Niddah 70b: The men of Alexandria asked twelve questions to Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chananya… three of them were foolish. 1) Does Lot’s wife make someone tamei? He replied: A dead person can make someone tamei, but a pillar of salt cannot. 2) Does the Ben Hashunamis brought back to life by Elisha make someone tamei? He replied: A dead person can make someone tamei, but a live person cannot. 3) Will the dead who are resurrected in the future require sprinkling of the red heifer? He replied: When they are resurrected we will come up with the answer. Some say he replied: When Moshe Rabbeinu comes with them, we will ask him.
נדה ע ע”ב: שלשה דברי בורותֹ: אשתו של לוט מהו שתטמא? אמר להם: מת מטמא, ואין נציב מלח מטמא. בן שונמית מהו שיטמא? אמר להן: מת מטמא, ואין חי מטמא. מתים לעתיד לבא, צריכין הזאה שלישי ושביעי, או אין צריכין? אמר להן: לכשיחיו ־ נחכם להן. איכא דאמרי: לכשיבא משה רבינו עמהם.
Rabbi Yechezkel Roth, the Karlsburger Rov, suffered a heart attack in 2016 and was hospitalized at Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn, where he was placed on a respirator.
Upon his release from the hospital, Harav Roth asked his wife, Rebbetzin Chaya Rechel, if she wanted to stay with him. When she of course replied in the affirmative, he performed a kiddushin before two witnesses. He explained that he was being machmir for the opinion of the Terumas Hadeshen.
[The Terumas Hadeshen, Psakim Uksavim 102, is responding to the question of whether Eliyahu Hanavi’s wife or Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi’s wife could remarry. He adds, “This would have an implication for the future too, if someone else was zocheh to be like them. “
He quotes our Gemara in Niddah and then comments:
אע”פ שודאי אשתו של לוט מתה אלא שנהפכה לגוף אחר ובן השונמית היה מת אלא חזר ויחי אעפ”כ אמר שאין מטמאין ה”נ י”ל אשת רעהו אסורה ולא אשת מלאך שכולן רוחני ולא גופני.
“Although certainly Lot’s wife died, only that she turned into another substance; and the Ben Hashunamis was dead, only that he came back to life, still the Gemara says that they do not transmit tumah. Here too, the wife of one’s fellow man is forbidden and not the wife of an angel, for the angels are completely spiritual, not physical.”
What is his comparison between a live person who was once dead and Eliyahu Hanavi, who is still alive? (Or, if Eliyahu Hanavi is considered dead, then what is the need for a proof from this Gemara?) It seems he means to argue as follows: why isn’t the Ben Hashunamis still tamei now, since he was dead and had tumah then? True, he is alive now and cannot generate new tumah. But where did the old tumah go? His answer is that Rabbi Yehoshua was teaching the Alexandrians that it’s possible for a person to be transformed so completely that nothing of his previous state remains. Here too, Eliyahu Hanavi turned into an angel and an angel cannot have a wife, but one might have argued that his ties to his wife from the time when he was human still remained. From the Gemara we see that no, he was completely transformed and nothing remained.
Now, in theory, the story of the Ben Hashunamis could be understood in four ways: 1) Even after Elisha revived him, he was actually still dead, only he appeared to be alive. 2) He was really revived at the end, yet he maintained the tumah acquired when dead. 3) The fact that Elisha revived him shows that he was never actually dead at any point. 4) He was truly dead, yet Elisha revived him and he became truly alive and completed transformed so that no tumah remained.
The Alexandrians’ question showed that they entertained possibilities 1 and/or 2. Rabbi Yehoshua’s reply can be understood as either 3 or 4. The Terumas Hadeshen is interpreting it as 4.
R’ Chatzkel Roth evidently extended this concept to the technological advances of modern medicine. It is possible nowadays for a person to exhibit signs of death – heart and breathing stopped – and yet be revived with machines. Position 3 would say that this shows the person was never dead. But position 4 – the Terumas Hadeshen – would say, yes he was dead, but he was revived and completely transformed. He was tamei while his heart was stopped, but now he is tahor. His wife was unmarried while his heart was stopped, and now he needs to remarry her.
The Chida disagrees with the Terumas Hadeshen. In Birkei Yosef Even Hoezer 17:1, the Chida brings the Gemara in Megillah 7b where Rabbah slaughtered Rabbi Zeira and then brought him back to life the next day, and poses the question of whether Rabbi Zeira had to make a new kiddushin on his wife. Do we say that the old kiddushin disappeared when he died, and when he came back to life it was a fresh start, or do we say that the techiyas hameisim reveals that his death was not a real death?
He brings proof to the latter position from the Yerushalmi Gittin 40b, which discusses a man who, before leaving on a trip, gives his wife a get on condition that he will not return after 12 months, and then dies before the 12 months are up. Rabbi Chaggai says she is permitted immediately, but Rabbi Yossi says she is forbidden, for perhaps a miracle happened and the husband came back to life. The Bavli (Gittin 76b) asks the same question and leaves it unanswered. The Chida argues we see from Rabbi Yossi that if the man did come back to life, she would still be married to him. And even Rabbi Chaggai, as well as the other position in the Bavli, only disagree with him because they are not afraid of such a rare occurrence. But if it did happen, all would agree that she remains married to him.
However, the Chida says he wrote all of this quickly (אני אמרתי בחפזי) and this is only the way it seems superficially (לפום ריהטא). Actually, there is a tremendous problem with this reading of the Yerushalmi. If Rabbi Yossi holds that we are afraid of people coming back to life, what does he do with all the chapters of Yevamos and sugyos throughout Shas that discuss giving testimony that a husband died in order to permit his wife? How will it ever help? Even if it is proven that he died, perhaps he will come back to life. How can his wife ever remarry? Now, the Chida does say that he admits in the case when the husband was buried and then came back, that his wife is no longer married. He is only speaking about Rabbi Zeira, who was not buried. But if so, all who testify on a husband being dead would have to testify that he was buried too, and we don’t find this. Rather, it seems clear that Rabbi Yossi never meant to say that the wife is still married after the techiyas hameisim. He meant only that there would be no get and the wife would need chalitzah. This is because the husband gave her the get only on condition that he would not return from his trip by 12 months. He then died during the trip. Rabbi Yossi is afraid that he may come back to life and return before 12 months, rendering the get null and void. True, she would no longer be married to him due to his death, but since there was no get, she would need chalitzah and would be forbidden to remarry without chalitzah.]