabbi Shmuel Wise

The daf of last Shabbos gave us the opportunity to review the mishnah in Zevachim that discusses this question. The mishnah there discusses a case where some sacrificial blood got mixed in with non-sacrificial blood. If there is a majority of non-sacrificial blood, do we say that the sacrificial blood is legally nullified and thus cannot be applied to the mizbeach? The Rabbanan and R’ Yehuda debate this question: The Rabbanan say the sacrificial blood is nullified and R’ Yehuda says it isn’t.

As the gemara explains, the underlying question is what the rule is in a case of two similar items as our case where both elements in the mixture are blood. R’ Yehuda asserts that nullification does apply in this situation. Indeed, there is a powerful logic to what R’ Yehuda is saying: The whole idea of nullification is that the element of lesser quantity loses its identity to the element that makes up the majority of the mixture. How then does it make sense to say that blood loses its identity to…blood? Thus R’ Yehuda says that the sacrificial blood doesn’t go away, no matter how much non-sacrificial blood is added to the mixture.

So, what do the Rabbanan say back? The Ran in Nedarim (52a) offers an interesting explanation. He says that the Rabbanan actually agree that if we were dealing with two elements of the same type that nullification wouldn’t apply. However, the Rabbanan argue that the two elements here are not considered the same: for one (the sacrificial blood) is permitted for the mizbeach and the other (the non-sacrificial blood) is prohibited for the mizbeach. In other words, the Rabbanan hold that the “type” that a given item fits into depends not on its physical makeup but on its halachic makeup.

Things get even more interesting when we are presented on 23a with an Amoraic teaching about the exact understanding of R’ Yehuda’s opinion. The gemara discusses what R’ Yehuda would rule by a mixture of kosher and non-kosher (i.e. from an animal that wasn’t properly slaughtered) meat. Rav Chisda there states that if a bit of non-kosher meat mixed with a majority of kosher meat, the former would be halachically nullified (i.e. for the purposes of tumah; see Rashi there)—even according to R’ Yehuda. But wait, I thought R’ Yehuda says that nullification does not apply when the items of the mixture are of the same type?

As the gemara there explains, Rav Chisda holds that since the majority item (i.e. the kosher meat) can never become like the minority item (the non-kosher meat; meaning that the kosher meat will never suddenly become a source of tumah like the non-kosher meat is), even R’ Yehuda agrees that this is judged as a mixture of dissimilar items and therefore nullification does apply. But this seems to only deepen the mystery: I thought R’ Yehuda goes by the physical makeup of the items when determining the type that an item is? Apparently, even R’ Yehuda agrees that we have to also put on our “halachic glasses” when judging what an item’s type is. That is, only when we see two items that are a) physically the same and b) can hypothetically become halachically the same will we judge this a mixture of items of the same type which will not be subject to nullification.

Wishes to all for a sweet new year filled with brachah and happiness!