16 And if any man's seed of copulation go out from him, then he shall wash all his flesh in water, and be unclean until the even.

17 And every garment, and every skin, whereon is the seed of copulation, shall be washed with water, and be unclean until the even.

What is the precise meaning of "whereon is" in verse 17? That is to say, while I'm sure we can all agree that a visible drop falling on a garment clearly qualifies, what if a clean garment accidentally rubs up against a dried drop that has fallen on a wood floor, a piece of leather, or a cloth item of some kind?

Considering that microscopic fragments of said dried drop could rub off and go into the clean garment that rubs against it, does the garment then qualify as one "whereon is the seed", and thus unclean?

Also, if the answer is that it does, is the same true if a drop on a wooden floor has been wiped or washed away, but microscopic fragments still remain (or if enough if left that an ultraviolet light would reveal the drop's former presence).

  • Note that there is little practical relevance to this, as it is not forbidden to become impure. – mevaqesh Oct 2 '17 at 6:21
  • Is there a precedent for the idea that being impure makes one unfit to attend a synagogue or otherwise perform worship ceremonies? Or, at the very least, to partake in the Pesach meal? – hbenthow Oct 2 '17 at 9:23
  • As far as we're concerned today, hbenthow -- no, no, and no. We really don't care today. Pesach meals today don't contain actual sacrifices. Someone ritually impure can and should participate fully in synagogue and holiday life. – Shalom Oct 2 '17 at 11:46

Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot She'ar Avot HaTumah, 5:2

וכמה שיעורה--לנוגע, בכעדשה; ולרואה, בכל שהוא

What is the minimum size [of semen to impart impurity]? For one who touches it, the size of a lentil; and for one who emits (lit. sees) it, there is no minimum size.

Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot She'ar Avot HaTumah, 5:14

שכבת זרע, אינה מטמאה אלא כשהיא לחה: יבשה כחרס, טהורה; ואם יכולה להישרות מעת לעת בפושרין ולחזור לכמות שהייתה, הרי זו טמאה.

Semen only imparts impurity when it is moist. If it has dried up so that it is like a piece of pottery, it is pure. But if it can be soaked for 24 hours in lukewarm water and thereby return to its original state, it remains impure.

Thus the oral law, as codified by Maimonides, teaches us that microscopic amounts of semen do not impart impurity, and neither does totally dried up semen.

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