“Quick! Eat the cheeseburger before the rabbi comes and tells you it’s not kosher!”
Can you imagine a seriously committed Jew saying such a thing? Of course not. A food’s kosher status doesn’t depend on a rabbi’s decision, it’s an objective reality. The fact that I don’t yet recognize that reality shouldn’t make a difference, should it? So what kind of games is the Torah playing in chapter 14, when a person is told to take all of the things out of his tzara’at-afflicted house before the kohen comes and inspects it? The Mishna (Negaim 12:5) says that even if the home owner is a Torah scholar and knows with certainty that it is tzara’at, the same rule applies. Rashi mentioned a similar law last chapter in relation to human tzara’at. Members of a bridal party, and everyone during the festivals, are supposed to ignore suspicious spots, leaving them to be declared impure afterwards. Why does it matter if the kohen has made his declaration? Either the person is impure, or he isn’t!
Apparently, this empirical, absolutist understanding of halacha is flawed. It’s understandable why people wish, and claim, that halacha works this way. It makes life much simpler, it lets you feel like you’re doing The Right Thing (and that the person who does otherwise is Wrong). But the halachic system is quite explicitly not one that makes a claim on empirical, absolute Truth.
Countless rabbinic statements state this outright, and much of the halachic corpus testifies to it. Halachic decision-making is multi-valued and circumstantial, taking many factors into account, like financial loss, human suffering, public needs, and policy considerations, to name only a few categories. If there is one overarching value that defines the halachic process, reflected in the Torah’s concern even for a minor loss on the one hand, or the ability to enjoy a festives moment on the other, it is not Truth, but Peace.
“Its ways are ways of pleasantness, and all of its paths are peace.”
This is my own little insight about the 929 chapter of the day, in 300 words or so. I’d love to hear your comments and start a conversation
What’s 929? A near-impossible challenge of consistency. A song of Jewish unity. A beautiful project worth checking out. Learn more at 929.org.il