Printed from OxfordChabad.org

Parsha and MS – Tazria – ‘Signs of Baldness: a mistaken text?’

Friday, 24 April, 2020 - 2:17 pm

MS. Canon. Or. 81 Tazria.pngIn the Torah portion of Tazria, it discusses the phenomenon of a person contracting Tzara’at or leprosy in response to slander or gossip. Maimonides explains[1] this is unnatural lesion that occurs on a person’s skin, clothing or house meant to indicate to a person to correct their ways and not to continue on such a destructive path. It first occurs on the walls of a person’s home. If the person changes course, it no longer occurs. If the person persists it spreads to a person’s garments and then on a person’s skin. The Talmud[2] discusses numerous other reasons why this may occur to a person including arrogance and other immoralities.

 

We would like to focus on an aspect of the laws of Tzara'at regarding a lesion that occurs on a person’s head, focusing in particular on a commentary of Rashi that appears in the printed edition since the 16th century. This text is, however, different to all the manuscript versions of the commentary, giving rise to questioning the validity of the version of the text in the 18th century and great 19th century Talmudists and biblical commentators claiming that the printed edition is mistaken. In the 20th century, however, suggestions were given to defend this text.

 

The signs of impurity

 

The Torah discusses seven types of Tzara'at lesions:[3] white skin lesion,inflammation on the skin, a burn on the skin, a lesion on the hair or beard, baldness, lesion on a garment, and lesion on a house. We will focus on three of the lesions: the skin lesion, called ‘nega,’ the hair lesion, called ‘netek,’ and baldness, called ‘kere’ach.’ The difference between the three lesions are as follows: the skin lesion is defined as a white discolourment of the skin that becomes impure when one of the following three conditions appears: white hairs, spreading or a healthy patch of skin within the white discoloured skin.[4] The lesion of the hair, called ‘netek,’ is when a patch of hair falls out and a discolourment of the skin occurs that becomes impure when one of the following two conditions appear: yellow hairs or spreading.[5] The law of a person who develops front or back baldness of the head (gibe’ach and kere’ach) is mentioned in the verse simply that he is clean without any conditions:[6] ‘If a man loses the hair on the back of his head, he is bald (kere’ach hu). He is clean (tahor hu). And if he loses his hair on the side toward his face, he is bald at the front. He is clean.’

 

Baldness can contract impurity

 

MS. Michael 384 Tazria.pngThe earliest work of Jewish law, the Mishna, summarises the laws of lesions together with the signs that makes them impure. The Mishna[7] writes that the signs that make a lesion of the skin impure are three signs:[8] white hair, a healed patch of skin, or expansion; the signs that make a hair lesion impure are two: thin yellow hair or expansion.[9] Regarding posterior baldness or frontal baldness, the Mishna writes, despite the Torah stating that he is simply pure, there are two signs that make a person impure: a healed patch of skin, or expansion.[10]

 

Similarly, Maimonides writes in his work of Jewish law, Mishneh Torah, that a person who develops baldness can contract impurity. Maimonides writes:[11]

 

When all the hair on a person's head falls off, whether due to sickness, due to a wound that makes him unfit to grow hair, or due to eating foods that cause hair to fall off or applied lotions that cause hair to fall off, since he lost all of his hair at this particular moment, he is called a kere’ach or a gibe’ach, even though he is fit to grow hair at a later time. If his hair from the top of his forehead and downward, descending backward until the first vertebra of his neck falls off, he is called a kere’ach. If his hair from the top of his forehead and downward, descending frontward until it is level with his forehead falls off, he is called a gibe’ach. With regard to both of these types of baldness, a person can contract impurity when a baheret appears on the skin.

 

Two signs

 

Maimonides, as the Mishna, continues to define the signs that make a person with the lesion of baldness impure: ‘through two signs: healthy skin and an increase in size. They should be isolated for two weeks, for Leviticus states:[12] “Like the appearance of tzara'at on the flesh of the skin.”’ The Midrash Torat Kohanim also states that white hair is not a sign of impurity for baldness.[13]

 

In summary: The Mishna, the Midrash and Maimonides all rule that baldness can contract impurity but can occur with only two signs: healthy skin and expansion. They are all in agreement that white hair is not a sign of impurity for baldness; even if white hair does appear, it is not considered a sign of impurity.

 

Reason

 

The reason for white hair not being a sign of impurity in baldness is as Maimonides writes:[14] ‘Since these portions of the body do not grow hair, the appearance of white hair is not a sign of impurity for them.’ Similarly, in the 16th century, Rabbi Obadiah Bartenura (1455-1520) writes in his commentary on the above Mishna: ‘Since these portions of the body do not grow hair, the appearance of white hair is not a sign of impurity for them.’ The Torat Kohanim states that we derive exegetically the exclusion of white hair from the additional word: ‘hi’ (it is) in the verse:[15]It is an eruption of Tzara’at’ (Tzara’at porachat hi). According to Rabbi Joseph Caro,[16] the exegesis from Torat Kohanim serves as the basis for the rationale of Maimonides.

 

Rashi – three signs

 

Opp. 14 Tazria 14.pngRashi, in his commentary on the Torah, also mentions that baldness can contract impurity, not as a hair lesion, but as a skin lesion. He, however, adds in the printed edition there are three signs for impurity of baldness: white hair, healthy flesh, and spreading. Rashi comments:[17]

 

He is bald. He is clean: Clean of the uncleanness of netek (hair) lesions.[18] I.e., this case is not judged by the signs of the head and beard, which are places of hair,[19] rather, it is judged by the signs of a lesion on the skin of the flesh, namely: white hair, healthy flesh, and spreading.

Mistake

 

In the 18th century, Rabbi David Pardo (1718-1790) in his commentary Maskil l’david (printed in Venice, 1767) questions the version of Rashi as found in the printed edition, since it contradicts the Mishna and the Midrash Torat Kohanim.[20] In the 19th century, Rabbi Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin (1816-1893), known as the Netziv, and his disciple[21] Rabbi Baruch Epstein (1860–1941),[22] author of Torah Temima, goes further, claiming that the printed text of Rashi is a mistake and the third sign of white hair should be omitted. This view may be corroborated by the fact that it is omitted in all the manuscripts of Rashi found at the Bodleian Library.[23]

 

Manuscripts

 

The omission of the third sign can be found in the following Oxford manuscripts: CCC MS. 165, MS. Canon. Or. 81 (1396), MS. Michael 384 (1399), MS. Oppenheim 14 (1340) and MS. Oppenheim 34 (1201-1225). In the Liepzig manuscript, edited by Rashi’s student, Rabeinu Shemarya, it also has only two signs.[24] In a single manuscript, MS. Oppenheim 35 (1408), it does not enumerate any of the signs. It states only: ‘It is judged by the signs of a lesion on the skin of the flesh.’ The omission of white hair as a sign is also found in the incunabula of the Pentateuch with commentary of Rashi, produced in Hijar, Spain, 1490,[25] and Lisbon 1491,[26] as well as the Bomberg Chumash, printed in Venice 1518[27] and 1547.[28]

 

Defending the printed edition

 

In the commentary of Rabbi Elijah Mizrachi (1455-1525),[29] however, it quotes the commentary of Rashi with the sign of white hair,[30] as does later 1693 Chumash with Rashi and the Siftei Chachamim commentary, printed in Dyhernfurth[31] (Brzeg Dolny, Poland) by Rabbi Shabbatai Bass, as we have nowadays.[32]

 

As the version of Rashi with the three signs appears in the version of Rabbi Elijah Mizrachi in the 16th century, and subsequent editions, we would like to present a few considerations to explain the version of Rashi with the three signs. While not explicitly defending the version with three signs, it appears that Rabbi Elijah Mizrach – by not questioning the text, despite the criticism of Rabbi David Pardo, and his suggestion of the source for Rashi’s commentary from the introduction to Torat Kohanim – it is possible to offer the following possible reasoning.

 

Ambiguity in Torat Kohanim

 

The source of Rashi’s commentary - that baldness does not contract impurity of a hair lesion but does contract impurity of skin lesion, is, according to Rabbi Elijah Mizrachi, from the introduction to Midrash Torat Kohanim,[33] that brings the case of baldness as an example of the exegetical principle of Rabbi Yishmael that one may derive elements of law from context (davar ha’lamed m’inyano).[34] The case in point is that the law that baldness is pure only implies that it is not impure from hair lesion (netek) but not that it cannot contract any other impurity. This is derived from the verse[35] in the same law of baldness that states: if the discolouring is reddish white it is impure. We derive from this that baldness can in fact contract impurity - just not that of hair lesion (netek). The Midrash does not say, however, what signs of impurity (besides reddish white discolouring) baldness can contract. It is due to this omission that the Rashi text is open to controversy. In the manuscripts of Rashi’s commentary, it follows the view of the Mishna (Torat Kohanim text in the laws of Tzara’at[36] and Maimonides) that, as it’s not a place of hair, white hair is not a sign. Rabbi Elijah Mizrachi argues that the implication of the absence of specifics of what signs are impure for baldness implies that, on the contrary, all three signs of skin lesion are signs of impurity - even if it is unlikely white hair will actually appear.

 

Explaining the Biblical text

 

A further explanation validating the text of Rashi is in the 20th century. In Likkutei Sichot, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachm M. Schneerson, presents a further consideration:[37] Rashi is most concerned about explaining the simple meaning of the Biblical text, as opposed to the midrashic or legal. The Torah states:[38] ‘If a man loses the hair on the back of his head, he is bald (kere’ach hu). He is clean (tahor hu).’ There are two approaches to explain this statement: a. that it is only to exclude the person from the category of hair lesion (netek) and requires a separate teaching - derived from a later verse - as argued in the introduction to Torat Kohanim, from the verse:[39] ‘If there is a reddish white lesion on the back or front bald area, it is a spreading tzara'at in his back or front bald area’ - to place it in a new legal category of uncleanliness with its own two signs. Alternatively, b. the statement: ‘he is bald (kere’ach hu), He is clean (tahor hu)’ intends to merely imply that baldness is not a place of hair and therefore automatically falls in the category of skin lesion with its associated three signs, that determine the person’s impurity. Accordingly, the statement ‘he is bald (kere’ach hu), He is clean (tahor hu)’ contains within it two concepts, one positive and one passive: a. its purity from hair lesion, and, b. as a place of skin only, its automatic re-application of skin lesion with its three signs.[40]

 

Conclusion

 

The law of lesions of tzara’at on the body differ whether it appears on the skin, hair or baldness. While the law is clear regarding the sign of a skin lesion that it consists of three signs and hair lesion of two signs, the signs of impurity for baldness in the classic texts of Jewish law of the Mishna, Midrash Torat Kohanim and Maimonides is that there is only two signs: healthy patch and spreading, while white hair is not a sign of impurity. The text of the commentary of Rashi however in the printed edition states that white hair is also a sign of impurity. In the 19th century it was argued that this text is an error. Based on the lengthy period this text appears in the Rashi, validated by the super-commentary of Rabbi Elijah Mizrachi, we presented two arguments to explain this addition in Rashi. Firstly, the source of Rashi is from the introduction to Torat Kohanim that does not bring any signs while saying that baldness can contract impurity. This indicates the view that in fact all the skin signs are applicable.[41] Secondly, as a Biblical commentator, most interested in explaining the biblical verse, the words ‘kere’ach hu (he is bald), tahor hu (he is clean)’ indicates, not that the person with baldness is not subject to the laws of hair lesion (netek) - and therefore is in its own category with its own two signs, but that in fact his hairlessness automatically  places him as subject to the laws of skin lesion, with its associated three signs: white hair, healthy patch and spreading.[42]

 

 


 

[1] Mishneh Torah, Laws of Tum’at Tzara’at 16:10.

[2] Leviticus Rabba 17:3 mentions ten reasons: For idolatry, for forbidden sexual relations, for bloodshed, desecrating G-d’s name, defaming G-d, theft from the public, theft from an individual, for arrogance, malicious speech, for theft, and for stinginess. Talmud Arachin 16a lists seven causes: For malicious speech, for bloodshed, for an oath taken in vain, for forbidden sexual relations, for arrogance, for theft, and for stinginess.

[3] Leviticus 13-14.

[4] Leviticus 13:2-11. The first condition ‘white hair’ is stated in Leviticus 13:2-3: ‘If a man has a se'eit, a sappachat, or a baheret on the skin of his flesh, and it forms a lesion of tzara'at on the skin of his flesh, he shall be brought to Aaron the kohen, or to one of his sons, the kohanim. The kohen shall look at the lesion on the skin of his flesh, and [if] hair in the lesion has turned white and the appearance of the lesion is deeper than the skin of his flesh, it is a lesion of tzara'at. When the kohen sees this, he shall pronounce him unclean.’ The second sign of ‘spreading’ is found in Leviticus 13:8: ‘The kohen shall look [at it]. And, behold! the mispachat has spread on the skin. The kohen shall pronounce him unclean. It is tzara'at.’ The third condition ‘healthy skin’ is mentioned in Leviticus 13:10-11: ‘The kohen shall look [at it]. And, behold! there is a white se'eit on the skin, and either it has turned the hair white, or there is healthy, live flesh in the se'eit, it is old tzara'at on the skin of his flesh, and the kohen shall pronounce him unclean; he need not quarantine him because he is unclean.’

[5] The sign of yellow hairs is mentioned in Leviticus 13:29-30: ‘If a man or a woman has a lesion on the head or on the beard [area], the kohen shall look at the lesion, and, behold! its appearance is deeper than the skin, and in it is a thin golden yellow hair, the kohen shall pronounce him unclean. It is a netek, which is tzara'at of the head or the beard.’ The second condition ‘spreading’ is mentioned in Leviticus 13:35-36: ‘But if the netek spreads on the skin, after he has been declared clean, the kohen shall look at it, and, behold! the netek has spread on the skin, the kohen need not examine for golden yellow hair; it is unclean!’

[6] Leviticus 13:40-41. A further description of the lesion of baldness is mentioned in the subsequent verses (Leviticus 13:42-44): If there is a reddish white lesion on the back or front bald area, it is a spreading tzara'at in his back or front bald area. So the kohen shall look at it. And, behold! there is a reddish white se'eit lesion on his back or front bald area, like the appearance of tzara'at on the skin of the flesh, He is a man afflicted with tzara'at; he is unclean. The kohen shall surely pronounce him unclean; his lesion is on his head.

[7] Negaim 3.

[8] Negaim 3:3: Skin of the flesh [that has a Nega] is made impure after two weeks or through three signs: white hair, a healed patch [of skin], or expansion. Regarding white hair and a healed patch, [they cause impurity] initially, at the end of the first week [of quarantine], at the end of the second week, or after the exemption. Regarding expansion, at the end of the first week, at the end of the second week, or after the exemption. And it is made impure after two weeks, which are [actually] thirteen days.

[9] Negaim 3:5: Hairless patches are made impure after two weeks or through two signs: thin yellow hair or expansion. Regarding thin yellow hair, [it is made impure] initially, at the end of the first week [of quarantine], at the end of the second week [or] after the exemption. And regarding expansion, at the end of the first week, at the end of the second week [or] after the exemption. And they are made impure after two weeks, which are [actually] thirteen days..

[10] Negaim 3:6: Posterior baldness or frontal baldness are made impure after two weeks or through two signs: a healed patch [of skin], or expansion. Regarding a healed patch, [it is made impure] initially, after the first week [of quarantine], after the second week [or] after the exemption. And regarding expansion, after the first week, after the second week, [or] after the exemption. And they are made impure after two weeks [maximum], which are [actually] thirteen days.

[11] Mishneh Torah, Laws of Tum’at Tzara’at 5:9.

[12] Leviticus 13:43.

[13] Torat Kohanim, 11:2. https://hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=38235&st=&pgnum=136

[14] Mishneh Torah, Laws of Tum’at Tzara’at 5:9.

[15] Leviticus 13:42.

[16] Kesef Mishna on Mishneh Torah, Laws of Tum’at Tzara’at 5:9.

[17] Rashi on Leviticus 13:40.

[18] Torat Kohanim, Baraitha of Rabbi Yishmael 1:5.

[19] Leviticus 13:29-37.

[20] https://hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=19148&st=&pgnum=210.

[21] From the Yeshiva in Volozhin.

[22] Rabbi Boruch Epstein, who died in the Holocaust, when the hospital he was a patient in was burned down in Pinsk, is the son of Rabbi Yechiel Michel Epstein, Rabbi of Novarodok and author of the Jewish legal work Aruch HaShulchan. Rabbi Boruch was nephew of the Netziv and later also brother in law, when the former married Baruch’s sister.

[23] Likkutei Sichot 27:95, footnote 24 and 25.

[24] https://rashi.alhatorah.org/Full/Vayikra/13/40#e0nf.`

[25] https://hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=45441&st=&pgnum=285.

[26] https://hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=45803&st=&pgnum=487.

[27] https://hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=22406&st=&pgnum=267.

[28] https://hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=42687&st=&pgnum=266.

[29] Published by his son, Israel, after his father’s passing, in Venice in 1527.

[30] Likkutei Sichot 27:95, footnote 26.

[31] Established in 1681.

[32] https://hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=42239&st=&pgnum=383.

[33] Beraita d’Rabbi Yishmael in introduction to Torat Kohanim (Breslau, 1915, p. 23) https://hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=39236&st=&pgnum=24.

[34] Rabbi Elijah Mizrachi on Leviticus 13:40. In Likkutei Sichot 27:93, disputes this is the source of Rashi, but rather the wording in the verse itself, as proposed in the second consideration.

[35] Leviticus 13:42.

[36] This suggests that the two texts in Torat Kohanim are in dispute. In Likkutei Sichot 27:96, it argues that this view is not sustainable from the point of view of P’shat, that Rashi’s commentary on one verse is relying on a Midrash that is based on a second, later verse.

[37] Likkutei Sichot 27:93-94.

[38] Leviticus 13:40-41.

[39] Leviticus 13:42.

[40] The two approaches relate to a dispute between Rashi and Nachmanides regarding the definition of ‘netek’ – hair lesion. Rashi writes (Rash on Leviticus 13:30) that a netek ‘is the name of the lesion of tzara’at when it occurs on an area of skin where hair grows.’ Similarly, Rashi writes on Leviticus (13:29): ‘On the head or on the beard area: Scripture comes to distinguish between a lesion in a place where hair grows and a lesion in a place of flesh, namely, that in one case, i.e., on flesh, the sign of uncleanness is white hair, while in the other case, i.e., on the area of hair, the sign of uncleanness is golden-yellow hair (Torat Kohanim 5:5).’ This definition merely defines netek and other lesions by the particular place on the body it occurs. Nachmanides argues that netek (hair lesion) is defined as hair ‘falling out’ from its roots and leaves a portion of skin bare of hair, as opposed to baldness that is a natural state of hairlessness. Accordingly, if netek means removal of hair, as the view of Nachmanides, the Torah would need to distinguish between the category of netek and the category of baldness. It would then also need a separate teaching to place baldness in its own category – as a place where no hair normally grows, besides in exceptional circumstances,[40] as opposed to skin where hair natural may grow

[41] This is the perspective of Rabbi Elijah Mizrach in his commentary on Leviticus 13:40.

[42] A further consideration is that Rashi and Maimonides are simply arguing whether it is at a possibility that white hair could grow in a place of baldness. Rashi would entertain this possibility and therefore regards it as a sign of impurity, whereas Maimonides, following the Mishna, does not regard it as a possibility and therefore does not mention it. Accordingly, they are not actually in dispute at all. In Likkutei Sichot 27:95 however dismisses this suggestion.

 

Comments on: Parsha and MS – Tazria – ‘Signs of Baldness: a mistaken text?’
There are no comments.