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What is meant by "pure" and "impure"?

by Rabbi Mendy Hecht


Library » Women & Judaism » Women's Mitzvot » Family Purity | Subscribe | What is RSS?


A. “Purity” and “impurity” are the wrong words for the concept—it’s “positive” and “negative.” We are not human beings having a spiritual experience—we are spiritual beings having a human experience. And the universe is not a physical entity with a spiritual part to it—it’s a spiritual entity with a physical part to it. Rocks, dirt, plants, animals, people, all matter—they’re physical mirror images of spiritual entities.

B. Every spiritual entity has spiritual points. And these spiritual points are reflected in the entity’s physical form. Some physical entities have positive spiritual numbers. Others have negative spiritual numbers. The animals and things called “pure” have positive numbers. And the animals and things called “impure” have negative numbers. It’s just a matter of spiritual energy.

C. In the complex, constantly shifting universe of spirituality, energy levels fluctuate and spiritual points both positive and negative are furiously traded between the trillions of physical entities throughout the day. This explains many things: why we use the Mikvah, why Halachah requires almost constant hand-washing, and why some animals are Kosher and others are not. Tumah (pronounced TOO-mah) and taharah (pronounced TAH-hah-rah), the Hebrew words for impurity and purity, are labels used to indicate the current spiritual status of any given physical entity. If something’s tamei (pronounced TAH-may), it has a negative spiritual status. And if something’s tahor (pronounced TAH-hore), it has a positive spiritual status.

How do I know if something’s pure or impure?

1. For the Birds and Beasts

This one’s simple: if it’s kosher, it’s pure, if it’s non-kosher, it’s impure. Lambs are pure. Lions are not. Why? Spiritual points. Negative Mitzvahs 172-174 proscribe eating tamei animals, fish, and fowl, respectively.

2. Hands On

If you touch the dirty ground, or your shoes (which touch the dirty ground), or you use the facilities, and a battery of other daily situations too numerous to enumerate, halachah requires that you restore your hands’ spiritual points with a brief watery rinse. Any of the above conduct negative spirituality to your hands, and water’s positive spirituality cancels it out.

3. Other Sources of Negativity

After attending a funeral, or coming in contact with a deceased human body or a dead animal, one restores spirituality by washing the hands.

And that's the way it is--pure and simple!

TAGS: pure, impure, impurity


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Changed Perceptions

Posted by: John Luke, Silver Spring, Maryland on Nov 23, 2004

...of Jewish law, that is. As a Christian, my views of observant Judaism were, to say the least, skeptical. AskMoses is a delightful antidote to my ignorance. Your website answers questions with simplicity and yet completeness, and with an obvious love of the Lord. One that struck me as particularly beautiful, and just as true for this Baptist as it must be for any believer, Jew or Christian, is this: "We are not human beings having a spiritual experience—we are spiritual beings having a human experience." Thank you.

Spiritual beings having human experience

Posted by: Grace Ballesteros, Davao City, Davao del Sur, Philippines on Dec 17, 2004

Dear Mendy Hecht: Scriptures do mention about the Tabernacle having a Heavenly pattern and prophets having visions of heaven with creatures and objects resembling those on earth. But it was your statement about us humans being spiritual beings having human experience that gave me better perspective of what man is about. It also made me understand the precepts regarding "clean" and "unclean" with respect to the nature of the Eternal One and our standing with Him. Of added help was your explanation of this subject by way of the use of "positive" and "negative" to explain the concept. I have sent a copy of your article to a dear friend. Thank you very much for this site, many of your articles have been helpful. I still need to have a serious guide as to how to determine if something is prohibited by Him on Sabbath or not. Take care, Grace

Positive and negative numbers--too simplistic

Posted by: Benjamin E. on Jan 03, 2007

I think your description of tumah and tahara is too simplistic. Describing it as simply positive and negative energy ignores all of the complexities involved in the meaning of various pure and impure activities and experiences.

I also don't understand where this literally metaphysical concept of tumah and tahara comes from. In fact, the gemara explicitly states that it is not an actual metahysical experience, where a rabbi notes that it is not that the water actually purifies or that the ashes actually impurify; rather, one becomes pure or impure because God decreed it so.

Although a convenient description, I think your article is much too simplistic for the topic at hand.

Editor's Comment

1) The purpose of this article is to give a simple understanding of the terms Tahor (pure) and Tamei (impure) to people that have had little or no prior exposure to the terms. 2) Have you not heard of the term "Ruach Hatumah" ("the spirit of impurity")? The concepts of "purity" and "impurity" are of a religious/spiritual and metaphysical nature.


Miscellaneous » Health Issues » Tzaraas ("Leprosy")
Life Cycle » Marriage » Family Purity » The Laws

Jewish Law. All halachah which is applicable today is found in the Code of Jewish Law.
Literally means "fit." Commonly used to describe foods which are permitted by Jewish dietary laws, but is also used to describe religious articles (such as a Torah scroll or Sukkah) which meet the requirements of Jewish law.
A ritual bath where one immerses to become spiritually pure. After her menstrual cycle, a woman must immerse in the Mikvah before resuming marital relations.
Ritually impure.
Ritually pure.