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I know that there are multiple things (food, corpses, menstruation, etc.) that can make one unclean. I'm just uncertain as to what being unclean meant in practicality, especially for touching the carcass of an unclean animal, or a corpse (it's fairly clear what uncleanness for menstruation looks like, according to Leviticus).

In short: what are the consequences of being unclean? Does one have to be isolated from the community? Can anyone touch them, etc.?

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Nowadays there is mostly no implication of not being Tahor (spiritually clean).

Only 2 related laws still apply:

  1. A Cohen may not come in contact with a corpse, nor be under the same roof as a corpse, nor come within 4 Amot (~2 meters) of a grave. If he does, he has transgressed, and needs to repent, but no other practical consequences.

  2. Nidah - menstruation, as you already mentioned. Nowadays, after menstruation a wife may not have relations (or any other physical contact) with her husband until after she has counted 7 clean days and gone to a Mikvah.

In the time of the Bet HaMikdash (the Temple, may it be speedily rebuilt in our times) it was important to remain Tahor for various reasons. Here are some:

  • You were not allowed into the Temple unless you were Tahor.
  • You could not touch Terumah and Challah (the tithing and piece of dough given to a Cohen) unless you were Tahor. Otherwise they became impure and had to be burned. Nowadays we burn them, as we are all considered impure.
  • You had to keep away from people and items which were Tahor in order not to make them impure.

The only person who was sent into isolation was a person who had Tzara'at (Biblical-leprosy). All other people were expected to act civilly and not make each other (or their items) impure.

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    What about Chalat Chu"l? Maaser Sheni in Jerusalem? Going on Har haBayit? – Double AA Jul 20 '14 at 13:30
  • A couple of comments: 1- Har Habayis is still an issue today. 2- The perushim essentially avoided contact with amei ha'aretz – Yitzchak Jul 21 '14 at 15:57
  • @Yitzchak - true, but they were still involved. See Taharos Mishna 5:8 "if you don't know, ask her" and other Mishnayot where we rely on the Am HaAretz's "awe" of the perushim. – Danny Schoemann Jul 22 '14 at 8:49
  • Yes but the harchakos were significant. Even more so for nidda – Yitzchak Jul 22 '14 at 18:37
  • @Yitzchak - correct. But they still had to learn the halachot, or else risk doing some very serious sins, like entering the Bet Hamikdash when impure. – Danny Schoemann Jul 23 '14 at 12:07

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