Torah Commentary

Power to the People: Relying on a Collective Authority

April 6, 2019Rabbi Ben Spratt

Priest as physician. Spiritual blight as medical malady. Simmering beneath the descriptions of scaly skin and malignant discolorations in Parashat Tazria is a mode of power that challenges the modern mindset. A dominant few of paternal priestly lineage hold the knowledge and authority to diagnose, isolate, and adjudicate regarding leprous eruptions. The fate of those afflicted rests solely in the proclamations of the priests, who deem whether people are labeled “clean” or “unclean.”

On Illness and Separation from the Community

April 9, 2016Rabbi Elyse Goldstein

In his book The Illness Narratives: Suffering, Healing, and the Human Condition,1 Dr. Arthur Kleinman makes an important distinction between illness and disease. He writes:

Illness refers to how the sick person and the members of the family or wider social network perceive, live with, and respond to symptoms and disability. . . . Disease, however, is what the practitioner creates in the recasting of illness in terms of theories of disorder.

We see this distinction between illness and disease clearly in Parashat Tazria in the laws concerning tzaraat,— a skin ailment sometimes translated as "leprosy," its diagnosis, and the treatment of those afflicted with it.

The priests are practitioners. They want to know exactly what disease this person with a skin rash has, what are its symptoms, and — most important — what the person did to "get" the disease. In Leviticus 13:2-3 we read:

When a person has on the skin of the body a swelling, a rash, or a discoloration, and it develops into a scaly affection on the skin of the body, it shall be reported to Aaron the priest or to one of his sons, the priests. The priest shall examine the affection on the skin of the body. . . . when the priest sees it, he shall pronounce the person unclean.

Annoying “Un-Understanding”

March 29, 2014Robert Tornberg

What a difficult portion Tazria is! It looks at issues of purity; birth; and illness of men and women, fabric and skin. Even without touching on leprosy (or whatever skin disease it is) there's plenty to discuss in this parashah

A Women's Sacrifice: A Women’s Tractate

April 13, 2013Dalia Marx

The notion of "marginality" usually brings to mind thoughts of exclusion and disavowal. Marginality may, however, embody exciting possibilities and unexpected opportunities. Sometimes, as Yankele Rotblit's song, "You Took My Hand in Your Hand," tells us, "you can see things

Tazria for Tweens

October 23, 2012

This guide will show you about the double Parashah, Tazria & M'tzora. Learn about what the Torah has to say about purity law, childbirth, and disease with Torah for Tweens!