“Something like” Tzara’at on Houses

Negaim (12:5) | Yisrael Bankier | 15 years ago

…The one to whom the house belongs shall come and declare to the kohen saying: Something like an affliction has appeared to me in the house.

Vayikra 14:36

The Mishnah (12:5) learns from the above pasuk that even if one is a Torah scholar and knows with certainty that a nega has indeed appeared on his house, he should nonetheless not say that a nega has appeared, but rather “something like a nega” (k’nega) has appeared. Why?

The Tosfot Yom Tov brings a number of reasons for this law. Firstly, it fits with the general rabbinic instruction that one should train themselves to say “I am not sure” in order to develop the trait of modesty. Secondly, it is inappropriate to rule in front of the kohen in the same manner as it is prohibited to rule in front of one’s rabbi or teacher. Thirdly, the owner’s direct statement may end up rushing the kohen into ruling that the house is tameh. Another reason is that a person stating that a nega appeared on his house, implying a tameh nega, is tantamount to lying, as it is only tameh upon the kohen’s declaration. Finally, one should not declare it, so as to “not open the mouth of the Satan”, for it is possible that the nega would have disappeared prior to the kohen’s inspection. The admission of guilt, that a nega has appeared, might be incriminating and thus ensure the nega stays.62

The Tosfot Yom Tov adds that he understands that the law would apply to other forms of negaim as well. Therefore, if one had a nega on his clothing or skin, the same wording must be used. The Tosfot Anshei Shem argues that the ruling only applies to a house since it is not movable and the kohen would need to be invited. Everything else could be brought to the kohen.

The Oznayim Le’Torah however understands that there is a greater scope to the position of the Tosfot Yom Tov rather than the practicalities. He suggests that the homeowner is considered a “karov” to himself and therefore unable to testify or rule about his house. Consequently, even though we have learnt that a Yisrael can prompt an unlearned kohen to declare a nega as tameh or tahor, the homeowner cannot. This, he continues, explains the wording of an earlier Mishnah (2:5): “All negaim a person” – not kohen - “can inspect, excluding his own.”

The Ohr Ha’Chaim explains that the above law is not learnt from the word k’nega; had the Torah stated only “nega” one might have thought that the kohen is only summoned when one is certain that a nega has appeared. Instead it is learnt from the superfluous word “saying” (leimor) that precedes “k’nega”. Interestingly the Torat Kohanim learns from this superfluous word that the kohen provide the homeowner words of admonition. One opinion is that he should be told that tzara’at arise as a result of lashon ha’rah. R’ Shimon ben Eliezer explains that he should be rebuked that tzara’at come due to haughtiness. How does the Torat Kohanim learn this new ruling from this word?

The Binyan Ariel (Chadrei Torah) explains that the rebuke comes about through the limit on how the homeowner must approach the kohen – stating k’nega and not nega. Firstly stating nega would be (like) speaking lashon ha’rah about the stones of his house (see Erchin 15a); he is deliberately prevented from doing so. Secondly, as state above, he is prevented from ruling openly in front of the kohen, which would indeed be a haughty act.

62 The Oznayim La’Torah adds that another reason is that one is not allowed to incriminate themselves. As we have learnt (2:5) a person bearing a nega on his house is considered a rasha (due to the sins that brought the nega about). Consequently one cannot declare that his house has a nega.


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