Chatzitzot and Tevila - Part I by Rabbi Chaim Jachter


            This week we will continue in our discussion of some of the laws of Niddah.  This week we will focus on the issue of Tevila, proper immersion in a Mikvah.  We will look at some of the issues of Chatzitzot, obstructions between the person's body and the Mikvah, which have the potential to invalidate the Tevila, either on a Biblical or Rabbinic level.  It should be noted at the outset of our discussion that many if the Chatzitzot issues that arise are extremely complex and require the consultation of an eminent Halachic authority.  We will merely outline this week the basics of this issue and next week we will, God willing, look at how modern authorities have grappled with some of the difficult issues that have arisen in this technological age.


Talmudic Background - Source and Basic Rules

            The Torah (Vayikra 15:16) teaches regarding immersion       - "he shall immerse all of his flesh and remain unclean until the evening."  The Gemara (Eruvin 4b) derives from this verse       , "that nothing should intervene between his flesh and the water."

            Some Chatziztot invalidate an immersion on a Torah level and others only on a Rabbinic level.  The Gemara in Eruvin 4b outlines when the invalidation is on a Torah level and when it is on a Rabbinic level.


"On a Torah level a substance is a Chatzitza only if it covers a majority of the body and the person "objects to the presence of the substance in the body ( )."  Should the substance cover most of the body, but is not objected to, it does not constitute a Chatzitza.  However, the Rabbis decreed against this latter case for fear of its confusion with the former.  The rabbis also extended their decree to a substance that covers only a minority of the body, if the substance is one that the person "objects" to ( ).


            The Rema (Yoreh Deah 198:1) adds that it is preferable () that a woman should not immerse herself even with a substance on her body that is not defined as a Chatzitza on a Rabbinic level (i.e.   , it covers only  a minority of the body, and the individual does not object about the presence of that "object" on the body).  This practice was adopted as   and therefore as  to help avoid confusion regarding Chatzitzot.  However, both the Chochmat Adam (119:3) and Aruch Hashulchan (Y.D. 198:9) invoke the Talmudic rule that    , "a situation of great need is the equivalent of a post facto situation" in which we can rule that in case of extenuating circumstances, a woman is permitted to immerse with an object on her body that is not even a Rabbinic Chatzitza because it is     Contemporary authorities have addressed many such issues, as we shall see.


            Rashi (Eruvin 4b s.v. ) explains that something that is considered    is not considered a Chatzitza because "it becomes an integral part of the body" and it is thus rendered insignificant.  Nineteenth and twentieth century authorities debate how long a foreign object must be attached to the body in order to be considered   .  Teshuvot Chelkat Yoav (Y.D. 30), in a celebrated responsum, asserts that if the obstruction is intentionally kept in or on the body for more that seven days and is a Chatzitza only on a Rabbinic level (his example is cotton placed in the ear), it is considered as an integral part of the body and not a Chatzitza.  The basis for this ruling is the halacha regarding making knots on Shabbat (Rema, Orach Chaim 317:1).  This halacha is that a knot that remains in place for more that seven days is considered "permanent" ( ) on a Rabbinic level.  Accordingly, a foreign object is considered permanently attached on a Rabbinic level if it is attached for more than seven days.  Chelkat Yoav believes that if it is considered a permanent attachment on a Rabbinic level, it does not constitute an invalidating Chatzitza if it is only a Chatzitza on a Rabbinic level - i.e. either    or  .

            Rabbinic authorities have vigorously debated whether to accept the Chelkat Yoav's assertion as normative.  Teshuvot Avnei Neizer (Y.D. 262-263)

disagrees and asserts that a foreign object loses its status as a Chatzitza only if it is attached to the body for more than six months.  Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (cited by Dr. Abraham S. Abraham in Nishmat Avraham Y.D. p. 125) adopts a middle approach.  He notes that the accepted practice among Halachic decisors is to follow what seems to be the approach of the Beit Yosef (Orach Chaim 317), that if a knot is tied for more than thirty days it is viewed as a permanent knot.  Similarly, a foreign object is not considered a Chatzitza if it is attached for more than thirty days (this is also the approach adopted by Rav Feivel Cohen, Badei Hashulchan 198:179 who rules that one must intend to have that object remain attached to the body for at least thirty days after the tevila).


What is considered ?

            The definition of , objection to the presence of the foreign object, is disputed by the Rishonim.  The Rambam is interpreted by the Beit Yosef (Y.D. 298) as ruling that if the individual immersing doesn't object to the presence of the substance, even if others would find it objectionable, it is considered  , non-objectionable and thus not considered a Chatzitza.  On the other hand, the Rashba (Torat Habayit, section 7) and the Tur (Y.D. 198) rules that what most people would consider objectionable defines  and the individual's own preferences are viewed as      , "nullified by the majority opinion."

            In practice, the Shulchan Aruch (Y.D. 198:1) adopts the opinion of the Rashba  and Tur  as normative.  The Shach (198:2) rules that we must accept the view of the Rambam (as interpreted by the Beit Yosef) in its strict application.  Thus, if most people consider something "non-objectionable," but the individual immersing views it as "objectionable," it is considered to be a Chatzitza.


An Object That Comes Off By Itself

            An interesting question that often arises is whether something is considered to constitute a Chatzitza if the object normally falls off by itself.  Rashi (in his commentary to Shabbat 15b s.v. ) writes that something is not objectionable if it will fall off by itself.  There is considerable discussion if this rule can be applied to a contemporary situation such as stitches that come off "automatically" by "melting."  See Teshuvot Har Zvi Y.D. 163 who applies this rule to iodine which has discolored the skin, to say that it is not viewed as a chatzitza since it will dissipate by itself.  See also Chochmat Adam (119:16).


Beit Hastarim and

            A foreign object can constitute a Chatzitza even in some parts of the body that are not normally exposed, such as the ear canal and inside the nose and mouth, which the Gemara (Niddah 66b) refers to as  .  The Gemara articulated the rule regarding these body parts -     ,     .  This means that although the Mikvah water need not actually come in contact with the Beit Hastarim, no intervening substance may preclude the theoretical possibility of such contact.  This is an example of the celebrated rule of Rav Zeira -      ,    ,   - see Niddah 66b.

            Rishonim to Kiddushin 25a debate whether this rule regarding Beit Hastarim is a Biblical rule or a Rabbinic rule.  Tosafot (s.v. ) believes that it is a Torah rule, but the Ramban, Rashba and Ritva believe that it is Rabbinic in nature.  The Acharonim disagree concerning which opinion is accepted as correct.  The Teshuvot Avnei Neizer (Y.D. 260) rules like Tosafot that it is a Torah rule, whereas Rav Akiva Eiger (Psakim 60), Teshuvot Chatam Sofer (Y.D. 192), and the Chazon Ish (Y.D. 9:3) rule that it is Rabbinic in nature.

            A practical ramification of this issue is whether one can rule leniently on questionable areas of Chatzitza (such as the question of the aforementioned lenient ruling of the Teshuvot Chelkat Yoav) in the area of the Beit Hastarim.  If the Chatzitza is situated in a Beit Hastarim, if one accepts that the Beit Hastarim problem is Rabbinic is nature, then there is considerable room to be lenient (see, for example, Nishmat Avraham Y.D. p. 135).

            The question that is addressed by many Acharonim is the extent of what is considered Beit Hastarim.  Rav Akiva Eiger (198:7 s.v. ) writes that this rule of Beit Hastarim applies only to "places which sometimes are exposed" such as the eyeball (Rashba, Kiddushin 25a s.v.  seems to agree with this assertion).  However, places which are never exposed such as the inner recesses of the ear and nose are not even Beit Hastarim and the requirement of    is not applicable.

            Rav Yechezkel Landau (Teshuvot Nodeh Biyehuda Y.D. 64, cited by Pitchei Teshuva 198:16) has a similar approach to Rav Akiva Eiger.  He rules that the    rule applies only to a Beit Hastarim and not to a   (literally, an "absorbed" location), referring to inner recesses of the body.


 - Looseness

            The last principle of the rules of Chatzitzot we will discuss is the exception of  - when the foreign substance is not clinging to the body, but rather loosely connected.  In such a situation the foreign substance is not considered a Chatzitza (see Mikvaot 8:5 and Shulchan Aruch Y.D. 198:28).  An interesting application of this principle is the halacha that a woman is technically permitted to immerse while she is wearing loose-fitting clothes (see Shulchan Aruch Y.D. 198:46 and Shach 198:56).  A competent Rabbinic authority should be consulted should a need arise to rely on this rule, as it is often difficult to determine what is considered loose.

            Now that we have outlined some of the basic rules concerning Tevila, we are ready for next week's review of some contemporary applications of these rules.

Advertising and Halacha by Rabbi Chaim Jachter

A Husband's Participation in Childbirth by Rabbi Chaim Jachter