Two Models for Pollution, Part B: From Qumran to Qirqisani, from the Mishnah to Maimonides

Hillel Mali, Naphtali S. Meshel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Ancient Israelite and early Jewish texts on ritual purity vacillate between two incompatible conceptual models of pollution. According to the ``disease'' model, which is non-hierarchic, pollutions from diverse sources differ from one another qualitatively; according to the ``temperature'' model, pollutions are conceived as differing in degree. While no single text adheres to an unadulterated version of either model, this study demonstrates the explanatory power of a Two Model Theory for understanding biblical and early Jewish literature on pollution. Mishnah Order Teharot opens with a programmatic exposition of the sources of pollution. The contrast between this exposition's hierarchic rhetoric and the non-hierarchic picture emerging from its contents reflects the tension between the Pentateuchal disease model and the late Second Temple temperature model. By analyzing various features of rabbinic texts, as well as halachic thought-experiments, this article demonstrates that seemingly haphazard alignments between diverse texts reflect coherent theoretical frameworks and points to a system within a multitude of divergences and convergences.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)235-258
Number of pages24
JournalJewish Studies Quarterly
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2023


  • Purity
  • ritual
  • Qumran
  • Kelim
  • Mishnah
  • Karaite
  • pollution
  • hierarchy


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