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Ritual Baths Adjacent to Tombs: An Analysis of the Archaeological Evidence in Light of the Halakhic Sources

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This study surveys the archaeological evidence of Jewish ritual baths (miqwa'ot) built adjacent to tombs, dating variously from the late Second Temple period through the 3rd-4th centuries C.E., and analyses this evidence in light of the halakhic sources. At first glance, this archaeological phenomenon would seem to stand at odds with normative halakhah, which mandates miqweh ablutions for corpse-impurity only at the end of a seven-day purification process. A careful reading of the scriptural and rabbinic sources, however, reveals that while a seven-day purification process is required for one who has contracted impurity directly from a corpse or a grave, impurity conveyed through an intermediary source (i.e. physical contact with one who has contracted direct corpse-impurity) may be purged through ablutions on the same day that the impurity was incurred. This study suggests that miqwa'ot adjacent to tombs were utilized at the conclusion of burial ceremonies by funeral participants who had contracted such “second-degree” impurity.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Land of Israel Studies and Archaeology, Bar-Ilan University, Ramat-Gan, 52900 Israel;, Email: yonatanadler@gmail.com

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/content/journals/10.1163/157006309x355213
2009-01-01
2016-12-03

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