Tazria

The sick are the ultimate Other. Biblical leprosy is today’s cancer or AIDS: the undeniable mortality of the sick reminds us of our own, and we often protect ourselves through metaphor and wilful blindness, or else are overwhelmed by their demands. “All the days of the plague he sits alone.” Throughout the instructions on treatment of leprosy, the priest is commanded – not to moralise or ignore – but to “see” the leper, to break down the instinctive otherness. Some rabbis saw holiness in being ‘touched’ by leprosy (Moses contracts it after his first encounter with God, the Messiah is described as leprous); if so, it is only because they display so rawly the holiness in us all – all human, all mortal.

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[Inspired by: Leviticus 13, with forty-three mentions of the verb ‘to see’; Netzach Yisrael 42Illness as Metaphor by Susan Sontag; Dodie Bellamy’s When the Sick Rule the World; David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardustand the idealised Bonaparte Visiting the Plague Victims of Jaffa by Antoine-Jean Gros.]

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