A timely article by Dr. Nicholas Schaser
In times of physical, social, and medical uncertainty, we can take steps to protect ourselves and promote recovery. At present, these steps include hand-washing, social distancing, and staying at home. The ancient Israelites also had ways to diagnosis and remedy illnesses, and they even practiced social distancing to ensure collective health. For the skin ailment known as tzara’at (צרעת), the priests would examine the patient to ascertain the right healing procedure (see Leviticus 13-14).
While the prescriptions in Leviticus are for the sake of the body, Deuteronomy links tzara’at to the principle of setting one’s mind on the Lord. In this way, the Torah highlights the need to take care of our spiritual health alongside our physical wellbeing; meditation on Scripture and remembrance of God support the spirit, just as proper medical care supports the body.
According to Leviticus, the skin ailment of tzara’at (צרעת) necessitates priestly examination. If a spot on the skin “has turned white and the disease appears to be deeper than the skin of one’s body, it is a case of tzara’at” (13:3). Those who exhibit possible symptoms of tzara’at are isolated, sometimes for a period of 14 days: “If the spot is white… but appears no deeper than the skin… the priest shall shut up the stricken person for seven days…. And if the disease has not spread in the skin, then the priest shall shut up [the person] for another seven days” (13:4-5).
In ancient Israel, the people knew the value of personal separation for the sake of health safety. Leviticus preserves a divine precedent for the kind of social-distancing that we can, and should, practice today.