Linens and Things: Tazria-Metzora 2021

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Pre-Game Chatter: Are there passages in the Torah that seem too absurd to believe? Are they unbelievable to you because you can’t imagine them taking place in the modern world, or because you can’t imagine them happening at all?

For some, the idea that one’s clothes can contract the same skin diseases as humans do is a bridge too far:

The Pitch: “When an eruptive affection occurs in a cloth of wool of linen fabric, in the warp or in the woof of the linen or the wool, or in a skin or in anything made of skin; if the affection in the cloth or the skin, in the warp or the woof, or in any article of skin, is streaky green or red, it is an eruptive affection. It shall be shown to the priest; and the priest, after examining the affection, shall isolate the affected article for seven days.” – Leviticus 13:47-50

Swing #1: “Garment ailments, according to Leviticus, should be treated exactly the same way as skin diseases. So if your shirt suddenly develops an ‘eruptive affection,’ then the priest must be called to examine it, quarantine it, and diagnose it. Are your Levi’s suffering from a ‘malignant eruption’? Has your favorite silk blouse ever been afflicted with the dreaded ‘streaky green or red’ illness? I have no idea what this passage is talking about. Is there some deadly apparel plague that Burberry and the Gap have successfully hushed up?” – David Plotz, Good Book

Swing #2: “Since the Jewish people never reached the standard of being worthy of this sign of Divine grace, there is no record of these plagues occurring in their dwellings, till our Sages maintained: ‘The infected dwelling never existed, and never will exist’ (Sanhedrin 71a).” – Sforno

Swing #3: “God exercises justice in the order of the divine plagues which are visited upon men. God begins first with a man’s house. If the man repents, the requirement is no more than that the stones of the house, stones discolored by the plague, be taken out. … If the man does not repent, the requirement is that the stones [and the house itself] be broken down. … Next, God begins on the man’s garments. If the man repents, the requirement is no more than that the part of the garment spotted by the plague be rent out. … But if the man does not repent, the requirement is that the garment be built. … Then God begins on the man’s body. If the man repents, [he will be cured of his leprous-like scales] and will be free to go where he likes; but if he does not repent, [stricken with leprosy], ‘he shall dwell alone; without the camp shall his dwelling be’ (Leviticus 13:46).” – Pesikta D’Rav Kahana

Late-Inning Questions: How are our commentators divided on whether to believe that a garment could contract a disease? Are there things that seemed plausible during biblical times which are also impossible today? Do we live in a time when fewer things are possible?

On-Deck at TBT: I’m excited to start a monthly learners’ service which focuses on specific aspects of the Shabbat morning service. These learners’ services, which will take place initially on Zoom, will be concurrent with the first hour of our Saturday morning services. The first will take place Saturday, May 15th, and will be accessed through this link.

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of things that seem to be too unbelievable to be true, I’ve always been fond of the compliment paid to Cool Papa Bell, one of the greatest Negro League players, who was said to be so fast, he could turn off the light switch in his bedroom and be in bed before the room got dark.

Shabbat Shalom!