Parshios Tazria & Metzorah
Decision Making Process of the Kohein
One of the more interesting points to note in this week’s parhsiyot is the
fact that the Torah places the entire determination of purity or impurity in
the decision making process of the kohein – the priest before whom the
afflicted person appears. He alone decides the matter of the person’s fate.
And even though the Torah does describe for the kohein the standards and
methods of diagnosis of the disease, it ultimately leaves the decision up to
the kohein himself.
The kohein’s determination of the matter ultimately is but a subjective one.
It is the kohein who creates the impurity within the person afflicted and
not, so to speak, the disease and its symptoms itself. This is truly a
remarkable and necessary insight into the mystery of tzoraas particularly
and halacha generally.
Though there are always rules, structures and limitations that govern the
halachic decision making process, the ultimate decision on the particular
matter in question rests in the subjective mind and hands of the halachic
decisor himself. So that within the objective standards set by the Torah in
halachic matters and issues, there is always space left for human thought,
intuition and creativity. The person, garment or building is not impure
until and unless the kohein declares it to be so. It is the kohein’s
declaration that decides the issue and that declaration emanating from human
lips like all human decisions and declarations is of necessity a subjective one.
Over all of the centuries of Jewish life and law there has been general
agreement regarding the outlines – the so-called objective standards - of
Jewish law, tradition and halacha. But there has always been differing
opinions amongst the scholars regarding the actual details of implementing
those general principles. This is because the Torah itself allows for human
participation in the halachic process, for the debates and arguments that
constantly construct and amplify the halachic process.
Many a great decisor and scholar in Jewish law has admitted to the fact that
his intuition and/or bent of mind influenced his final decision. This
thought process is then broadened further by the Jewish tradition and idea
that human intuition in halachic matters is enhanced by aid from Heaven.
”The Lord is with him” – the halacha is according to his opinion in all
matters, is the succinct way that the Talmud phrased this idea.
A person who is devoted to Torah ideals and lives them in practice, and who
is possessed of great Torah scholarship, subconsciously obtains a holy
intuition that guides him in his decision making process. The Torah allows
and indeed encourages human participation and its attendant subjectivity in
the halachic decision making process. But it also will help that
subjectivity to arrive at a correct decision on the matter at hand.
The Torah inherently promises the kohein that his subjective decision on the
matter of purity or impurity at hand before him will be adjudicated
correctly. This idea has been the under pinning of the halachic process of
Judaism throughout the ages from the time of Sinai forward.
Rabbi Berel Wein