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Skin Disease

Finding Unique Blessings in Every One of Us

In the double portion, Tazria/M’tzora, we have the responsibility, even if it isn’t our pleasure, to investigate texts on birth and its aftermath, bodily afflictions and emissions, skin ailments, and leprosy. They were once taboos that raised fears in the community and turned priests of their day into guardians of purity.

D'var Torah By: 
Separation as a Path to Holiness
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Baht Weiss

A country road splits into two roadsRabbi Lyon begins

Judaism, Medical Science, and Spirituality: A Brief History

The double portion, Tazria/M'tzora, discusses the priests' treatment of various skin ailments. It demonstrates a positive relationship between Judaism and medicine that has developed throughout the centuries.

D'var Torah By: 
The Priest as a Social Worker
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Cookie Lea Olshein

While Tazria/M'tzora introduces the role of priests as medical healers, it also suggests that priests served as social workers and spiritual healers, helping make both human beings, and by extension, the community, whole again.

Bringing New Meaning to the Status of a Menstruating Woman

Theologian Elizabeth Dodson Gray notes: "Women's bodies may be the hardest place for women to find sacredness" ( Sacred Dimensions of Women's Experience, 1988, p. 197). Our society sends negative messages to women from earliest childhood about the expected perfection of their physiques and the disappointments of any flaws in the female form. Parashat M'tzora, then, with its focus on menstrual impurity (15:19-24), seems to impart the same kind of unfavorable sense. Rejecting our own received biases and patriarchal assumptions about menstruation, however, can help us form a contemporary view of these so-called taboos.

D'var Torah By: 
Power and Autonomy in the Menstruation Taboo
Davar Acher By: 
Suzanne Singer

Rabbi Goldstein elegantly turns the traditional notion of nidah, menstruation, on its head: from a condition conveying impurity or even uncleanness, to one of sacredness and power. In a similar reconception, the author Judith S. Antonelli points out that since, "procreation, bodily secretions, and death all convey tumah . . . it is inaccurate to categorize tumah as 'death' and taharah [purity] as 'life,' for tumah itself comprises both life and death"1

Antonelli traces the negative connotations associated with menstruation to the rabbis of our tradition. The Babylonian Talmud, for example, states: "If a menstruating woman passes between two [men], if it is at the beginning of her period she will kill one of them, and if is at the end of her period she will cause strife between them" (P'sachim 111a, in Antonelli, p. 279). The medieval philosopher and physician, Nachmanides, believed that the child was formed from the woman's blood, but not out of her menstrual blood: "How could a fetus be formed out of that, since it is a deadly poison, causing the death of any creature that drinks it or eats it!" (ibid.)

On Illness and Separation from the Community

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.

D'var Torah By: 
A Change of Perspective Makes a World of Difference
Davar Acher By: 
Ron Segal

When I was fourteen and in the eighth grade, one of my great uncles died. In his will, he bequeathed his car to my parents. Oh, what a car it was — an immense, hideous 1960 Oldsmobile, solid steel, tail fins, and in a putrid shade of brown one would be hard-pressed to find even in the largest box of crayons. I will never forget the horrified expression on the face of the girl with whom I carpooled to school when she opened her front door that spring morning and beheld the brown chariot in which she would now be riding to school. I remember we made my father drop us a block from the school to avoid the humiliation of being seen emerging from that dreaded Oldsmobile. But, a few years passed and then, something remarkable happened — I got my driver's license. Amazingly, my perspective about the car instantaneously changed: "Oh big, beautiful, brown Oldsmobile . . . how I love you so."

I often reflect upon this bit of personal history when we come to these words of Parashat Tazria.

The Skin (Deep) Disease

Parashat Tazria/M'tzora is concerned with skin diseases and the procedures involved in checking for them, assessing them, declaring the sufferers healed, and reintegrating the latter

D'var Torah By: 
The "Magic" of Ritual
Davar Acher By: 
Kim S. Geringer

In this week's double parashah, Tazria/M'tzora, we learn more than anybody would ever want to know about a skin condition called tzaraat, an apparently serious collection of skin

Better Than God?

A cutting debate has been raging both within the Jewish world and outside it concerning the issue of b'rit milah, ritual circumcision, which is presented in the opening

D'var Torah By: 
Eight-Day Equality
Davar Acher By: 
Mark Kaiserman

The old joke goes: When does life begin? For the Catholic, at conception. For the Protestant, at birth. For the Jew, when the kids leave for college.

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