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

The latest Jewish News

Read this week’s digital edition

Click Here

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

Support your Jewish community. Support your Jewish News

Thank you for helping to make Jewish News the leading source of news and opinion for the UK Jewish community. Today we're asking for your invaluable help to continue putting our community first in everything we do.

Unlike other Jewish media, we do not charge for content. That won’t change. Because we are free, we rely on advertising to cover our costs. This vital lifeline, which has dropped in recent years, has fallen further due to coronavirus.

For as little as £5 a month you can help sustain the vital work we do in celebrating and standing up for Jewish life in Britain.

Jewish News holds our community together and keeps us connected. Like a synagogue, it’s where people turn to feel part of something bigger. It also proudly shows the rest of Britain the vibrancy and rich culture of modern Jewish life.

You can make a quick and easy one-off or monthly contribution of £5, £10, £20 or any other sum you’re comfortable with.

100% of your donation will help us continue celebrating our community, in all its dynamic diversity...


Being a community platform means so much more than producing a newspaper and website. One of our proudest roles is media partnering with our invaluable charities to amplify the outstanding work they do to help us all.


There’s no shortage of oys in the world but Jewish News takes every opportunity to celebrate the joys too, through projects like Night of Heroes, 40 Under 40 and other compelling countdowns that make the community kvell with pride.


In the first collaboration between media outlets from different faiths, Jewish News worked with British Muslim TV and Church Times to produce a list of young activists leading the way on interfaith understanding.


Royal Mail issued a stamp honouring Holocaust hero Sir Nicholas Winton after a Jewish News campaign attracted more than 100,000 backers. Jewish Newsalso produces special editions of the paper highlighting pressing issues including mental health and Holocaust remembrance.

Easy access

In an age when news is readily accessible, Jewish News provides high-quality content free online and offline, removing any financial barriers to connecting people.

Voice of our community to wider society

The Jewish News team regularly appears on TV, radio and on the pages of the national press to comment on stories about the Jewish community. Easy access to the paper on the streets of London also means Jewish News provides an invaluable window into the community for the country at large.

We hope you agree all this is worth preserving.

read more: