Negaim, Chapter One, Mishnah Five



This mishnah explains Rabbi Akiva’s position from the end of yesterday’s mishnah. There he claimed that sometimes delaying the examination of a nega can lead to a leniency. Our mishnah explains when this is so. The mishnah goes over numerous (and I’m not exaggerating) cases in which a nega would be declared impure had it been seen on Shabbat, but then changes to something that is not impure. Therefore, not seeing a nega Shabbat caused a leniency.

What we now need to do is explain all of these scenarios.   


Mishnah Five

How does it lead to a leniency?

1)      If the nega had two white hairs and one white hair disappeared.

a)      If there were two white hairs and they turned black.

b)      If one hair was white and the other black and both turned black.

c)      If they were long and then they became short.

d)      If one was long and the other short and both became short.

2)      If a boil adjoined both hairs or one of them.

a)      If the boil surrounded both hairs or one of them.

b)      Or if they were separated from each other by a boil, the quick flesh of a boil, a burning, or the quick flesh of a burning, or a white scurf.

3)      If it had undiscolored flesh and this undiscolored flesh disappeared.

4)      If it was square and then became round or elongated.

5)      If it was encompassed and then moved to the side.

a)      If it was united and then it was dispersed.

b)      Or a boil appeared and made its way into it.

c)      If it was encompassed, parted or lessened by a boil, the quick flesh of a boil, a burning, the quick flesh of a burning, or a white scurf;

6)      If it had a spreading and then the spreading disappeared;

a)      Or the first sign itself disappeared or was so lessened that both are less than the size of a split bean;

b)      Or if a boil, the quick flesh of a boil, a burning, the quick flesh of a burning, or a  white scurf, formed a division between the first sign and the spreading

Behold these lead to a leniency in the law.



Section one: On Shabbat, the person had two white hairs on his nega. Had the priest examined him that day, he would have certified him as impure. By the next day, there is only one white hair. If this was the end of the first week, the priest would isolate him for a second week and as long as the appearance stays the same, at the end of the second week he would be pure. Note that had the priest declared him impure, he would have had to bring a sacrifice and shaved the hair of his body.

The mishnah now brings up various other scenarios in which on Shabbat there is a nega that would make him impure but then something happens to one of the hairs such that they are now no longer sufficient to make him impure.

Only white hairs are impure and the hairs must be of sufficient length.

Section two: For the hairs to be a sign of impurity, they must be inside a discoloration, swelling or rash. If they are in a boil they are not a sign of impurity. If they were in some type of discoloration on Shabbat and then they were either adjoined by a boil or surrounded by a boil, they are pure.

The final piece here is a parenthetical remark regarding the boil mentioned above. Such a boil can either be a boil, the quick flesh of a boil, a burn or the quick flesh of a burn, or “white scurf.” Now if you don’t know what “white scurf” is don’t worry. Albeck explains that it is some kind of whitish discoloration that is not considered impure. Note that if you google-image this, you will get many pictures of a white scarf. Pretty, but not very helpful.

Section three: Leviticus 13:10 says, 10 If the priest finds on the skin a white swelling which has turned some hair white, with a patch of undiscolored flesh in the swelling, 11 it is chronic leprosy on the skin of his body, and the priest shall pronounce him unclean; he need not isolate him, for he is unclean.” If it had such undiscolored flesh on Shabbat and then it disappeared, he is pure.

Section four: For the undiscolored flesh to be impure it must be square. If it was square and then became round or elongated it is no longer impure.

Section five:  If the discoloration is encompassed by the nega it is impure. Such was the case on Shabbat, but by the time Shabbat was over, it was not encompassed and it was pure.

Alternatively, the discoloration was all in one place in Shabbat and then spread apart such that it is not impure.

Or a boil entered the area of the discoloration and now the discoloration is now inside a boil.

Or if any other way the boil or burn, or quick flesh of such, disrupted the discoloration then it is no longer impure.

Section six: If on Shabbat the nega had spread sufficiently for it to be impure, but then by after Shabbat the part that had spread had disappeared, it is pure. Or if the original nega completely disappeared, or if the original or spreading part had been diminished from the required amount (we will learn more about this later), then the nega is not impure.

Section seven: If a boil, burn or quick flesh divide the nega into two, it is pure.

In all of these cases we have learned that there is a fine line between a pure and impure nega. Something that is impure one day can be pure the next. As we shall see in tomorrow’s mishnah, this can also lead to a stringency for something that is pure one day (Shabbat) can be impure the next.