Ritual Purity and Impurity and the Admission Process, Lawrence H. Schiffman, Sectarian Law in the Dead Sea Scrolls, Scholars Press, Chicago 1983.


Measuring Cups from Qumran

Measuring Cups from Qumran

3. Ritual Purity and Impurity and the Admission Process

In order to understand the meaning of the separation from the pure food, it is necessary to consider the process of admission to the sect as described in the Manual of Discipline. Like the Penal Code, these regulations are seen by Pouilly as part of the third stage in the history of the sect during which large numbers of new members were joining./4l/ Our treatment of the initiation of sectarians will concentrate only on the way in which ritual purity and impurity are reflected in the admission process.

The first step towards entry into the sect was examination by the paqid be-rosh ha-rabbim, the “official at the head of the community.” If this official approved the candidate, the novice took his admission oath and was then taught the sectarian regulations. Only then did the moshav ha-rabbim, the sectarian assembly, render a decision on him, presumably based upon his performance to date. If he passed this examination, he attained a partial status. Accordingly, DSD 6-16f. states-

ובקורבו לעצת היחד לוא יגע בטהרת הרבים עד אשר ידרושהו לרוחו ומעשו עד מולאת לו שנה תמימה

And when he draws near/42/ to the council of the community/43/ he shall not come in contact/44/ with the pure food of the community until they investigate him/45/ regarding his spirit and his deeds,/46/ until he completes/47/ one full year./48/

The novice, after a year in which he may not touch the pure food, is again examined by the moshav ha-rabbim. He is then elevated to a higher status in which his property is temporarily admitted into communal use. His property is registered officially, although full title remains his. Nonetheless, he is still not a full member, as DSD 6-20f. provides-

אל יגע במשקה הרבים עד מולאת לו שנה שנית בתוך אנשי היחד

Let him not come into contact with the liquid food of the community until he completes a second year among the members of the community.

After this second year he is again examined, a third time, by the moshav ha-rabbim. If he again passes (DSD 6-22)-

יכתובהו בסרך תכונו בתוך אחיו לתורה ולמשפט ולטוהרה

They shall register/49/ him in the appropriate place/50/ in the list/51/ among his brothers,/52/ for Torah, judgment, and purity. . . ./53/

At this point he is finally a full member of the sect; his property is subject to communal use; and he takes his place in the sectarian assembly.

The stages of initiation regarding ritual purity may be summarized as follows- The recruit, even after his examination by the paqid, instruction in some sectarian teachings, and reexamination by the community, was considered ritually impure and was not permitted to come into contact with any of the sect’s victuals. After his second public examination, he was allowed to touch only solid food for a year. Apparently, even after being permitted to come into contact with solid foods, he was still not considered entirely free of the danger of ritual impurity until he passed a final examination before the sectarian assembly. After this final examination a year later, he was allowed to touch even the liquid foods of the community. Only then was he a full member regarding tohorah, ritual purity.

The attempt by some scholars/54/ to understand tohorah as the purification ritual of the sect must be rejected. Indeed, the waters of purification, what the Rabbis called the miqweh, are explicitly mentioned in DSD 3-4f. where they are termed mey niddah/55/ or mey rahas./56/ That these are technical terms in the sect’s biblicizing ritual and legal vocabulary can be shown beyond a doubt.

CDC 10-12f. contains two occurrences of the expression mey keli which is likewise a technical term referring to water unfit for ritual purification. Separation from the tohorah, therefore, is not separation from purification in the ritual bath, but is, in fact, separation from the pure food of the sect.

The claim that tohorah refers to purification has been conditioned by the description of the Essenes given by Josephus, according to which upon completing the initial period of probation, the Essene novice is allowed “to share the purer kind of holy water.”/57/ While it is indeed possible to take this phrase as referring to the admission of the novice to the ritual bath and attendant purification, it is also possible to take this “water” as similar to the mashqeh of the Manual of Discipline. Josephus would have mistaken the order and therefore placed the liquid before the solid food in describing the Essene initiation process./58/ If, on the other hand, the passage is taken as referring to purificatory rituals, it cannot be used to interpret mashqeh at Qumran. For the “water” of Josephus is opened to the novice at the beginning of his initiation, whereas mashqeh at Qumran is the last stage. Even if Josephus’s “water” is the purificatory bath, the mashqeh of the sect remains the liquid food. As to when new members of the Qumran sect were admitted to the ritual bath we cannot say. It can be surmised that after the initial oaths, purificatory facilities were made available to the novices, even if these baths were perhaps separate from those of the full-fledged members.

The same school of thought which saw tohorah as the purificatory baths of the sect has claimed that the mashqeh is the banquet or communal meal of the sect./59/ This claim has been based on an understanding of this meal as sacral, a view argued against in this volume./60/ It must be said that the essential difference between the two roots for drinking in Hebrew, šqh and šth, is that the former is used in the context of providing or pouring water, even in terms of animals or irrigation;/61/ the latter is used for drinking at meals or at parties./62/ Hence, mashqeh is properly understood as a liquid, whereas mishteh is used for a party. This distinction is operative in both biblical and tannaitic Hebrew and should caution against the assertion that mashqeh refers to the banquet of the sect. In fact, DSD 6-4–5 and 1QSa 2-18 use the verb šth in reference to the sectarian communal meals.

G. Forkman has in this connection made the important observation that the Zadokite Fragments describe a process of admission which involves only the first two steps of the procedure described in the Manual of Discipline- examination by an official followed by the oath to join./63/ Based on this observation, he concludes that the Zadokite Fragments describe a community of novices./64/

Licht has examined these regulations of the Manual of Discipline in light of tannaitic traditions in a detailed appendix, and he has succeeded in providing a clear explanation of them. He notes that in tannaitic halakhic terminology, a mashqeh is a liquid fit for human consumption which may contract ritual impurity. Indeed, the sect used the term in the same manner. The mashqeh ha-rabbim is, therefore, any liquid used in the preparation of or served at the meals of the sect, mainly, in the view of Licht, the drinks consumed at the meals of the community.

Licht explains that according to tannaitic halakhah, purity regulations regarding the mashqim, liquids, are in some senses stricter than those regarding solid foods (’okhelim). The tannaim understood that even the smallest amount of liquid which is impure can render clothing, food and drink, or vessels impure. In the case of solid foods, there must be at least an amount the size of an egg in order to render anything impure. There is yet another stringency of liquids. Whereas solid foods are subject to a descending scale of impurity as the impurity is passed from item to item, liquids remain in the first state, which conveys the highest level of impurity, no matter how many times the impurity is transferred from liquid to liquid./65/

These two stringencies regarding liquids may indicate why the sectarian entry process was stricter regarding contact with the liquid than with the solid food. In order to understand fully the process of initiation, it must be remembered that one who eats or drinks impure food will himself become impure as a result, and that the impurity he contracts will be in the same degree as the food or drink consumed./66/

Based on all of these tannaitic regulations, Licht proposes a most attractive explanation for the process of initiation- One who is not a member is impure in the stage of ’av ha-tum’ah (the highest stage except for a dead body which is ’avi ’avot ha-tum’ah). During the first year the candidate is impure in the first degree. In his second year he is impure in the second degree, and only once he is fully accepted, can he be presumed to be pure.

Since the av ha-tum’ah renders impure both solid foods and liquids, the candidate in his first year is (just like the non-member) forbidden to touch both liquid and solid food. Since in the second year he is considered impure only in the second degree, and can render impure only liquids, he is permitted to touch the tohorat ha-rabbim, the solid food of the community, but is still prohibited from touching the mashqeh, the liquid food. Only after becoming a full member is he assumed to be pure and is he permitted to touch both liquid and solid food./67/

While Licht’s theory cannot be directly proven, it has the advantage of providing a reasonable explanation for the data presented in the texts and, as will be seen presently, also explains the process of removal from the pure food as a punishment. What emerges from Licht’s proposal is a unique relationship between the processes of what the sect regarded as repentance through the joining of its ranks and ritual purification. This ritual purification was to the sectarians no more than a symptom of a spiritual purification. Indeed, the sect believed that no amount of lustrations and ablutions would render pure anyone who was a still unrepentant transgressor./68/ To the sect, then, ritual purity and impurity were symbolic manifestations of the moral and religious state of the individual./69/

4. Ritual Purity and Impurity and the Penalties

It is now time to assess properly the punishment of removal from the tohorah, the solid food of the sect. What this penalty meant for the sectarian was a return to the status of one who had passed the first examination by the moshav ha-rabbim. In order to regain his status in the sect, he had to complete again the full progression of initiatory stages. Only then would he again become a full member of the sect. In other words, removal from the purity constitutes demotion to the status of a first year novice.

That this interpretation is correct can be seen from two passages from the Manual of Discipline. The second to last provision of the Penal Code (the last is expulsion, and it will be dealt with below) is as follows (DSD 7-18–21)-

והאיש אשר תזוע רוחו מיסוד היחד לבגוד באמת וללכת בשרירות לבו אם ישוב ונענש שתי שנים ברשונה לוא יגע בטהרת הרבים ובשנית לוא יגע משקה הרבים ואחר כול אנשי היחד ישב ובמלואת לו שנתים ימים ישאלו הרבים על דבריו ואם יקרבהו ונכתב בתוכנו ואחר ישאל אל המשפט

And as to the man whose spirit shall turn aside/70/ from the teaching/71/ of the community, so that he rebels/72/ against the truth,/73/ and goes after the foolishness of his heart,/74/ if he repents, then he shall be punished for two years./75/ In the first,/76/ he may not come into contact with (even) the pure (solid) food of the community, and in the second,/77/ he may not come into contact (with) the liquid/78/ of the community. And he shall sit behind all the members of the sect/79/ And when he completes two years,/80/ the community shall be asked/81/ regarding his affairs/82/ If they bring him near,/83/ he shall be registered in his proper place/84/ and afterwards he may be asked/85/ regarding/86/ judgment./87/

In this passage the sectarian has transgressed to the extent that he is forced to repeat the initiation process. He must repent, for otherwise no hope of purification exists. If he does, he begins the process described above. He is readmitted to the various levels of purity at exactly the same stages as a new member. In short, he is sent back to the lowest grade and allowed to reenter the sect with the possibility of progressing through the ranks once again.

DSD 8-16–19 which was apparently drawn from another source by the compiler of the Manual of Discipline is a parallel to the last passage. Once again the process of readmission for a member who has strayed from the sectarian law is described here-

וכול איש מאנשי היחד ברית היחד אשר יסור מכול המצוה דבר ביד רמה אל יגע בטהרת אנשי הקודש ואל ידע בכול עצתם עד אשר יזכו מעשיו מכול עול להלך בתמים דרך וקרבהו בעצה על פי הרבים ואחר יכתב בתכונו וכמשפט הזה לכול הנוסף ליחד

Pages 161-165

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