What is hesger? We have learnt that the term refers to a specific period or a status of an unconfirmed metzorah. For example, regarding a skin nega, this term has been applied to one that has a nega that has not yet developed two white hairs, a michya or spread. But what does hesger mean?
Translations offered in previous articles have been isolation or quarantine. Such translations, taken at face value can lead to confusion. Particularly as one Mishnah (13:12) discusses ways in which a metzorah can come to shul while not causing other congregants to become tameh. Clearly the metzorah is not literally locked away in this period.63
Indeed the Rosh explains that it is not the metzorah that is quarantined, but rather the nega (cited by the Tur, Vayikra 13:5). The kohen draws a mark around the nega, which is later used to discern whether the nega has spread. Indeed, this explanation fits with the simple wording of the pasuk (Vayikra 13:5): “… and the kohen quarantines the nega for seven days.”
The Minchat Chinnuch however points out that the Rambam does not seem to agree with the Rosh: “…If the kohen who initially inspected the metzorah died or fell ill, another kohen cannot rule that the metzorah is tameh due to the nega spreading, because only the first kohen knows whether the nega has spread or not.” (Tumat Tzara’at 9:4) Had the nega’s original size been marked, this would not be a problem.
Furthermore the Ktav Ve’Kaballa cites the Mishnah learnt in the ninth perek regarding a case of doubt regarding which of two negaim had spread. If they were initially marked, what could possibly be the doubt? The Ktav Ve’Kaballa suggests with difficulty that perhaps the Mishnah is only referring to a case where the markings on both negaim rubbed off.
In contrast to the position of the Rosh, Rashi (ibid.) explains hesger as follows: “He shall shut him up in one house, and he shall not see him again until the end of a week.” With this understanding of Rashi the original question is ever stronger.64 If the metzorah is enclosed in his house, how can the Mishnah be discussing the possibility of him coming to shul?
The Ktav Ve’Kaballa suggests Rashi is not to be understood as maintaining the metzorah is locked up in his house never to leave. Instead the doors of the metzorah’s house are to be closed and kept that way. He sits in the house alone.65 This is in contrast with the regular manner in which the doors were left upon for people to come and go as they pleased. That is the situation that is being prevented.66
63 The solution provided by the Mishnah is to make partitions 10 tephachim high in an area (according to the Rambam at least) 4 by 4 amot. The metzorah should then enter and leave when there is no one else in the shul. The Trumat HaDeshen (2:95) explains that the even though everyone would be under one roof, the tumah of tzara’at is not as extreme as tumat ha’met (see for example the end of 13:12). Consequently partitioning off the metzorah in the manner would be sufficient to contain the tumah.
64 The Ktav Ve’Kaballa explains that this understanding can indeed be gleaned from the simple reading of the verse as we regularly find that a person is referred to by his actions. He continues that when the Torah refers to hesger with respect to a michva it still uses the masculine tense, thereby supporting the position of Rashi that hesger must be referring to the person.
65 The Daat Zekeinim explain that it is important for the kohen not to see the metzorah for the week as gradual change is not noticeable if it is seen observed regularly.
66 Also see the Minchat Chinnuch who appears to maintain that hesger only refers to the metzorah’s halachic status, i.e. in contrast to a metzorah muchlat. He is not locked up in a room, nor is the nega marked.
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