Tzaraat On Clothing

Negaim (11:1) | Yisrael Bankier | 15 years ago

Like other forms of negaim, tzara’at cannot affect the cloths of goyim (nations not Jewish). The Rosh explains that this is learnt in Torat Kohanim from the pasuk (Vayikra 14:34): “...and I will place tzara’at affliction on the house in the land of your dwelling.” Even though this pasuk refers only to negaim affecting houses, nonetheless, all forms of negaim are connected to each other in the pesukim thereby also excluding the clothes of goyim.

The first Mishnah of the eleventh perek rules that if clothing is purchased from a goi and already has the appearance of a nega, then it is treated as if the nega just appeared while in the property of the Yisrael. The Tifferet Yisrael explains that this rule is novel and a stringency. We have learnt previously (7:1) that if a nega appears on the skin of one when its appearance is insignificant, even if the person’s status changes, the nega remains tahor. For example, if a nega developed on a goi who later converts, the nega is tahor. In this case however, even though the nega’s first appearance is on the clothing of a goi and thus tahor, once it is acquired by a Yisrael it requires hesger.

The Tifferet Yisrael explains that the difference is that with respect to skin negaim, the exemption of those cases listed is because of a problem with the nega itself; the areas of skin are not places a nega can be tameh.59 In this case however, there was nothing wrong with the garment per se. The only problem is its ownership – an exterior issue. Consequently once its ownership is transferred to a Yisrael, the previous days are discounted and it can now begin assessment.

The Minchat Chinnuch raises an interesting question. What would the law be in the case where a garment with a nega belonging to a Yisrael was already defined as musgar, was then sold to a goi and then sold to another Yisrael?60 Does the assessment of the garment begin anew? Is it as if the nega has only just appears on the newly purchased garment? Or is the garment still tameh despite the fact that it was owned by a goi during the intermediate period?

We have learnt that with respect to skin negaim that if there was an intermediate period where it was considered tahor then the law is that it is tahor. For example if a nega was on one’s face and then covered over with a beard, and the subsequently the covering hair fell out, the nega would be treated as tahor. In this case too, since there is an intermediate period where the nega is owned by a goi and tahor, perhaps the breaks means that the garment must be treated as if it has newly appeared on the garment once purchased.

Nonetheless, the Minchat Chinnuch suggests that perhaps there is reason to differentiate. In the case with the skin nega, when it was covered over with the hair of the beard, it was no longer defined as a nega at all. Furthermore, unlike this case, if a nega that appeared in an area already covered by a beard was then exposed, the nega would be tahor. However, in this case, since in the case of the Mishnah, when it comes into possession of an Yisrael it is treated as a nega, perhaps then here too the intermediate ownership is not important. To explain the doubt using the above logic of the Tifferet Yisrael, since it never lost its status of a nega – it was only that exterior factor that it was owned by a goi that deemed it tahor – then perhaps it is still tameh. The Minchat Chinnuch leaves the question unresolved.61

59 The Tosfot Yom Tov explains that in the case of the nega affecting the goi prior to conversion, once the goi converts he is considered as “a new born child” – a new person.

60 The reason that this is only a question for a begged musgar and not begged muchlat is because since a begged muchlat must be burnt, it cannot be sold. Any attempted sale is null and void (see the Mishnah Achrona).

61 The Mishnah Achrona cites a debate in the Tosefta regarding a hesger garment that is sold to a goi and remains in his possession. There the Chachamim hold that the garment is tahor while R’ Eliezer ben R’ Shimon maintains that it is still in its state of hesger. The debate seems to closely follow the two sides of the doubt of the Minchat Chinnuch. Nevertheless, while it seems clear that R’ Eliezer ben R’ Shimon would rule in the case of the Minchat Chinnuch that the garment is tameh, it is not necessarily true that Chachamim would rule that the garment is tahor. It might be argued that they hold that it is tahor only whilst in the possession of the goi. Once transferred to the ownership of the Yisrael it may return to its state of tumah and not restart from the beginning.


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