The Bible Says What? Lepers should be declared ‘impure’. Really?

The Bible Says What? Lepers should be declared ‘impure’. Really?

Senior Liberal rabbi Danny Rich asks what the Torah says about treating those suffering from leprosy

A parsha that seems strange from a modern Progressive perspective is Parashat Tazria (Leviticus 12:1-13:59), which prescribes the priest’s role in the diagnosing and ritual purifying of sufferers of skin complaints, known as tzarat in Biblical Hebrew

Although often translated as ‘leprosy,’ tzarat appears to designate a variety of skin ailments for which the procedure involved identification, treatment and in some cases, isolation and a requirement for the sufferer to dramatically declare “Impure, impure!”

This declaration requirement, which may remind us of the leper’s bell, might initially cause us to recoil. But the Babylonian Talmud (Moed Katan 5a) says the purpose of such a declaration serves not only as a warning to others, but should elicit compassion and prayer on behalf of the sufferer.

Perhaps ahead of its time, the Talmud was alluding to the rights and responsibilities of health.

The modern citizen is entitled to expect the community to offer sympathy and the best healthcare treatment but, as a responsible member of the same society, one should try to recognise when one is ill, to reduce (where possible) the illness’ damage to oneself and others, and to acknowledge that even the most advanced healthcare system provision demands a sense of responsibility from its users.

Despite the role of the priesthood, there is no suggestion that illness arises from moral failure, reaffirming the modern concept that both mental and physical illness strikes its sufferers at random and a decent society places great importance on accurate diagnosis, appropriate treatment and rehabilitation where possible.

In the current political climate, my recent re-reading of Parashat Tazria perhaps underpins a call for the maintenance of a caring society, in which healthcare remains the right of all, regardless of individual circumstance.

υ Danny Rich is the Senior Rabbi and chief executive of Liberal Judaism

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