SALT - Tuesday, 25 Nissan 5778 - April 10, 2018

  • Rav David Silverberg
            Today we will continue our discussion of the Mishna in Masekhet Negaim (1:4) which records a debate among the Tanna’im regarding the timing of tzara’at inspections.  According to one view in the Mishna, initial inspections may not be made on days of the week that would result in subsequent inspections being scheduled for Shabbat, as this would necessitate delaying those subsequent inspections.  The other opinion argues.  As we noted yesterday, the Mishna appears to work off the assumption that inspections may not be done on Shabbat, and the question arises as to why this is the case.
            Rav Efrayim Yitzchak of Peremyshl, in his Mishna Acharona commentary to Masekhet Negaim, suggests a novel reading of the Mishna, asserting that the issue at stake is “metakein gavra” – appearing to “fix” a person on Shabbat.  Just as Beit Shammai forbid immersing on Shabbat to divest oneself of his status of impurity (Beitza 17b), as this resembles “fixing” in that one “repairs” his state of impurity, somewhat similarly, it is forbidden for a kohen to inspect a tzara’at infection on Shabbat to declare it pure, as he “fixes” the person’s state of impurity.  On this basis, the Mishna Acharona boldly asserts that initial inspections of a skin discoloration are permitted on Shabbat.  Indeed, the Mishna does not issue a blanket prohibition against making inspections on Shabbat, but rather discusses whether an initial inspection may take place on a day which will result in a follow-up inspection being required on Shabbat.  The Mishna Acharona understood that only after an initial inspection has been made, and the individual has been either declared a metzora or declared a musgar, quarantined to determine if the infection spreads, the subsequent inspection or inspections may not be held on Shabbat.  If the kohen finds that the discoloration has not spread or has faded, he will then be compelled to declare the individual pure, which would be forbidden on Shabbat due to the consideration of “metakein gavra.”  Initial inspections, however, where the individual has not yet been assigned any impure status, are entirely permissible on Shabbat, as there is no potential for “metakein gavra.”
            The Mishna Acharona adds that according to his approach, this Mishna must be understood in light of a different Mishna – the Mishna in Masekhet Mo’ed Katan (7a) that discusses the issue of tzara’at inspections on festivals.  The Mishna cites a debate on this issue, and the Gemara explains that this debate surrounds the question of whether the kohen who makes an inspection is permitted to withhold his ruling.  According to one view, a kohen may inspect a skin discoloration during a festival, but in order not to cause the person distress on the holiday, he should remain silent if he sees that the discoloration is indeed a tzara’at infection, thereby delaying the individual’s impurity until after the holiday so he can enjoy the festivities.  The other view maintains that a kohen is not permitted to remain silent after making an inspection, and so inspections may not be made during festivals, as otherwise the kohen might be compelled to declare a person impure during the holiday.  The Mishna Acharona notes that our Mishna in Negaim, necessarily, follows this second view.  According to the first opinion, there is no reason to even consider forbidding initial inspections on days that will result in a subsequent inspection being scheduled for Shabbat.  Since the problem with inspections on Shabbat lies solely in the prohibition of “metakein gavra,” this problem can easily be avoided by the kohen remaining silent if he sees that the inspection has been cured and the individual can be declared pure.  The fact that the Mishna did not consider this possibility reflects its assumption that a kohen is not permitted to remain silent after making an inspection.  According to the other opinion, there is no reason whatsoever to avoid a situation of a follow-up inspection required on Shabbat, as there is the simple solution of remaining silent if the kohen determines that the infection has been cured.