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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.

Shabat shalom,

Rabbi Berel Wein

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