Tumah and Electricity

A Study in Analogy

Rabbi Shlomo Cohen
www.HIQJEW . com

The Ribbono Shel Olam created the world according to rules. Scientists spend their time seeking these rules. The discoveries in Cosmology, Physics,
Chemistry, Geology, and Biology are nothing more than uncovering the rules by
which Hashem runs the world.

The Creator did not create everything with differing standards. Often, we can see
a thread running from one dynamic that mirrors a very different dynamic

There is a startling analogy between the way Tumah (ritual uncleanness)
transfers from one object to another as well as things that do not facilitate the
transference of Tumah, to the manner in which electricity behaves.

The Vilna Gaon lists only twelve things that produce Tumah:

  1. Zav
  2. Zava
  3. Nidda
  4. Yoledes
  5. Metzora
  6. Shichvas Zera
  7. Mais
  8. N’veila
  9. Sheretz
  10. HaSoref es HaPora
  11. HaSoref Parim
  12. HaMishalayach Sair

    These may be broken into three distinct groupings.
     The first six are products of a living person.
     Seven, eight and nine are Tumah produced by death.
     The last three are associated with Korbonos.

There are several degrees of Tumah: (Similarly, the weaker the source of
electricity, sometimes due to resistance, the weaker the zap.)

  • Av HaTumah
  • Rishon L’Tumah
  • Sheni L’Tumah
  • Shlishi L’Tumah

    Tumah may be contracted in several ways: (With the exception of Ohel,
    electricity will zap with any contact.)
  • Mega – touching, direct contact
  • Masa – carrying
  • Ohel – overshadowing
  • Mishkav – lying on
  • Moshav – sitting on

    Some materials “conduct” Tumah very well:
  • People
  • Animals
  • Most Liquids, Water
  • Metal
  • Porcelain
  • Cloth

    Other materials are Tumah “insulators”:
  • Stone
  • Wood
  • ceramic

Electricity, as everyone knows, is produced in several ways and it is also
conducted through certain materials, other materials act as insulators. In fact,
except for porcelain and cloth, the conductors are the same. It will lose strength
as it moves through any given material due to resistance. So does Tumah. It is
produced naturally (lightening or static electricity) or can be man-made. It is
possible to store electricity in small quantities just as Tumah will remain in an
object. Both need to be discharged. Tumah in a Mikva. Electricity through a
circuit or an arc.

Both Tumah and electricity will arc across an intervening space if certain
conditions are met. Both will spread throughout the entire conductor. Both will
stop at the point where there is nothing to conduct it further, or it meets an

Neither is visible, has any weight or substance, color, smell, or taste. Electricity
can be harnessed whereas Tumah can’t be utilized.

Electricity is quantifiable and measurable. Amperes, watts, ohms, and volts are
all ways of measuring electricity. Tumah is quantifiable however, we do not have
the tools to measure it in any real sense, it being spiritual rather than physical.
Being spiritual, Tumah cannot affect physical change. It will not create heat nor generate power in a physical sense. It will affect change on the physical plane in
a spiritual way by changing the status of the person or object.

Our analogy breaks down at a certain point.
Stored electricity (a battery) will lose electric power over time. Tumah does not
dissipate at all. Once becoming Tamay the person or thing will generally remain
so until immersion in a Mikva. Electricity will create heat and occasionally some
humming or buzzing, Tumah doesn’t.

It’s all quite fascinating.

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