Safek and Searot

Negaim (4:11) | Yisrael Bankier | 7 months ago

One of the indications of tumah (siman) for tzaraat affecting one's skin is the appearance of two white hairs. The Mishnah (4:11) teaches that the hairs must form inside the nega . In other words, if the hairs grow prior to the nega appearing, then they would not be a siman tumah. The Mishnah ends with a debate where there is a safek (doubt) when the hairs formed. The Chachamim maintain that the nega would be considered tameh -- a stringent ruling, while R' Yossi disagrees. The opinion of the Chachamim requires investigation. In the next Mishnah we learn that in general, the ruling is lenient in cases of doubt related to negaim. Why is this case different?

The question is further sharpened considering that the individual in this case has a chazaka that they were tahor. In other words, the last certain status of the individual is that they were tahor. A safek in a case where there is a chazaka related to body of the individual should not change the status.

The Tosfot Yom Tov cites the Tosfot (Nidah 19a, s.v. R' Yehoshua) who explain that in this case the chazaka is weakened. They explain that since the white hears would normally form inside a nega and not prior to it appearing, there is a strong argument to say that the hairs turned white after the nega appeared.

The Rash however argues that that logic would not apply to someone that naturally grows wait hairs in that location due to age and complexion and the Mishnah does not differentiate regarding the individual concerned. The Rash therefore suggests that in this case, a nega that was half a gris (half-bean), less than the minimal size, had already appeared. After that it grew to a gris and there were two white hairs. The Chachamim reason that since some of the nega was already there prior to the hairs, it makes sense that the rest of the nega also preceded the hairs. The Tosfot Yom Tov cites the Korban Aharon who asks, that the same question posed by the Rash can act against him. The Mishnah does not differentiate between whether there was a half gris nega or not. If it is true that in a cases where there was nothing prior to the safek that the Chachamim would agree that the nega is tahor, then one would have expected the Mishnah to have stated it.

The Shitah Mekubetz (Ketubot 75b) however cites Rashi how explains that the stringency in this case is derived from the Torah. The Torah teaches (Vayikra 13:3), "The Kohen shall look at the affliction on the skin of his flesh; If hair in the affliction has changed to white...". In other words, only if it is clear that the hair developed inside the nega is it considered tameh.

The Maharsha however questions the Tosfot's original question. We know that cases of doubt that arise in the private domain are treated stringently. This case is referred to as safek tumah be'reshut ha'yachid. This principle is learnt from Sotah where there is a pre-existing chazaka that the Sotah was "tahor". Considering that the mark is on the body of the individual, it should be considered a doubt in the private domain. A stringent ruling should therefore be of no surprise.

The Maharsha answers by differentiating between our case and regular cases of doubt in the private of domain. In those cases, the doubt is one of contact. In this case it is one of "seeing" about which the above principle does not apply.

The Grach however explains that for negaim the rule of safek tumah be'reshut ha'yachid does not apply as it is fundamentally different to a regular case of safek tumah. In this case, even if the white hairs developed inside the nega, which would indeed be a siman tumah, the nega is not considered tameh until it is assessed by a kohen. In regular cases of safek tumah this issues is regarding an object that is tameh. In our case, the doubt is not whether the object or nega is tameh, but whether the kohen should rule and render the nega as tameh.

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