By Rabbi Ariel Abel
Tazria and Metzora constitute a medical manual to be administered by an Israelite priest.
The first topic is women’s health. After giving birth, women retired from active society and were waited upon for 40 or 80 days, in the case of bearing a boy or a girl, to enable full recovery from the trials of birth. At the end of this period, a woman would go on a pilgrimage to the Temple with an offering of thanks and reparation for any misgivings over the pains of childbirth which she may have suffered.
The journey back into society included immersion in a natural pool of water. On the day of writing this piece, my wife and I are celebrating the 40th day after the birth of our daughter, which was the custom of her family, from the ancient Sephardi families of crypto-Jewish communities in the New World.
Moses prepared the Israelites to live in Canaan, where there were structures built with damp infected with a plague called tsara’at, which required the stones to be removed and thrown outside of the camp. If this did not happen, the clothes worn by the Israelites could be infected and, then, even their bodies.
To this day, a plague known as leprosy still exists in Colombia, bearing the same signs and discolorations of skin as described in the Torah.
This is caused by the bite of cockroaches or other disease-bearing insects that carry the infection, which may be present in the walls of a home, to the body of the victim.
The Canaanite plague mentioned in the Torah was eventually eradicated in ancient Israel, and the Bible records three examples of tsara’at appearing as sudden Divine punishments to people who had spoken or acted arrogantly: Miriam, for slandering her brother Moses; Uzziah the King of Judea for his arrogant decision to serve as a priest in the Temple; and Gehazi, the servant of Elish, for maligning his master to Na’aman, the foreign army general who sought a cure for his own leprosy from the prophet.
The expression: ‘a plague on your houses’ may refer to tsara’at, which attacked both the structure of the house and the inhabitants, as well as the clothes they wore. Ceremonies of purification for tsara’at involved ingredients such as hyssop and cedar wood and were symbolic of humility and arrogance, respectively.
Ariel Abel is rabbi of the Princes Road Synagogue, Liverpool. For more details visit www.princesroad.org.