SALT - 24 Nissan 5778 - April 9, 2018

  • Rav David Silverberg
            Yesterday, we noted the dispute among the Tannaim that appears in the Mishna in Masekhet Negaim (1:4) as to whether initial tzara’at inspections may be made on Sunday and Monday. Rabbi Chanina Segan Ha-kohanim, as we saw, maintained that initial inspections should not be made on these days, as this may result in the day of the second inspection or third inspection falling on Shabbat.  As inspections may not be made on Shabbat, the inspection will need to be delayed, and this is a situation that ought to be avoided.  Rabbi Akiva disagreed, and allowed making the initial inspection on any weekday.
            The clear assumption underlying this discussion is that a kohen may not inspect a possible tzara’at infection on Shabbat, and the commentators offer different explanations for this halakha.  Intuitively, we might assume that inspections are not made on Shabbat just as they are not made on Yom Tov, as discussed by the Mishna and Gemara in Masekhet Mo’ed Katan (7-8).  Indeed, this appears to be the Rambam’s implication in Hilkhot Tum’at Tzara’at (9:7), where he writes that inspections may be made any day “except Shabbat and Yom Tov.”  The Kesef Mishneh explains that the Rambam equated Shabbat and Yom Tov in this regard, and understood that on both occasions tzara’at inspections should not be made because they could disrupt the joy and festivity of these days. 
            In his commentary to the Mishna in Masekhet Negaim, however, the Rambam explains this halakha differently, claiming that inspecting a skin discoloration resembles a court trial, which may not be held on Shabbat (Beitza 36b).  Just as judges may not convene to hear a case on Shabbat, given the concern that they may mistakenly write notes during the trial (Beitza 37a), likewise, a kohen may not be summoned to give a ruling about a skin discoloration.  This explanation parallels the reason given by some Rishonim for the prohibition against bringing a newborn animal to a scholar on Yom Tov to determine whether it has a physical blemish that obviates the need to offer it as a sacrifice.  Rashi (Beitza 26a) writes that inspecting a newborn animal resembles a trial, and is thus forbidden on Shabbat and Yom Tov.  By the same token, the Rambam maintains that inspecting a suspicious skin discoloration is forbidden on Shabbat as a natural extension of the prohibition against trying cases in court on Shabbat.
            However, the Mishna Acharona commentary questions this theory, asking why determining the status of a skin discoloration differs from other halakhic queries, which certainly may be answered on Shabbat.  Seemingly, the Mishna Acharona asserts, the prohibition against trying cases refers only to a situation of two litigants embroiled in a financial dispute, who bring proofs, arguments, and counterproofs and counterarguments, which the judges might write down during the proceedings.  Other halakhic questions, however, are allowed to be addressed and answered on Shabbat.
            The Tiferet Yisrael (Boaz, 9) explains the Rambam’s position by drawing a simple distinction between halakhic questions which require intensive examination and analysis, and those which do not.  Scholars addressing questions involving complex matters and intricate scrutiny are prone to forgetfully write down their findings over the process of investigation, and so Chazal forbade addressing such questions on Shabbat.  This is why civil disputes are not brought before courts on Shabbat, and why intricate questions such as the status of a skin discoloration should not be addressed.
            Tomorrow we will iy”H look at the approach taken by the Mishna Acharona to explain this halakha.