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The Rambam (Hilchot Mikvaot 2:11) does not allow loosely holding a utensil in a mikve

When one holds another person or an implement and immerses them, they remain impure. This applies even if he loosens his hand and allows water to reach the person or the article being immersed. This is a decree, lest he not loosen his hand. If he rinses his hand in water first, the immersion is acceptable.

(see also the mishna in Mikvaot 8:4)

However the Shulchan Aruch (YD 120:2) rules that it is permissible to hold a utensil loosely

The vessel must be loose in your hands at the time of dunking, for if it is tight in your hands it is an interposition, and if you dampen your hand in the water at the outset there is no need to worry (Rema: and specifically that you dampened your hands in the waters of the Mikvah but not in water that is detached).

and this is the halacha as practiced (see e.g., here and there).

Why this difference of opinion? What led the SA to rule differently? Is there a difference in the physical reality (e.g., were mikvaot at the time of the Rambam so deep that they would be worried to loosen their grip on utensils?)

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    Aren't the Rambam and Sh"A saying exactly the same thing? "If he rinses his hand in water first, the immersion is acceptable." "if you dampen your hand in the water at the outset there is no need to worry" – Heshy Jun 24 at 20:34
  • I understand the Rambam to say that lechathila one should not immerse an article even while loosening one's hand. However I thought the halacha is that one could. The SA doesn't have this constraint – mbloch Jun 25 at 3:33
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Gra in his commentary to Yoreh De’ah 120:2 explains that this is in fact a difference of opinion between Rambam and Shulchan Aruch, which hinges on how to explain Mikva’ot 8:4:

הָאוֹחֵז בְּאָדָם וּבְכֵלִים וּמַטְבִּילָן, טְמֵאִין. וְאִם הֵדִיחַ אֶת יָדוֹ בַּמַּיִם, טְהוֹרִים. רַבִּי שִׁמְעוֹן אוֹמֵר, יְרַפֶּה, כְּדֵי שֶׁיָּבֹאוּ בָהֶם מָיִם.‏

If one holds a person or vessel and immerses them, they remain impure. If he first wets his hand with water, they are pure. R. Shim’on says: he loosens his hand, so that the water can touch them.

There are two ways to understand the argument in the mishnah.

Rambam:

  • Tanna Kama - holding an object is never valid, unless one’s hands are wet.
  • R. Shim’on - if one loosens one’s hands (rather than wetting) that is also acceptable.

Shulchan Aruch (following Rashba):

  • Tanna Kama - holding an object tightly is not acceptable, unless one’s hands are wet.
  • R. Shim’on - wetting one’s hands does not work. The only solution is to hold the object loosely.

Both Rambam and Shulchan Aruch rule like their respective understandings of Tanna Kama. Thus, Rambam forbids even loose holding with dry hands, whereas Shulchan Aruch permits this.

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    wonderful, many thanks – mbloch Jun 25 at 9:20

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