What is Tzara’at?

The weekly Torah portion’s name is “Metzora”  {מצורע}(‘LEPERS’) and it is found in Leviticus  14:1–15:33

The Hebrew word ‘Tzara’at’ {צרעת} means ‘leprosy’ and a person who becomes ill with leprosy is called in Hebrew ‘Metzora’ {מצורע} – like the name of the weekly Torah portion. This ‘parasha’ discusses this disease within one of the main frameworks of the Book of Leviticus which are the laws of ‘clean’ and ‘unclean’.

Both the ‘Septuagint’ (the old Greek translation of the Bible) and the ‘Vulgate’ (the old Latin translation of the Bible) translated the Hebrew word ‘Tzara’at’ as ‘leper’ – a skin disease which was common in the ancient world (and even in rare cases today).

In English it is known as ‘leprosy’ or by its medical name ‘Hansen’s disease’. However, the skin disease that the Greeks and Romans called ‘leprae’ is NOT the same disease that appears in Leviticus. We do not know for sure what kind of disease the Torah is talking about and there are several opinions in regard to that.

In the Jewish folklore, the biblical ‘Tzara’at’ is known as a ‘spiritual disease’ – meaning it was caused by spiritual reasons such as ‘evil gossiping’, for example, as happened to Miriam, Moses’ sister (Numbers 12:1-13).

In the old Jewish literature there is a saying which explains the Hebrew name of our weekly Torah portion. ‘Metzora’  {מצורע} is an acronym for ‘MoTZi Shem RA’ {מוציא שם רע} – which means in English ‘to muddy someone’s name’.