Mice and Uncleanness

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June 30, 2017

3 min read

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I’m very uncomfortable. Our house is infested with mice and I know the Torah says that mice are unclean. Does this mean I shouldn’t be living in my house? Am I not allowed to eat food they come in contact with? And why does the Torah not like mice altogether?

The Aish Rabbi Replies

Actually, what you’re writing is based on a common misconception. It is true that the Torah includes the mouse in its list of unclean animals, but before all, that is only when it is dead (Leviticus 11:29-32). Thus, beyond the inconvenience, there is nothing especially “wicked” or “unclean” about your house because you have live mice running around in it and possibly touching your food.

Furthermore, in spite of the forbidding term the Torah uses – uncleanness (tumah), there is actually nothing wrong with a person becoming unclean (tamei). The Torah never forbids coming in contact with a dead body or animal. It only states that one who does so may not enter the Temple or eat a sacrifice (and impure Priests could likewise not eat their tithes (terumah)) – none of which are relevant today. But there is nothing wrong with becoming unclean per se. And in fact, attending a funeral, helping prepare a body for burial and the like are considered wonderful acts of kindness.

(The one exception to this is a Priest (Kohen), who even today may not come in contact with a dead (human) body except of a close relative, as per Leviticus 21.)

In addition, since today we do not have the ashes of the Red Cow, there is no way to purify a person from most of the more serious types of uncleanness. Thus, today we are all assumed to be “unclean” (for multiple reasons), but it makes no practical difference.

In terms of the more general notion, the Biblical laws of uncleanness are not a reflection of God’s dislike of certain things. In fact, it is just the opposite. Tumah is caused by a vacuum. When a person dies, a soul departs this world. The departure of such a Divine, ethereal entity leaves a lack in this world, a vacuum. God’s life-giving powers are a little bit less evident. In this absence, uncleanness comes in. The greater loss of a human soul causes a higher degree of tumah¸ while the death (without kosher slaughtering) of certain animals causes a lower degree.

See here for a more detailed discussion of this topic:

http://www.aish.com/tp/b/sw/48962456.html

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