Tazria – Speech Pathology

Tum’ah, or “ritual defilement,” is invisible but consequential in many contexts, especially, though not exclusively, with regard to kodoshim, material holding holy status.

And, in most cases of tum’ah impartation, the defilement happens as a matter of course, through contact of one sort or another with a source of tum’ah.

Tzara’as, the skin condition that occupies the bulk of parshas Tazria, is different. It is wholly dependent on the judgment, based on the detailed laws in the parsha, of a kohein.

And not just his judgment but his pronouncement of “tamei.”

Hence, we have the law that a groom with a sign of tzara’as is to be given seven days of wedding celebration before presenting his condition to a kohein; and anyone with such a sign does not bring it to a kohein during a holiday (Rashi Vayikra 13:14, based on Moed Katan 7b). No pronouncement of tum’ah, no tum’ah.

At least in the case of skin tzara’as, which, it is taught, results from lashon hara, speaking ill of others, the oddity of the tuma’ah being dependent on a pronouncement might telegraph a subtle message to the afflicted person: Speech is powerful. It can be destructive, as in lashon hara, the source of tzara’as. And withholding it can be consequential in a positive way, preventing  tum’ah from manifesting. It is what sets humanity apart from the animal world.

It’s fitting, in other words, that the status of a condition brought about by speech is dependent on speech.

© 2024 Rabbi Avi Shafran

My most recent Ami column, “One-State Delusion,” can be read here.

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