Negaim, Chapter Ten, Mishnah One

 

Introduction

Chapter ten deals with negaim that appear on one’s head or beard. These negaim are called “scalls” or “netek/netakim”. According to the rabbis the scall appears on a place on the beard or head from which regular hair has already fallen out. First the hair falls out and then the scall appears. At this point, the priest is to determine whether it is impure or not, as he does in other cases of negaim. The following are the relevant verses from Leviticus 13 that deal with the scall.

 

29 If a man or a woman has an affection on the head or in the beard, 30 the priest shall examine the affection. If it appears to go deeper than the skin and there is thin yellow hair in it, the priest shall pronounce him unclean; it is a scall, a scaly eruption in the hair or beard. 31 But if the priest finds that the scall affection does not appear to go deeper than the skin, yet there is no black hair in it, the priest shall isolate the person with the scall affection for seven days. 32 On the seventh day the priest shall examine the affection. If the scall has not spread and no yellow hair has appeared in it, and the scall does not appear to go deeper than the skin, 33 the person with the scall shall shave himself, but without shaving the scall; the priest shall isolate him for another seven days. 34 On the seventh day the priest shall examine the scall. If the scall has not spread on the skin, and does not appear to go deeper than the skin, the priest shall pronounce him clean; he shall wash his clothes, and he shall be clean. 35 If, however, the scall should spread on the skin after he has been pronounced clean, 36 the priest shall examine him. If the scall has spread on the skin, the priest need not look for yellow hair: he is unclean. 37 But if the scall has remained unchanged in color, and black hair has grown in it, the scall is healed; he is clean. The priest shall pronounce him clean.

 

Mishnah One

1)      Scalls may become unclean for two weeks and by two signs: by thin yellow hair and by spreading.

2)      By thin yellow hair: means stunted and short, the words of Rabbi Akiva.

a)      Rabbi Yohanan ben Nuri said: even though it is long. 

3)      Rabbi Yohanan ben Nuri said: what is the meaning of the expression when people say, “This stick is thin,” or “This reed is thin”? Does “thin” imply that it is stunted and short and not stunted and long? 

a)      Rabbi Akiva replied: before we learn from the reed let us learn from hair, [for they say] “So and so’s hair is thin”: “thin” means that it is stunted  and short and not stunted and long.

 

Explanation

Section one: This section was found above in 3:5. Negaim of the beard or head have a two week period in which their impurity is examined, as do the other negaim we have discussed up until now. They are impure if yellow hair appears, or if they spread.

Section two: The rest of the mishnah discusses what the Torah means by “thin yellow hair” (Leviticus 13:30). Specifically, there is a debate whether the hair must be short as well as thin.

Rabbi Akiva says that it must be both “stunted” which means that it is thin, or poor in quality. And it must also be short. Rabbi Yohanan ben Nuri argues that it is a sign of impurity even if it is long.

Section three: The mishnah now records a fascinating argument between these two rabbis, each defending his own position. Both argue that they can interpret the meaning of “thin” from the way in which people commonly speak. Rabbi Yohanan ben Nuri points out that when people say “thin” as in “this stick is thin” or “this reed is thin” they mean that it is thin but they don’t necessarily mean that it is short and thin. The adjective “thin” implies nothing when it comes to length.

Rabbi Akiva says that the word “thin” does imply “short” when it comes to hair, which is after all the subject at hand. People will call hair “thin” and what they really mean is thin and short.

As someone who used to have “thinning” hair, I’m going to have to side with Rabbi Yohanan ben Nuri. Some of those lone hairs left on my head were indeed quite long, even if they were few and far in-between!

 

 

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