Tazria-Metzora (Lev. 12:1 – 15:33)

I tend to get annoyed when people brush aside this double portion, or even all of Leviticus, as irrelevant, gory, meaningless in the modern world, and/or nauseating.  OK, I understand” nauseating,” in light of this week’s graphic descriptions of genital emissions, skin diseases, and fungal infestations of cloth and houses.  But Tazria-Metzora triggers riffs on profound issues (no pun intended – “issues” get it, oh well, you’ll have to read the text).  I’ve written here about a woman’s ritual purification after giving birth to a girl versus a boy (twice as long for a girl) in terms of proximity to life and death, which also ties in with the fact that it is genital emissions (not, say, runny noses or oozing sores) that require a ritual purification.  The skin ailment tzora’at (not Hansen’s disease, i.e., leprosy, but possibly related to psoriasis – see) is regarded as a physical manifestation of a spiritual defect, linked in the Talmud to gossip and slander (lashon hara) and various other sins. The consequent societal isolation imposed can be seen as analogous to how people react to victims of AIDS and mental illness.

The tone of the text is clinical and prescriptive.  Details of diagnosis, isolation, follow-up, and purification are presented.   Tzora’at must be diagnosed by a priest.  Dr. Alan Cooper of JTS likens it to WebMD (http://learn.jtsa.edu/sites/default/files/commentary_pdf_files/Tazria%20Metzora%20Torah%20from%20JTS%205773.pdf ).  The priest<->doctor analogy is obvious, so I thought it would be interesting to see if there are any parallels in Mesopotamian or Egyptian medicine to tzora’at and its treatment.  (Full disclosure: I am the daughter and wife of physicians and the mother of a soon-to-graduate med student and one two years from graduation, all in different specialties).

Relatively few of the surviving cuneiform tablets from Mesopotamia concern medicine.  The diseases therein are described astutely and the texts are essentially rational.  Spirits were often held responsible for ailments, with each spirit assigned to one body part.  Two professionals might be called in, an ashipu to identify the spirit, cast spells, and determine if the patient had brought this on by error or sin; and an asu who prescribed treatment (http://www.indiana.edu/~ancmed/meso.HTM ).

Egyptian medicine was quite sophisticated and a major influence on the Greeks.  They believed that various spirits, gods, and demons played a key role in disease.  According to their Channel Theory, channels within the body, analogous to irrigation, if unblocked, provided routes for good health; the heart was the center of 46 such channels.  When an evil spirit blocked channels, the result was bad health.  (http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/info/medicine/ancient-egyptian-medicine.php#.UWSFrpNwqOU ).  Treatment typically involved both incantations and herbs.  Here is a “Cure for Lesions of the Skin:  After the scab has fallen off put on it: Scribe’s excrement. Mix in fresh milk and apply as a poultice.” (http://panhistoria.com/www/AncientEgyptianVirtualTemple/sekhmetnew.html )

Note that both Egyptians and Mesopotamians recognize a spiritual influence, but not really a moral cause for the disorder.  Also, the priest in Leviticus diagnoses but does not actually treat the disease; the purification rituals do not heal but are performed after healing. So, as we saw in the flood stories, it is the Hebrew Bible that emphasizes moral failing as the principal cause of dire consequences.

Shabbat shalom

Alternative Medical Terms
Joke submitted by: Anonymous

Benign…………….What you be after you be eight.
Artery…………….The study of paintings.
Bacteria…………..Back door to cafeteria.
Barium…………….What doctors do when patients die.
Cesarean Section……A neighborhood in Rome.
Cat scan……………Searching for kitty.
Cauterize………….Made eye contact with her.
Colic……………..A sheep dog.
Coma………………A punctuation mark.
D & C……………..Where Washington is.
Dilate…………….To live long.
Enema……………..Not a friend.
Fester…………….Quicker than someone else.
Fibula…………….A small lie.
Genital……………Non-Jewish person.
G.I. Series………..World Series of military baseball.
Hangnail…………..What you hang your coat on.
Impotent…………..Distinguished, well known.
Labor Pain…………Getting hurt at work.
Medical Staff………A Doctor’s cane.
Morbid…………….A higher offer than I bid.
Nitrates…………..Cheaper than day rates.
Node………………Was aware of
Outpatient…. …….A person who has fainted.
Pap Smear….. …….A fatherhood test.
Pelvis…………….Second cousin to Elvis.
Post Operative……..A letter carrier.
Recovery Room………Place to do upholstery.
Rectum…………….Darn near killed him.
Secretion………….Hiding something.
Seizure……………Roman emperor.
Tablet…………….A small table.
Terminal Illness……Getting sick at the Bus Station
Tumor……………..More than one.
Urine……………..Opposite of you’re out.
Varicose…………..Near by/close by.


What’s Your Diagnosis?
Joke submitted by: Anonymous

A young doctor moved out to a small community to replace the aging doctor there. The older doctor suggested that the younger doctor accompany him as he made his house calls so that the people of the community could become accustomed to him.

At the first house they visited, the younger doctor listened intently as the older doctor and an older lady discussed the weather, their grandchildren and the latest church bulletin.

After some time, the older doctor asked his patient how she had been feeling.

“I’ve been a little sick to my stomach,” she replied.

“Well,” said the older physician, “you’ve probably been over
doing it a bit with the fresh fruit. Why don’t you cut back on the amount of fresh fruit you eat and see if that helps.”

As they left the house, the younger doctor asked how the older doctor had reached his diagnosis so quickly.

“You didn’t even examine that woman,” the younger doctor stated.

“I didn’t have to,” the elder physician explained. “You noticed I dropped my stethoscope on the floor in there. Well when I bent over to pick it up, I looked around and noticed a half dozen banana peels in the trash can. That is probably what has been making her ill.”

“That’s pretty sneaky,” commented the younger doctor. “Do you mind if I try it at the next house?”

“I don’t suppose it could hurt anything,” the elder physician replied.

At the next house, the two doctors visited with an elderly widow. They spent several minutes discussing the weather and grandchildren and the latest church bulletin. After several minutes, the younger doctor asked the widow how she had been feeling lately.

“I’ve felt terribly run down lately,” the widow replied. “I just don’t have as much energy as I used to.”

“You’ve probably been doing too much work for the church,” the younger doctor suggested without even examining his patient. “Perhaps you should ease up a bit and see if that helps.”

As they left, the elder physician said, “Your diagnosis is probably right, but do you mind telling me how you came to that conclusion?”

“Sure,” replied the younger doctor. “Just like you, I dropped my stethoscope on the floor. When I bent down to pick it up, I looked around and there was the preacher hiding under the bed!”


The History of Medicine
Joke submitted by: Anonymous

A short history of medicine: I have an ear ache.
2000 B.C. – Here, eat this root.
1000 A.D. – That root is heathen, say this prayer.
1850 A.D. – That prayer is superstition, drink this potion.
1940 A.D. – That potion is snake oil, swallow this pill.
1985 A.D. – That pill is ineffective, take this antibiotic.
2000 A.D. – That antibiotic is artificial. Here, eat this root.


Medical Charts (selected)

The following are actual, unedited, notes written by doctors on patients’ medical charts:

1. Patient has chest pain if she lies on her left side for over a

2. On the second day the knee was better, and on the third day it disappeared completely.

3. She has had no rigors or shaking chills, but her husband states
she was very hot in bed last night.

4. The patient has been depressed ever since she began seeing me in

6. Discharge status: Alive but without permission.

8. The patient refused an autopsy.

9. The patient has no past history of suicides.

10. Patient has left his white blood cells at another hospital.

11. Patient’s past medical history has been remarkably insignificant
with only a forty pound weight gain in the past three days.

12. Patient had waffles for breakfast and anorexia for lunch.

14. Since she can’t get pregnant with her husband, I thought you
might like to work her up.

16. While in the ER, she was examined, X-rated, and sent home.

17. The skin was moist and dry.

19. Patient was alert and unresponsive.

20. Rectal exam revealed a normal size thyroid.

24. Exam of genitalia reveals that he is circus sized.

26. The patient was to have a bowel resection. However, he took a job as a stockbroker instead.

27. Skin: Somewhat pale but present.

28. The pelvic examination will be done later on the floor.

31. Patient has two teenage children, but no other abnormalities.

32.  By the time he was admitted, his rapid heart had stopped, and he was feeling better.

34. I have suggested that he loosen his pants before standing, and then, when he stands with the help of his wife, they should fall to the floor.

35.  The patient will need disposition, and therefore we will get Dr. Blank to dispose of him.

36.   The patient expired on the floor uneventfully.

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2 Responses to Tazria-Metzora (Lev. 12:1 – 15:33)

  1. Pingback: Tazria-Metzora (Lev. 12:1 – 15:33) | Torah Portion Humor Weekly

  2. Pingback: Tazria-Metzora (Lev. 12:1 – 15:33) | Torah Portion Humor Weekly

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