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The Queen’s Ingenious Act

The Queen’s Ingenious Act

Queen Salome Alexandra

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Have you ever hosted a dinner party, only to have your plans go awry? Well, you’re not alone. Learn about a Jewish queen’s creative solution that saved the party.

Salome Alexandra (141–67 BCE), an outstanding Jewish queen from the house of the Hasmoneans, reigned for ten years after the death of her husband, Yannai. She was also the sister of Shimon ben Shatach, the famed leader of the Sanhedrin.

The queen had arranged everything for her son’s wedding feast. Sadly, on the day the party was to begin, someone died in the ballroom, and all the beautiful utensils and vessels under the same roof as the corpse became ritually impure. Contamination from a dead body requires a week-long purification process (which consists of sprinkling the vessels with special waters on the third and seventh days, and immersion in a mikvah), which would cause a setback to the wedding party.

Since she was unable to acquire new vessels or delay the party, Queen Salome promptly devised a plan. In order to speed up the process, the queen pierced the contaminated vessels, thereby purifying them instantly, since broken vessels don’t retain their status. She then had them easily repaired by an expert craftsman, rendering them “new vessels,” and the wedding took place without delay.

As a result of her ingenious act, the rabbis became very concerned. Anytime a person had impure metal vessels, the week-long purification process could be bypassed by breaking them, and the laws of purity would be forgotten. Alternatively, many people not as scrupulous as Queen Salome would break the vessels only symbolically. Thus, they declared, the expedient of breaking and repairing is ineffective, and the former impurity is reinstated when the vessel is fixed (Talmud, Shabbos 16b).

Queen Salome’s creative idea challenged the rabbis to amend the laws of ritual purity.

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