Someone contacted me and asked me to explain who were the Morning Immersers (aka Morning Bathers) mentioned in Tosefta Yadayim 2:9, and what is their relationsship to early Christians.
In this particular Tosefta Zockermandel’s edition makes a mistake in his quote of the manuscript (he was rushing to copy it in the Berlin library) and should not be used. Zuckermandel’s text of this Tosefta does not match the Vienna manuscript and or the first printed edition. We are left with three variations of the text: Vienna manuscript, Venice First Printed Edition and the quote of this Tosefta from Rash MiShantz in his commentary on Mishna Yadaim 4:8. All other later printed editions are not reliable since they have not been edited from Tosefta manuscripts but rather from the Venice edition and other books like Talmud Bavli, so they often quote other Beraitot which are related in content but are different.
Now let’s look at this Tosefta. Here are the three quotes:
אומרין טובלי שחרין קובלנו עליכם פרושין שאתם מזכירין את השם בשחרית בלא טבילה אומ’ פרושין קובלנו עליכם טובלי שחרין שאתם מזכירין את השם מן הגוף שיש בו טומאה.
Morning Immersers say, “We accuse you, Pharisees (Perushim), that you mention [God’s] name in the morning without [first] immersing [in the Mikveh upon waking up.]” Pharisees say, “We accuse you, Morning Immersers, that you [ever] mention [God’s] name using (literally: from) the body which has Tumah (ritual impurity) in it (i.e inside it).”
Venice First Printed Edition:
או’ טיבלני שחרית קובלני עליכם פרושין שאתם מזכירי’ את השם מן הגוף שיש בו טומאה.
Morning Immersers say, “We accuse you, Pharisees, that you [ever] mention [God’s] name using (literally: from) the body which has Tumah (ritual impurity) in it (i.e inside it).”
Rash Mishnantz (Commentary on Mishna Yadayim 4:8):
אומרים טובלי שחרית קובלנו עליכם פרושים שאתם מזכירים את השם בשחרית בלא טבילה. אומרים פרושים קובלנו עליכם טובלי שחרית שאתם מזכירים את השם מן הגוף שיש בו טומאה.
Morning Immersers say, “We accuse you, Pharisees, that you mention [God’s] name in the morning without [first] immersing [in the Mikveh upon waking up.]” Pharisees say, “We accuse you, Morning Immersers, that you [ever] mention [God’s] name using (literally: from) the body which has Tumah (ritual impurity) in it (i.e inside it).”
From a quick glance all versions make sense as far as something that these two groups might have said to each other, however after you look into it the Vienna manuscript (and Rash Mishantz) have the correct reading, and not just because they match each other. Let me explain how.
Who were these Morning Immersers? They were a Jewish (non-Christian) sect called by Justin Martyr (see Dialogue with Trypho 80) Baptist Pharisees and by Epiphanius (Panarion 1:11:1:1, 1-11:2:5) Hemerobaptists. Josephus (Life of Josephus 12) also mentions his Essene teacher, Bannus, who dipped in the Mikveh many times a day and night and could have been a Hemerobaptist. Eusebius (Ecclesiastical History 4:22) mentions Hemerobaptists as a non-Christian sect. An early Christian work, Clementina (from the 2nd century CE), (Homilies 2:23) mentions that John the Baptist and his disciples were Hemerobaptists. The Talmud Bavli (Berachot 22a) mentions that Hemerobaptists still existed during the time of Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Levi who lived in the 3rd century CE since he mentioned them and the Talmud implies that they were a Jewish sect, as Rash Mishantz (ibid.) understands. That means that all of the Christian sources about them are contemporary and not just historical.
Now what’s the halachic problem that this argument between Hemerobaptists and Pharisees is about? This depends on whose point of view this argument is explained from. We only have an official record of the explanation from the Talmud Bavli, which is the point of view of the Pharisees. However, the Essenes and the Morning Bathers themselves would have explained it totally differently.
The Gemara’s (based on Berachot 22a) explanation is as follows. A man at night may have become a Baal Keri (had a seminal emission). That means that according to the Halacha of the Pharisees he did not require to immerse in the Mikveh in order to be able to pronounce God’s name, but rather he only needed to have 9 Kavs of water dumped on him from a bucket. This was the law during Temple times as attested in Talmud Bavli (Berachot 22a), since it’s originally quoted in the name of Nachum Ish Gamzu who lived before the Temple’s destruction. However the Hemerobaptists required that a man who had a seminal emission had to immerse in the Mikveh. So the Hemerobaptists accused the Pharisees that they mentioned God’s name in the morning while being ritually impure due to seminal emissions. However the Pharisees replied back to Hemerobaptists with an insulting facetious comment. They said that how can Hemerobaptists ever say God’s name since their bodies are ritually impure inside, meaning in their souls, because they do not follow Rabbinic instructions. The Pharisees did not mean it to be a serious reply. They simply wanted to insult the Hemerobaptists and make fun of them. Now that we understand it that way, then as you can see the version of the Venice Printed Edition does not make any sense. It quotes that the Hemerobaptists insult the Pharisees with a facetious comment, and that does not make any sense, since the Hemerobaptists took their Mikveh immersions very seriously and would not insult anyone about it. Also it does not make sense that the Tosefta would mention the quote of one group without the reply of the other.
It is interesting that by the 4th century CE many Rabbinic Jews started following the rule of Hemerobaptists and started immersing in the Mikveh in the morning if they had a seminal emission, as quoted by Talmud Bavli (Berachot 22a) in the name of Rabbi Chanina. The anonymous voice (Stama) of the editors of the Talmud itself has forgotten about the existence of Hemerobaptists and only knows the current practice of when it was compiled, which had regular Rabbinic Jews immersing in the Mikveh for seminal emissions, and therefore it praises it as a great stringency. But eventually that practice died out as well and has not existed until the Hassidic movement in the 18th century. It seems that it only was practiced in the Land of Israel and once the Jewish centers of learning moved to Babylonia in the 5th century CE that practice died out. As time went on the same practice changed its reasons and appeal to different groups. So during Temple times Pharisees were against these morning immersions. But by the 4th century they were for them. There are Orthodox Jewish sects today who still have the practice of daily immersion, such as Lubavitch Hassidim. Their men immerse in the Mikveh every morning, even on Shabbat. As far as I know they are the only ones who do this as a group. From my discussions with them they don’t do it because of Baal Keri, but rather because of a general purification for no apparent halachic reason.
However, this whole practice from the point of view of the Essenes and the Morning Bathers themselves had a totally different meaning. Essenes and similar groups were always paranoid that they may not have noticed how they became impure, so just in case they kept on immersing. Also they had additional more esoteric reasons for their immersions. They believed that immersion in the Mikveh purified sin and therefore was required all the time, not as a halachic rule, but rather as spiritual purification from spiritual problems. For various sources from the Dead Sea Scrolls that attest to this belief and their comparison to the views of the Pharisees in the Talmudic literature see Hannah Harrington, The Purity Texts, Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2007.
The Purity Texts