Sunday, July 04, 2010

Shades of Leprosy and "the Bald One"

Varying Degrees of White

The Gemora discusses Rabbi Akiva’s and the Sages’ positions on the four categories of whiteness of tzara’as. Rabbi Akiva lists them in order of whiteness, while the Sages list them as two categories, each with its own subcategory.

Rashi explains that Rabbi Akiva holds that the main categories are baheres (snow), and the duller se’ais (wool), but that se’ais has two subcategories, plaster and the duller egg membrane. Therefore, Rabbi Akiva says that the two main categories can combine with each other, since they are on equal footing, but the subcategories only combine with each other and with se’ais, their parent category, but not with baheres, which has no relation to them.

Tosfos (6a Af) disagrees, and says that Rabbi Akiva agrees to the general formulation of two categories, each with a subcategory, but just disagrees on the rules of combinations. Therefore, Rabbi Akiva agrees that the subcategory of baheres is plaster, and the subcategory of se’ais is egg membrane, but says that since plaster is two steps duller than its parent, it can only combine with se’ais.

The Raavad says that, according to the Sages, each subcategory can combine with its parent, and each category can combine with each other.

The Rambam (Tumas Tzara’as 1:1-3) says that all four levels of whiteness can combine with each other.

See the Kesef Mishneh (1:1) for a lengthy discussion of how the Rambam learned our Gemora, and his suggestion that the Rambam understands that the Gemora concludes that there is no dispute between Rabbi Akiva and the Sages. He notes that the Gemora is not clear as to whether a source was provided for Rabbi Akiva’s position on the combination of the differing shades of white.

Rabbi Akiva’s Son

The Gemora cites a braisa which records a dialogue between Rabbi Akiva and his son, Yehoshua. Rashi says that this son is Rabbi Yehoshua ben Karchah. Since Rabbi Akiva was bald, his son was referred to as the son of Karchah – the bald one.

Tosfos (Bechoros 58a Chutz) disagrees, noting that the chronology would not place Rabbi Yehoshua ben Karchah early enough to be Rabbi Akiva’s son. Tosfos also says that Rabbi Akiva would not be constantly referred to as karchah – the bald one, as that is a derogatory term. Rather, Tosfos says Rabbi Yehoshua ben Karchah was a later Tanna, whose father was named Karchah.