Inspecting a Metzora on Sunday

Negaim (1:4) | Yisrael Bankier | 15 years ago

Masechet Negaim deals with the identification and treatment of tzara’at affecting the body, clothing and houses. Tzara’at was no ordinary affliction. Its cause did not have a scientific reason, and its healing process, at the very least, would today be considered alternative. The reason for this difference is despite the illness having a physical manifestation, the cause and remedy were both spiritual.

One would only become a metzorah with the kohen’s inspection and declaration that he is indeed a metzorah. In some cases a metzorah can be subjected to two, seven day quarantines; referred to as a metzorah musgar. At the end of each seven day period (including the first day of inspection) the metzorah is reassessed and it is determined whether the metzorah is tahor, tameh or must undergo another seven days of quarantine.

The Mishnah (1:4) stated a concern which then takes the form of debate. The Chachamim ruled that judgements (dinim) cannot be performed on Shabbat out of concern that those ruling would write the details of the judgement down, thus violating a prohibition of Shabbat. The Bartenura explains that the inspection of a person suspected of being a metzorah falls under this prohibition. The Tifferet Yisrael explains that this is because the inspection requires a high level of expertise and weighted analysis.

While the above law is accepted by all, the debate is about whether the initial inspection can be performed on a Sunday or Monday. The reason is that potentially the inspections after the first or second seven day quarantines could fall on Shabbat. R’ Channinah segan Ha’Kohanim rules that the initial inspection cannot be performed on Sunday and Monday so as to prevent the potential conflict. Since the timing of the review being after seven days is Torah law, while the initial inspection is not, that potential conflict must be avoided.49 R’ Akiva however rules that the initial inspection is not delayed and nevertheless performed on Sunday and Monday. This is despite the potential future conflict. In the case that a subsequent inspection falls on Shabbat then that inspection will be pushed off till after Shabbat. The Mishnah Achronah explains, in his second answer, that since at present there is no current need there is no justification for delay.

In the first answer brought by the Mishnah Achronah, he explains that this debate is not based on logic alone but hinges on something else. Later we will learn (3:2) that if a groom develops a nega, his initial inspection is not performed till after the festive week – the first week of marriage. Similar the initial inspection of anyone that develops a nega during one of the three festivals is also delayed till after the festival. The Gemara (Moed Katan 7b) brings a Beraita that records a debate regarding this law. R’ Yehuda maintains that it is derived from the pasuk that states “On the day that it is seen [on the metzorah]” implies that there are particular day that the nega is not seen, i.e. in the event of a mitzvah. Rebbi argues that such a derivation is unnecessary, for the pasuk already stated that when the kohen came to inspect a nega on a house, “The kohen shall instruct them to empty the house [of its contents]… so that everything in the house should not become tameh [when he declares it so]”. Rebbi explains that if for mundane matters the inspection can be delayed then certainly this would be the case for the sake of a mitzvah (e.g. simchat yom tov). The Gemara explains that the practical difference between the positions of R’ Yehuda and Rebbi is whether the initial inspection can only be delayed only for a mitzvah or for other matters as well (davar reshut).

The Mishnah Achronah explains that this is indeed the debate in our Mishnah as well. He explains that delaying the initial inspection from occurring on a Sunday would be considered a davar reshut since currently there is no mitzvah-need. R’ Channinah maintains that even for a davar reshut one can delay and consequently rules that the inspection must be pushed off till Tuesday. R’ Akiva on the other hand insists that a mitzvah driven reason is the only basis for delay and therefore the initial inspection must be performed.50

49 The Tifferet Yisrael explains that while it is true that the Chachamim have the ability to overrule Torah law when instructing one to take no action (shav ve’al ta’aseh), nonetheless R’ Channinah maintains that this licence should not used about lechatchila.

50 The Mishnah Achronah however cites the Rambam who rules like R’ Akiva that initial inspections can be perform on any day (except Shabbat and Yom Tov), yet cites the explanation of Rebbi for delaying the inspection of a groom. The question is left for further thought.


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