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Hesger Revisited

Negaim (1:3) | Yisrael Bankier | 4 days ago

This week we began masechet Negaim. The masechet deals with tzaraat, a spiritual affliction that has physical manifestations on one’s body, clothes or house. The masechet opens by discussing tzaraat that affects the skin. If one notices a white mark (nega) on his skin he must show it to the kohen. The first Mishnah lists the shades of white that might qualify a person as a metzora. If the nega has two white hairs or a michya in the centre then person is a metzora muchlat. In the absence of either of those two signs, the person is a metzora musgar. He must revisit the kohen after a week to see if either of the two signs have developed or the nega has spread. If nothing has changed, then he is given another week to see if the nega changes and if nothing does, the nega is considered tahor.

What does it mean that the person is a metzor musgar and what is this period of hesger? During last cycle (Volume 6, Issue 36) we analysed two different approaches. The first was Rashi’s that appeared to explain that the metzora is effectively quarantined – “He shall shut him up in one house, and he shall not see him again until the end of the week.” The other position was that of the Rosh how explains that it was the nega itself that was musgar and not the individual. In other words, the kohen draws a mark around the nega to see if it spreads. See the above cited article for the questions raised on each of these opinion and some suggest resolutions.

The Mishnah Achrona also attempts to understand the hesger. He rejects the notion that the metzora was imprisoned for a number of reasons. Firstly, this would make a metzora musgar harsher than a metzora muchlat. When discussing a metzora muchlat the Torah write: “lo yisgireno”. This would mean that the metzora muchlat would not require being locked-up – which would be counter intuitive. Secondly, quarantining does not appear to have an impact on the fact that his status will be reassessed after a week based on the appearance of simanim. Even if one would suggest that the quarantine is simply a Torah decree, the Mishnah (9) seems to suggest the hesger was only to clarify his status and not a mandatory sentence.1

The Mishnah Achrona’s the language of hesger simply means doubtful. The kohen renders the individual in a doubtful status and the matter is temporarily closed or concealed, requiring it to be reopened in week’s time. The fact that both the metzora muchlat and musgar are sent out from the camp is not hesger. This is clear since, as mentioned above, the Torah says about the muchlat – “lo yasgireno”.

He cites the Mishnah LeMelech that explains similarly. There the Mishnah LeMelech mentions the opinion of others that explain that when a house with tzaraat required hesger, the kohen would literally shut the door. The Mishneh LeMelech however argues that much like negaim that affect the skin and clothes, hesger is achieve through verbal declaration of the kohen. This is certainly in line with the Mishnah Achrona understanding that hesger is simply the kohen declaring the metzorah is in this doubtful state.2


1 Also the Mishnah (13:12) discusses ways in which the metzora musgar can come to shul without causing others to become tameh. It appears then that he is not under quarantine.

2 The Mishah Achrona notes that there are a number of Midrashim that take the term hesger literally as meaning imprisoned in line with Rashi’s explanation. Interestly however, he is not bother. He explains that sometimes when engaging in agada the Midrash will take a literal reading and does not have any legal impact.

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