SALT - Sunday 24 Adar Bet 5779 - March 31, 2019

  • Rav David Silverberg
            Yesterday, we noted that the Torah in Parashat Tazria draws a distinction between the hair on the head and beard, and the rest of the body, with regard to the laws of tzara’at, presenting unique guidelines for establishing the manifestation of tzara’at in one’s hair.  We also discussed the Gemara’s comments in Masekhet Menachot (37b) which appear to imply that the eyebrows are included in the special laws applying to the hair of the head and beard.  The Gemara there discusses the requirement to wear the tefillin shel rosh on the head, and not “in between the eyes” as the Torah appears to require, and the Gemara cites Rabbi Yehuda as reaching this conclusion based on a line of reasoning related to tzara’at: just as the tefillin shel yad is worn on the arm, which is susceptible to only one type of tzara’at, the tefillin shel rosh must likewise be worn on a place susceptible to only one type of tzara’at.  As Rashi explains, if the tefillin shel rosh were worn between the eyes, part of it would be on the eyebrows, and the tefillin thus would be worn on places that are susceptible to two different manifestations of tzara’at.  The Rashash notes that the Gemara’s comments appear to prove that the eyebrows have the same status as the hair on the head and beard with respect to tzara’at.  Yesterday, we saw that the Chazon Ish dismissed this conclusion, and interpreted the Gemara’s comments differently.
            This question is addressed also by Malbim, in his Torah commentary (to Shemot 13:9), where he notes a passage in the Tosefta (cited in the Rash Mi-Shantz’s commentary to Negaim 10:9) delineating the precise boundaries of the “head” and “beard” with respect to the laws of tzara’at.  It stands to reason that had the eyebrows been included as part of the hair of the head for the purposes of these halakhot, the Tosefta would have mentioned them in this context.  The absence of such mention would certainly appear to indicate that they are not included, and thus the guidelines applicable to eyebrows are those which apply to the rest of the body, and not those relevant to the hair of the head and beard.
            Malbim therefore suggests a different explanation of the Gemara’s comment regarding the tefillin shel rosh, whereby it does not speak of the eyebrows at all.  He explains the Gemara to mean that if the tefillin were worn in between the eyes, on the forehead, then it would be worn on a part of the body – the head – that has different halakhic areas: the top of the head, where hair normally grows, is treated one way in regard to tzara’at, whereas the forehead – where hair does not grow – is treated a different way.  Rabbi Yehuda felt that just as the tefillin shel yad is worn on the arm, the entirety of which has a single halakhic status, the tefillin shel rosh must likewise be worn on a part of the body that has but a single halakhic status.  We can therefore conclude that it is worn on the part of the head where hair grows, all of which is halakhically treated equally.  (One could, seemingly, question Malbim’s explanation, as if we view the forehead as part of the head, then even by wearing the tefillin on the top of the head, it is worn on a part of the body with two different halakhic regions.)
            On this basis, Malbim suggests associating this remark of Rabbi Yehuda with his ruling in the Mishna in Masekhet Negaim (10:10) regarding the case of a bald individual who develops a tzara’at infection on his head.  The Torah in Parashat Tazria (13:42) establishes that once a person loses all the hair on his head, the skin on the head is treated like the skin on the rest of his body with respect to tzara’at, and the Torah emphasizes that this applies whether a discoloration surfaces on his “karachat” (back of the head) or “gabachat” (front part of the head).  According to the majority view among the Tanna’im, this emphasis was made in order to delineate the “karachat” and “gabachat” as two distinct halakhic regions.  Meaning, if a discoloration smaller than the minimum size of a tzara’at infection (a geris) surfaces on one area, and a second small discoloration on the other area, they do not combine to render the individual impure, as these are two distinct halakhic regions.  Rabbi Yehuda, however, disagrees, and maintains that both areas of the head are to be viewed as a single halakhic region with respect to tzara’at, unless a line of hair separates them.  Malbim suggests that Rabbi Yehuda’s ruling there in the Mishna is directly linked to his inference in Masekhet Menachot regarding the tefillin shel rosh.  According to the majority view among the Tanna’im, even disregarding the forehead, Halakha separates the head into two separate regions, and thus the tefillin shel rosh necessarily differs in this respect from the tefillin shel yad.  As such, Rabbi Yehuda’s inference – as Malbim understands it – is possible only according to his own ruling in Masekhet Negaim, whereby the back and front of the head are viewed as a single halakhic entity.