The Whites of Tzaraat

Negaim (1:1) | Yisrael Bankier | 7 months ago

Tzara'at refers to the spiritual affliction that had physical manifestation on the body, clothing, or one's house. Masechet Negaim begins by discussing tzara'at that appears on one's skin. The first Mishnah teaches that the nega (mark) must be one of four shades of white. A shade duller, would be not be considered a nega. The Mishnah explains that these shades are "two that are four". We have seen this expression a few times in our study of Mishnayot. It means that two of the shades are avot, learnt directly from the Torah, while the other two are toladot, derived. The Bartenura explains that the terms se'et and baheret mentioned in the Torah refer to the two avot, while the term sapachat mentioned between them, implies that each have a toladah. The Mishnah then continues with the debate between R' Meir and the Chachamim classify the different shades. While, according to the Bartenura, they appear to agree on the four shades, they argue regarding two of them, as to which is classified as the av and which is the toladah.

The Bartenura explains that the debate is important as it impacts which colours can combine. To explain, the minimum size of a nega is a gris (bean). If a mark that is that size is made up of those two colours that can combine, then it is can be considered a nega tzara'at. The Bartenura explains that two avot or an av and its own toladah can combine, whereas two toladot or an av and a toladah of the other av cannot.

The Rambam however maintains that all the four shades can combine with one another. If that is the case, is there a consequence of the debate in our Mishnah?

The Mishnah Achrona explains that for one to be qualified to assess negaim, they must be able to identify and name each of the different shades. Considering that the debate in our Mishnah is about the classification of the different shades, it would impact the assessment of an individual expertise.

The Lechem Shamayim (1:3) explains that having a sound knowledge of the classification is necessary as it demonstrates a level of expertise, so that mistakes will not be made. For example, one might err in combing a bohak (a duller white) with one of the four shades and make someone tameh when they are really tahor. The Lechem Shamayim adds that there are even shades brighter than the snow colour, the brightest of the four, that also do not combine which one might combine in error. The reverse is also true, that one might mistake one of the four shades with a bohak and make someone tahor who is really tameh.

The Aruch Hashulchan (Ha'Atid, Negaim 8:11) however adds that there is halachic consequence of classifying the different negaim, even if they would normally all combine to make someone tameh. The Mishnah (7:1) discusses negaim, that despite having the qualities that would render them tameh, are tahor. Examples include, if someone converted and had a pre-existing nega; a ketan that was born with a nega; and nega that develops in the folds of the skin and then skin eventually seperated. The Tanaim in the next Mishnah discuss, that if the white colour changes in those cases, whether we would now treat the mark as a nega tzaraat and make it tameh. R' Elazar Ben Azarya maintains that it makes no difference -- it is still tahor. R' Elazar ben Chisma maintains that if it changes to a brighter shade then it is tameh. R' Akiva however argues that any change in colour would mean that the nega would need to be assessed. The Rambam (Tumat Tzaraat 6:4) rules like R' Akiva. The Aruch Hashulchan therefore explains that if one is unable to discern properly between these four colours, then they might make an error in this case.

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