Tazria-Metzora—Just Like Tzara’at

“Something like tzara’at has appeared on my house.” (Lev. 14:35)

The appearance of mildew or rot as green or red blotches on the wall of a house resembles the skin affliction described by the Hebrew word tzara’at.* Traditional interpretation often sought to find the cause of this eruption in some sin on the part of the owner of the house. But nowhere is it stated or implied that the infection comes as a punishment for sin. The owner of the house does nothing to or for himself. He does not bring sacrifices, a rite that surely would have been prescribed if he were suspected of having sinned.

I mention this not to score points over traditional interpreters, but rather to point out the difficulty of trying to derive moral teachings from these rituals. In reflecting on this passage this week, I find myself with very little to say. If this world was alien to the rabbinic commentators, for whom purity was a much more familiar concept, it is even more alien to me.

*while traditionally translated “leprosy,” tzara’at does not refer to the disease known as “leprosy” today.

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