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Parasha Tazria-Metzorah: What Does Leprosy Have to Do with Slander and Gossip?

Parasha Tazria-Metzorah: (She Conceives-Infected One)
Leviticus 12:1–15:33; 2 Kings 7:3–20; Luke 7:18–35; Matthew 23:16–24:2, 3–31

“The Lord said to Moses, ‘Say to the Israelites:  A woman who becomes pregnant and gives birth to a son will be ceremonially unclean for seven days, just as she is unclean during her monthly period.’”  (Leviticus 12:1–2)


This week’s Torah portion specifies laws of purification, including those pertaining to childbirth.  Yeshua’s mother, Miryam, would have diligently followed these laws and regulations.

While last week’s Parasha (Shemini) dealt with Biblical dietary regulations, this week’s study deals with the laws of tumah (ritual impurity) and tahara (ritual purity).

The laws pertaining to purification, including post childbirth, purity in marriage (niddah), and leprosy are discussed.

These regulations may be understood in purely hygienic terms, or for their religious significance, or both.

The issue, however, is not one of clean versus unclean, but pure (tahor).

Certainly, as Believers we strive to be pure and clean in heart before the Lord.


This rabbi is reading from a Jewish prayer book in the synagogue before removing the Torah scroll, which is covered in an ornate mantle, from the Ark behind him.

The Biblical Regulations of Childbirth

“Then the woman must wait thirty-three days to be purified from her bleeding.  She must not touch anything sacred or go to the sanctuary until the days of her purification are over.  If she gives birth to a daughter, for two weeks the woman will be unclean, as during her period.  Then she must wait sixty-six days to be purified from her bleeding.”  (Leviticus 12:4–5)

The Bible specifies a waiting period for purification after childbirth—33 days if a male child is born and 66 days if a female child is born.

It provides no explanation why the period of impurity (tameh) is double when a woman gives birth to a female child instead of a male child.

After the specified period of ritual impurity (as in the menstrual period), a burnt offering was brought to the priest.

“When the days of her purification for a son or daughter are over, she is to bring to the priest at the entrance to the tent of meeting a year-old lamb for a burnt offering and a young pigeon or a dove for a sin offering.  He shall offer them before the Lord to make atonement for her, and then she will be ceremonially clean from her flow of blood.

“These are the regulations for the woman who gives birth to a boy or a girl.”  (Leviticus 12:6–7)

Year Old Lamb

A woman was to bring a year old lamb for a burnt offering and a young pigeon or a dove for sin offering when the required days of purification were completed.

Today, for ritual purity, a Jewish woman customarily visits the mikvah (ritual water immersion) after childbirth before resuming sexual relations with her husband.  There are mikvahs in every orthodox Jewish community throughout the world.


A mother and child at the plaza of Western(Wailing) Wall, a remnant of the wall that surrounded the sacred Temple’s courtyard.

As well, instead of the prescribed offering that was to be made at the Temple, today parents generally visit the synagogue in order to give thanks to God for a speedy recovery from childbirth and for the blessing of their newborn child.  This is when the female child is given her Hebrew name.

The male child, however, is named at his brit milah (circumcision) on the eighth day.

“And on the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised.”  (Leviticus 12:3)

In keeping with the Law of Moses, the Messiah was named Yeshua when He was eight days old, on the day of his circumcision (Luke 2:21).

“On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, He was named Jesus [Yeshua], the name the angel had given Him before He was conceived.”  (Luke 2:21)

[His Hebrew name, Yeshua, has been transliterated as ‘Jesus’ in English since it comes from the Latin transliteration ‘Iesus.’]

Brit Milah-eight-day-old-grandson-mother-newborn-son

An Israeli mother proudly holds her son after his brit milah, while her own mother beams beside her.

Biblical Regulations Concerning Leprosy

“Whoever of you loves life and desires to see many good days, keep your tongue from evil and your lips from telling lies.”  (Psalm 34:12–13)

Much of this Parasha concerns leprosy, and there are around three million people today living with leprosy, mostly in India, Southeast Asia, and South America (Brazil).

Today, there are more than 100 people in the United States who have leprosy.

Although the word lepra is used in the Septuagint, and is translated as leprosy in English, in Hebrew, the actual word is tzaraat.

This word comes from tzara, means “to have a skin disease,” although the root of tzaraat may actually mean “smiting.”


The Hebrew word tzara is a broad term thought to encompass diseases such as leprosy, ringworm (see above photo), psoriasis, impetigo, and tropical sores.

While we automatically relate leprosy to the modern-day affliction of leprosy, which is accompanied by swelling of organs and rotting of the limbs, a better translation might be “scaly affliction.”

Three manifestations of tzaraat are mentioned in the Torah: an affliction of human skin (Leviticus 13:2); an affliction of garments (Leviticus 13:47); and an affliction of houses (Leviticus 14:34).

A person afflicted with tzaraat was called metzora, and was to be isolated from the community in order to prevent defiling and infecting others through contact.

“Anyone with such a defiling disease must wear torn clothes, let their hair be unkempt, cover the lower part of their face and cry out, ‘Unclean!  Unclean!’ [Tameh! Tameh!]  As long as they have the disease they remain unclean.  They must live alone; they must live outside the camp.”  (Leviticus 13:45–46)


Women praying at the Western (Wailing) Wall in Jerusalem.

According to rabbinical tradition, tzaraat is an affliction from God as punishment for the very serious sin of lashon hara (evil tongue), which is defined as true speech for malicious purposes; for example, in Numbers 12:10, Miriam was stricken with tzaraat after speaking evil of Moses and his wife.

Although lashon hara is an extremely serious sin, slander or defamation, which is called hotzaat shem ra (spreading a bad name), is a graver sin.

Gossip, called rekhilut, is also forbidden by Jewish law.

Judaism considers malicious gossip a type of moral leprosy, an evil contagion, and the leper should be put outside the camp until they are healed.

“Do not go about spreading slander among your people.  Do not do anything that endangers your neighbor’s life.  I am the Lord.”  (Leviticus 19:16)

Also, when a house was infected with ‘leprosy,’ the stones and timber infected with mildew or dry rot would be removed and carried off to a designated place outside the camp (Leviticus 19:44–45).  If that didn’t work, then the house was totally dismantled.

Likewise, sometimes a situation in our lives or relationship has become so defiled and unhealthy that it must be leveled to the ground.  We must start over in a new place, trusting that God will help us to begin anew.


Torah scroll with a yad (Torah pointer) for keeping one’s place while reading.

Spiritual Leprosy

How does all this apply to Believers in Yeshua (Jesus) today?

When it comes to sin amongst Believers, there must be an attitude of grace toward the faults and weaknesses of others, but there must also be wisdom.

The Bible tells us to not fellowship with those who call themselves Believers and yet persist in serious sins—not even to eat with them!  They must remain outside the camp until they repent.

“But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler.  Do not even eat with such people.”  (Corinthians 5:11)

Anyone who repents, however, can be cleansed of their sins through the blood of Messiah Yeshua (Jesus).


Pilgrims immersing themselves in the Jordan River in Israel.

Haftorah (Prophetic Portion)

In this week’s Haftorah (prophetic portion) we read the story of Naaman, captain of the army of the King of Aram.  He was a mighty man of valor but also a leper (metzora).

Naaman’s wife had an Israelite servant girl who was captured during an Aramean raid on Israel, and she advised that Naaman should go to the prophet Elisha in Israel for healing.

Naaman eventually did go, but the experience was nothing that he expected.

Elisha didn’t personally meet with Naaman, but sent a messenger who instructed him to dip seven times in the Jordan River.

At first, Naaman took offense, since he expected a more personal touch.  He was, after all, the captain of the army.

And then, to add insult to injury, he was told to wash in the insignificant, tiny Jordan River!

“I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy.  Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel?  Couldn’t I wash in them and be cleansed?”  So he turned and went off in a rage.  (2 Kings 5:11)

Fortunately for Naaman, his servants had the courage and faithfulness to challenge him.

Naaman repented of his attitude of pride and superiority, and obeyed the prophet.

Elisha refuses the gifts of Naaman-Pieter de Grebber

Elisha refuses the gifts of Naaman, by Pieter de Grebber

Naaman’s Leprosy Is Healed

When Naaman immersed himself seven times in the Jordan, his flesh became like that of a little child (na’ar katan), and he was made clean (tahor—ritually pure).

This ritual water immersion is called the ‘mikvah’—the Jewish custom from which the Church derived the rite of baptism.

Furthermore, since seven is the number of perfection, rest, completion and wholeness in the Bible, when Naaman entered the mikvah and was immersed seven times, he was healed mind, body and soul, and he believed in the God of Israel!

“Then Naaman and all his attendants went back to the man of God.  He stood before him and said, ‘Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel.  So please accept a gift from your servant.’”  (2 Kings 5:15)

Mankind can only find healing from moral leprosy in the teachings of the Word of God, in the rivers of the Living Water of the Jewish Scriptures, and their fulfillment in Yeshua the Messiah!

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