Tahor and Tamei are often translated as clean and unclean or (ritually) pure and impure.

But what exactly do they mean, what are the definitions for tahor and tamei? How does one render "ritually" pure or impure?

(Is Tahor something like sanctification by elevating? And Tamei a lower status of some kind? And hence, if we strip the words “pure” and “impure” of their physical connotations, and perceive a more spiritual meaning, could they signify the presence or absence of holiness?)

Please help me out to get to the clear and pure essence of these words :)

  • 2
    one answer
    – msh210
    Feb 23, 2016 at 14:00
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    They are technical terms denoting specific legal statuses. I don't know what else you are looking for. That's what they mean.
    – Double AA
    Feb 23, 2016 at 14:25
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    Well clean and unclean could mean something like cleared and dirty, but thats not their meaning in Hebrew, pure and impure could mean something like not mixed and something mixed with anything else, but these also don't capture the essence of Tahor and Tamei... hopefully this helps. I want to know what these words capture in their meaning.
    – Levi
    Feb 23, 2016 at 15:18
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    The problem is that the words in Hebrew do not translate to existing terms in English. The terms need to be explained in their own context. An analogy could be made to the fact that the English word angel gives the wrong connotation to the word malach Feb 23, 2016 at 17:14
  • So there is no concept for Tahor and Tamei; a common factor between all the contexts? I'm not looking for a word to translate both, but more a description of some kind.
    – Levi
    Feb 23, 2016 at 18:42

3 Answers 3


There is quite a simple way to define purity and impurity as they are denoted in the Torah. Purity is everything that is connected to Life, hope, possibility and growth. Impurity, or Tameh - stems from the word 'Satum' which means closed off, and connotes anything that is disconnected from its life source, with no possibility for connection, growth or movement. So everything that is connected with death, is in the realm of impurity. These terms have nothing to do with physical cleanliness or dirt.

  • 1
    Welcome to Mi Yodeya, Rachel! Nice answer +1. Do you by chance have an earlier source that mentions this? If you do, you can edit it into your answer, which would give it more credibility. Apr 19, 2018 at 18:47

Tameh implies something that is close to hephsed (debilitation).

Tahor implies something that is wholesome within itself.

So that a dead person, which is the greatest hephsed, has the most tumah, for example.

  • Interesting approach. Any source?
    – Chaim
    Aug 3, 2016 at 1:12

I heard a Rabbi that said that it was the status of the person. Ritually impure or ritually pure. It did not mean dirty or clean. He said that a tame person still has to observe Shabbat, eat kosher, etc. although it is ritually impure. Hope this helps, it help me understand better.

  • Welcome to MiYodeya Michael and thanks for this first answer. Since MY is different from other sites you might be used to, see here for a guide which might help understand the site. Great to have you learn with us!
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    Jun 19, 2021 at 17:56

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