Tzaraath (Hebrew ? [tsa'?a(?)at], Romanized Tiberian Hebrew ra?a? and numerous variants of English transliteration, including saraath, tzaraas, tzaraat, tsaraas and tsaraat) describes disfigurative conditions of the skin, hair of the beard and head, clothing made of linen or wool, or stones of homes located in the land of Israel. All variations are mainly referred to in chapters 13-14 of Leviticus.
The noun form comes from the verb tzara () which means "to have a skin disease." The linguistic root of tzaraath may mean "smiting", in comparison with Arabic, in reference to a Talmudical explanation that it serves as a punishment for sin; it is quite possible that tzaraath was a general term for certain types of skin disease, rather than a particular condition, and the Talmud maintains a similar view, arguing that tzaraath referred generally to any disease that produces sores and eruptions on the skin.
The Masoretic Torah text describes three variations of tzaraath affecting the skin: , ? (Se'eth, Sapachath and Bahereth). The Septuagint, a translation of the Hebrew Bible originally used by Greek-speaking Jews and Gentile proselytes, translates the term tzaraath with Greek lepra (), from which the cognate "leprosy" (a term now referring specifically to the bacterial infection also known as Hansen's disease) was traditionally used in English Bibles. The classical Greek term lepra stems from the noun lepis (a scale (of a fish), which in turn stems from the verb lepó ? (to peel), hence leprosy (literally, morbid scaliness). The JPS Tanakh translates it as a "scaly affection" in Leviticus 13:2.
The Torah identifies three manifestations of tzaraath: as an affliction of human skin, of garments, and of houses. The Torah also speaks of tzaraath on two other occasions, one in reference to Moses and the other in reference to his sister, Miriam. In Exodus 4:6-7, when Moses is standing before the burning bush, he doubts that Jews will believe that he is the messenger of God. God provides him with two signs to prove his mission: turning his rod into a snake and then back into a rod and turning his hand into being stricken with tzaraath and then back again. Moses revealed these wonders to the elders in Exodus 4:30.
In Numbers 12:10, Miriam was stricken with tzaraath for her involvement in slandering Moses. Aaron asks Moses to cure her via extraordinary means, because he claims that he, as her own brother, cannot examine, confine or purify her. Moses prays for his sister and she is cured of the tzaraath but must remain in confinement for seven days. The Torah, however, does not indicate that she went through any purification process similar to what is normally required.
According to some (such as ArtScroll/Mesorah) the three subdivisions of skin tzaraath are best left transliterated, rather than translated, because there are no equivalent English terms and any attempt to translate them greatly diminishes the distinctiveness and focus of the Hebrew term. Though this is not the view of the Jewish Publication Society nor of the Bible Society. Additionally, a diagnosis of tzaraath is not to be performed by anyone but a kohen (Jewish priest).
Some say the manifestation of tzaraath is termed a negah () "affliction", nega'im (plural?) and there are three varieties of nega'im that relate to human flesh, two of which are:
Spring water is placed in an earthenware vessel, over which one of the birds (traditionally recognized as being a sparrow) is slaughtered and into which the blood is allowed to run. The kohen then dips the remaining bird and other items into the bloodied water and sprinkles the metzora seven times on the back of the hand. Some say the sprinkling was done onto his or her forehead. The identical procedure was performed for a house struck by tzaraath, with the sprinkling done on the lintel. The slaughtered bird was buried in the presence of the metzora and the live bird was freed into the open field.
The metzora washes their garments from impurity and shaves off all their hair, save for that located in places similar to those in which nega'im are not subject to impurity (Mishnah Nega'im 2:4) The metzora then waits for seven days to begin the final steps of his or her purification ceremony (Leviticus 14:8-9). On the seventh day, the metzora again washes the garments he or she had been wearing from impurity and again shaves off all of his or her hair. (Mishnah Nega'im 14:3) On the eighth day, the metzora brings three animal sacrifices to the Temple in Jerusalem: a sin offering of a female lamb and a guilt offering and a burnt offering, both of male lambs (Leviticus 14:10).
Blood from the slaughtered guilt offering was placed on the right ear, right thumb and right big toe of the metzora (Leviticus 14:14) The need for this to be done was cause for some complication, because the metzora was not allowed into Temple grounds prior to his purification process and the blood of the offering was not allowed out of the Temple grounds. To reconcile this dilemma, the metzora stuck these body parts through the gateway one at a time to receive the blood. The same was done with the oil from the flour offerings of the metzora. If the metzora lost any of these body parts after he was ready for purification, he could never obtain purification (Mishnah Nega'im 14:9).
The laws of tzaraath are dealt with in Mishnah Nega'im.
Patches of the skin are confirmed as tzaraath by the occurrence of one of three signs:
Whereas baldness is not a form of tzaraath, patches that occur on a bald scalp may be tzaraath if they meet the criteria as mentioned by the Torah. Such an eruption on a bald scalp must appear in a distinct fashion but is regulated by rules similar to that of nega'im on the skin; however, it can only occur on men. For a scalp eruption to be tzaraath, the lesion must be a white patch tinged with red ( ). This can occur in one of two places: within what are referred to as a man's posterior baldness (?) and anterior baldness (?).
If someone cuts off some skin or a part of his body to remove a negah, he becomes impure, even if he had no confirming signs. He may become pure only after another negah forms. The exception is when a negah appears on the tip of the foreskin and is cut off during circumcision, which is permitted, because a positive commandment overrides a negative commandment.
Boils and burns, as occur naturally as a result of an abscess, blunt force trauma or thermal insult to the skin, are not tzaraath and do not carry impurity. During the healing phases of these wounds, however, if certain signs that mimic those of the aforementioned patches appear, tzaraath may occur. Confirmation is by the occurrence of one of two signs:
The initial symptom of this type of negah is patches of hair loss. According to Maimonides, scalp and beard nega'im are characterized by hair loss without any change to the skin of the bald spot  The Tosefta, however, maintains that the skin of the bald spot does indeed become altered in a negah. There are two confirming signs:
For all of the different types of nega'im of human flesh, there is a similar protocol put in place by the Torah for determining whether or not the skin eruption is indeed tzaraath. The individual with the eruption must visit a kohen, who is a male possessing direct lineage to Aaron, who was the High Priest and brother of Moses. The kohen, trained in examining lesions and diagnosing tzaraath, will examine the lesion and determine whether or not it meets the specifications of tzaraath. Specifically, he will evaluate the lesion for the criteria mentioned above, except of course for the final criterion of spreading, which can only be diagnosed at a follow-up examination, should one be necessary. If during the initial examination, the characteristics of the lesion meet the criteria for tzaraath, the kohen will declare the individual tamei (, "ritually impure"). (Leviticus 13:3, 20, 25, 30)
If the criteria are not met by the lesion during the initial examination by the kohen, the individual is confined in his home for seven days, pending a follow-up examination (Leviticus 13:4, 21, 26, 31) If the criteria for tzaraath are again not met and the lesion has not spread, there is a difference in protocol depending of the type of lesion.
After the second confinement period of seven days, both those with patches on the skin as well as those with bald patches are re-evaluated once more. If the criteria for tzaraath have still not been met, the afflicted individual is declared tahor (, "ritually pure"). He or she, does, however, have to wash both his or her body and garments; due to the confinement, he or she is considered impure in some sense.
If the negah was declared ritually pure and later it spread, it must be shown once again to a kohen, who will then declare it tzaraath. There are many other regulations regarding the inspection:
If, however, the criteria for tzaraath have been met, either during the initial exam or at either of the two follow-ups (when applicable) or even after a previous declaration of purity, the individual is declared tamei (, "ritually impure"). The individual is declared impure even if the lesion did not worsen or spread but remained the same--the skin eruption must become dimmer in appearance for it to be declared pure at the second follow-up examination.
The individual who is declared impure with tzaraath is referred to as either a tzarua (?) or a metzora (). The metzora is shunned and must live alone outside the confines of the community (Leviticus 13:46) The metzora tears his or her garments in mourning like those who are in mourning for a close family member and does not cut his or her hair. The metzora must also cover his or her face until the upper lip in the fashion of mourners, and he or she calls out "impure, impure" to warn others to keep their distance (Rashi Commentary on Leviticus 13:45).
The metzora remains confined outside of the community until his tzaraath vanishes. The metzora is evaluated by a kohen, who leaves the community to examine him. When the kohen observes the resolution of the tzaraath, he begins a procedure that ultimately reverses the impure status of the metzora (Leviticus 14:4).
Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch clams that tzaraath was not to be interpreted as a medical malady, but rather as a spiritual affliction. The verse itself arguably suggests this, as it directs those who find themselves afflicted to seek out a Kohen (priest) and not a doctor, while the Torah does permit and even encourages those who are in need of medical care to seek treatment from physicians.
The Torah's emphasis is clearly on the tumah (, "ritual impurity") that results from a diagnosis of tzaraath because the verses focus on the kohens declaration of "unclean" - ? ? ("The kohen will see [the eruption] and [declare] him impure").
One midrashic source categorically states that tzaraath only appeared as punishment for evil tongue, while others add further reasons to the list in the Talmud. Unlike the modern medical approach, which seeks to cure by natural means, the classical Jewish sources argue that cure from tzaraath only came about through repentance and forgiveness. In particular, the Midrash Rabba sees the different types of tzaraath as increasing levels of punishment, which could be curtailed at any stage if repentance was made:
Other classical rabbinical writers saw tzaraath of houses as having a practical benefit. According to one, as well as being a punishment for miserliness, it also demonstrated that the house owner was lying, if they had said they did not own certain objects neighbours had asked to borrow, since the biblical regulations require the house owner to take all their possessions outside prior to confinement. On the other hand, Rashi, basing his view on the Leviticus Rabbah, states that tzaraath of houses was a reward for the homeowner, arguing that the Israelite homes had previously been those of Canaanites, who had hidden their valuables in the walls; the tzaraath required the house owner to remove the bricks, and so find the treasures hidden there.
Rather than following the biblical descriptions of the symptoms of tzaraath in the manner of modern doctors, classical rabbinical literature took an extremely literal view. In the group of symptoms where the hair of the inflicted region has turned white, the Mishnah argues that plucking out the white hair was all that was required for the disease not to be considered tzaraath; similarly since the biblical text mentions tzaraath occurring where boils had previously healed, but not where unhealed boils exist, the Mishnah maintains that the appearance of the other symptoms in an unhealed boil or burn do not indicate tzaraath, and that if the boil or burn subsequently heals, it still doesn't indicate tzaraath, unless the other symptoms occur in parts of the body not previously diseased. The Mishnah also argues that sores smaller than the size of a lentil, those on the extremities of the body (such as the fingers, toes, ears, nose, breasts, etc.), those that occur in the location of an unhealed boil or burn, and those that occur in hairy parts of the body, do not indicate tzaraath.
The items used in the purification ritual were specifically included to deliver a message to the metzora. The sin most associated with tzaraath is lashon hara (an "evil tongue", to speak derogatorily about others consistently to one's friends is likened to birds, who chatter endlessly. In a similar vein, the one who speaks ill of others is haughty, holding himself or herself high above others and is likened to the tall cedar. To be healed, the metzora must erase arrogance, making themselves lowly like a worm. This is a play on words--the word tola'as () means both "red" and "worm" - as well as hyssop.
The remaining portion of the olive oil from the purification offering, called in Hebrew log shemen shel metzora, is retained by the kohen at the completion of his service. This portion is listed as one of the twenty-four kohanic gifts.
Tzaraath can also afflict garments (Leviticus 13:47). Garment tzaraath is relevant to only three materials:
There are a number of limitations to tzaraath as it applies to clothing:
Tzaraath appears in clothing as an intense green ( - yerakrak) or red ( - adamdam) eruption, and must be brought to the kohen for inspection. In regards to garment tzaraath, there are no criteria by which it can be declared impure upon initial examination. The garment is confined for seven days, and if on the seventh day, the negah has spread, it is a negah of tzaraath and is declared impure. Subsequent to a declaration of tzaraath, the garment, whether wool, linen or leather, is completely burnt ( ?); if the tzaraath was confined to the woof or warp, only that need be burnt.
Upon re-evaluation after the seven-day confinement, the kohen may instruct that the garment with the eruption be washed and confined once more for seven days. If upon a second re-evaluation after the second seven days of confinement, the kohen sees that the eruption did not dim and did not spread, the garment is declared impure and must be completely burnt.
If the second re-evaluation reveals a dimming of the eruption, the kohen tears the area with the eruption from the garment and burns the torn out portion completely. The torn out area is patched to allow for a reinspection of the area for return of the negah. If, the eruption returns to the patch, there is no confinement period instituted and the entire garment is completely burnt.; if a negah reappears on the garment but not on the patch, the garment must be burned but the patch can be saved. To recapitulate, if the negah remained as it was after the first week of confinement, it is washed and reconfined. If it remained as it was after the second week of confinement, it is burned.
The third and last type of tzaraath mentioned by the Torah affects buildings. If an individual notices an affliction on his house, he is to inform a kohen. The kohen will then command that they empty the house of all of its contents prior to his inspection; this is to prevent further financial loss, because should the house be confined, everything within it became impure as well.
When the kohen comes to perform the inspection, he looks for lesions on the wall that appear either intense green () or intense red () and that appear sunken below the plane of the wall's surface ( ?, literally "lower than the wall"). If this is what he sees, the kohen exits the house and confines it for seven days.
On the seventh day, upon re-evaluating the eruption, if the kohen sees that the eruption has spread beyond what it had been, the afflicted stones are removed, the area around the afflicted stones is scraped and both the removed stones and clay plaster are cast into a place of impurity. At least two afflicted stones are necessary for removal of any stones and at least two new stones must be used to fill the void. If the afflicted wall is shared by two houses owned by two neighbors, both neighbors must help to remove the afflicted stones, scrape and place the new stones, but only the owner of the house whose interior was afflicted performs the replastering. It is from this ruling that the proverb Oy l'rasha, oy l'scheino ( ? , "Woe to the wicked! Woe to his neighbor!") originates.
The void is filled with new stones and clay plaster and the house is confined for another seven days. If upon a second re-evaluation, the negah has returned after new stones have been plastered in, the negah is deemed tzaraath and the entire house must be dismantled. If the negah does not return, the house is pronounced pure, and the same purification process mentioned in relation to tzaraath of human flesh is employed here.
There are numerous limitations put on the tzaraath that afflicts houses:
Scholars suspect that the descriptions of tzaraath of the skin actually refer to a number of different skin diseases, which, owing to the undeveloped state of medical science at that period, were not distinguished. A wide range of diseases known to modern medicine have been suggested as differential diagnosis of tzaraath, including psoriasis, seborrhoeic dermatitis, favid, dermatophyte infections, nummular dermatitis, atopic dermatitis, pityriasis rosea, crusted scabies, syphilis, impetigo, sycosis barbae, alopecia areata, boil, scabies, lichen simplex chronicus, scarlet fever, lupus erythematosus, lichen sclerosus et atrophicus, folliculitis decalvans, morphea, sarcoidosis, and lichen planopilaris.
Of the particular situations that Leviticus describes as being tzaraath,
Russian pathologist Gregory Minh discovered that leprosy is contagious; assuming that Biblical tzaraat is non-contagious, he therefore concluded that tzaraath is in fact vitiligo. Similarly, Reuven Kalisher suggested that vitiligo is the most likely candidate for Biblical tzaraath, as it is non-contagious, cause the hair located within the discolored area to turn white (also known as poliosis or leukotrichia), and can grow in size within a week to two-week period. Yehuda L. Katzenelson added that while vitiligo lacks the safachat characteristic of Biblical tzaraat, the Mishna (Negaim, chapter 1) also does not mention this characteristic. However Katzenelson concluded his analysis by listing many unanswered difficulties with Minh's opinion.
In addition to simple rashes, inflammations, and swellings, the Biblical text mentions a number of other conditions that could be confused with tzaraath. Among other situations the text considers harmless are the appearance of dull white spots, white patches of skin without sores, and baldness without sores; the latter two of these are thought by scholars to most probably refer to vitiligo and alopecia, respectively, and the Bible remarks that the former - the dull white spots - are merely a form of freckles. The symptoms that the text considers to be indicative of disease include those of the spread of superficial swellings or spots (where there had previously been a boil), and those of reddish-white sores in areas of baldness; the former condition is identified by the Bible as plague, and scholars regard its symptoms as pointing to a diagnosis of smallpox, while the latter is unidentified in the Biblical text, but considered by scholars to indicate favus.
In addition to infecting the skin, tzaraath is described by the priestly code as being able to infect historically common clothing fabrics, specifically wool, linen, and leather. The Biblical description of tzaraath in such fabrics is strikingly analogous to that of tzaraath in the skin, with, for example, spreading of the infection being tested for by isolating the fabric in question for first 7 days. The principal symptoms are described as being very green or very red spots, which spread within a week, or that do not change appearance at all after a fortnight, having been washed after the first week, or that return a week after having been torn out, if they also had faded with washing prior to being torn out. These descriptions are regarded by scholars as most probably indicative of certain moulds, and especially matching infections by Penicillium (the fungus that produces penicillin).
The biblical text also describes tzaraath as infecting the walls of houses; the symptoms it describes are depressions in the wall, which are very green or very red, and spread over a period of seven days. The description is regarded by scholars as again being strikingly similar to the wording of the description of tzaraath infections in the skin, but still somewhat obscure; it would seem to fit some form of fungal growth, especially dry rot, which produces yellowish-green and reddish patches on walls.
As a "physical manifestation of a spiritual malaise," tzaraath is a "divine retribution for the offender's failure to feel the needs and share the hurt of others."
Although the medical and chemical conditions, which scholars consider the descriptions to fit, have obvious natural causes in the light of modern scientific knowledge, the biblical texts characterise it as a spiritual affliction with a supernatural cause, bringing ritual impurity to its victims. Each victim of tzaraas mentioned by the Bible is stated to have received the condition due to some transgression of biblical laws, including Joab being cursed for the murder of Abner (whose blood was shed deceitfully in time of peace), Gehazi (for 1. rebelling against Elisha's decision to not take payment for a miracle God had worked 2. working deceitfully to take the payment 3. lying to Elisha, saying he hadn't done the thing); and Uzziah for presuming to burn incense in the Holy Temple--violating a clear and direct Commandment of God (which prohibited anyone besides the priests to burn incense).
If a person was afflicted with tzaraath in their skin, they were required to wear torn clothes, keep their hair unkempt, cover the lower part of their face, cry out [ritually] impure, [ritually] impure, and reside away from other people; a few medical historians, such as Arturo Castiglioni, regard this as the first model of sanitary legislation. Nevertheless, this isolation isn't necessarily due to concerns over the contagiousness of the disease, but rather due to concerns about the risk of moral corruption to other people; the Talmud doesn't treat tzaraath as contagious, and doesn't consider non-Jewish victims of tzaraath to be ritually impure. The Talmud states that if tzaraath hadn't been confirmed by a Jewish priest, then a bridegroom with suspected symptoms of it was allowed to postpone any isolation or inspection by a priest until a week after his wedding, and if a person developed suspected symptoms of tzaraath during a holy day, then the isolation and inspection by a priest could be postponed until the holy days had finished.
Fabrics and clothing affected by tzaraath were required by the text to be burnt entirely, unless it was the form of tzaraath that faded after washing but came back after being torn out, in which case it could be considered ritually pure as soon as the tzaraath had gone, and it had subsequently been washed. Tzaraath infections in houses were to be treated similarly harshly according to the biblical regulations, and didn't have any exceptions; stones showing the symptoms had to be removed, and the house had to be scraped, with the removed stones and scraped-off clay being cast into a rubbish heap outside the city, and if the infection returned once replacement stones were laid and daubed with clay, then the whole house had to be dismantled, with the rubble again going to the tip outside the city. Additionally, people who had been in a house while it was infected with tzaraath was considered ritually impure until the evening came, and anyone who had eaten or slept there had to also wash their clothes.
When the priest had certified that tzaraath had been cured, the biblical text requires that the formerly infected person undergo a number of ritual events, some occurring straight away, and some occurring a week later. According to critical scholars, these are really two independent rituals spliced together, with the first group being the ritual that was originally part of the regulations for tzaraath of skin, and the other group being a later attempt at replacing the first group of rituals, so that the regulations fitted better with the sacrifice-centric view of the Aaronid priesthood. The biblical text states that a ritual, almost identical to the first group of rituals for skin-tzaraath, also had to be carried out for houses that had been cured of infections from tzaraath; however, there is no further ritual for houses that could parallel the second group of rituals for skin-tzaraath.
The first group of requirements are that the formerly infected person kills a (ritually pure) bird over fresh water, in a clay pot, and dips another living bird, together with cedar wood, scarlet yarn, and ezov, into the blood; this combination was used to sprinkle the formerly infected person seven times with the blood. Once the surviving bird was released over open fields, and the formerly infected person had shaved off all their hair, and bathed themselves and their clothes in water, they were counted as ritually pure. According to biblical scholars, this ritual is primarily an example of sympathetic magic, with the running water and living bird being symbolic representations of ritual impurity going away; killing animals over running water was a widespread ancient custom. The cedar and ezob have more practical applications, with cedarwood having medicinal properties, and ezob being a good implement to use for sprinkling.
In the second group of requirements, having completed the first group, the formerly infected person is required to avoid their own home for a week (although they may mix with other people), after which they must shave off absolutely all of their hair, including their eyebrows, and then wash themselves. Having done this, the formerly infected individual was required to make a standard whole offering, a standard sin offering (to excuse the profanity of having had tzaraath), and a guilt offering (to apologise for the cause of the tzaraath); if people are too poor to afford that, the Bible allows the standard alternative set of sacrificial victims to be used instead.
Unlike other guilt offerings, the priest was required to put some of the blood from the sacrifice onto the formerly infected person's right ear lobe, right thumb, and right big toe, then some of the oil for the sacrifice had to be poured into the priest's left palm, and applied with the priest's right forefinger onto the formerly infected person's right ear lobe, right thumb, and right big toe, and then the rest of the oil from the priest's palm was to be poured onto the formerly infected person's head; critical scholars regard the Priestly Code, of which the tzaraath regulations are a part, to have been written in the early 7th century, and it is in this context that these additional rules have significance. By that era, non-priests were not allowed to pass beyond a certain gateway (the gate of Nicanor) in the complex at the Temple in Jerusalem, while the blood from sacrifices couldn't pass outside, thus for a person to be touched by the blood, they had to lean through the gateway without setting foot on the other side; the right ear, thumb, and toe, were symbolically the parts of the body that achieve this.