The National Catholic Review
These readings about leprosy (or some skin eruption) are particularly challenging, since we both think we know about such things (and do) but also may miss a good deal of what is under discussion in both narratives. Both stories assume and maintain the importance of a system which includes skin disease and much, much more. Moses and Aaron and Jesus as well ministered within that system. Our language of "clean/unclean" or "pure/impure" does not help us, since those terms are misleading. Included was what we classify under hygiene, health, order, ethics, and worship--their opposites also; there are economic and social factors as well. I can’t think of a system like it, except perhaps sports, which are not cultic (though close, perhaps!).

Skin disease is not precisely ethical or cultic, but it was considered disordered. Systems such as this one in our readings play an important and somewhat invisible role in the cultures where they function. Scholars are not in agreement about what major purposes were served by the system in question here. Some major reality or tension was enacted: perhaps the struggle between life and death, as one scholar thinks (Jacob Milgrom); or alternatively, the tension between what is ordered and disordered, in its place "cleanly" or not (Mary Douglas). To begin to approach such a mystery, we might spend time factoring what many, many complex and conflicting roles and realities are enacted as we participate in sports: physical, technical, ethical, and emotional factors mingle--carefully prescribed, all with economic and social valence. Please note, I am not saying the Jewish legal system is like an athletic event but suggesting that in its complexity, it is about more than its most visible referents (more than about managing skin disease).

There is a lot about religion (our own and especially others’) that we do not understand. To speak of such things carefully and respectfully seems important.

Barbara Green, O.P.