One of the greatest dangers of the age of the internet is the abuse of medical information by lay people with no medical training, who suspect that they may be ill. Whether it is a strange rash, an unexplained pain or a seemingly unprecedented symptom, people everywhere are turning to the internet and diagnosing themselves with terrible diseases. After coming to the mistaken conclusion that they have been stricken with a serious, perhaps terminal, affliction, they finally visit a doctor and discover that their nights of anxiety were all for naught. The rash is a rash, and nothing more.

It is interesting to note that the Talmud discusses this exact psychological mind-set, although in the Talmud this discussion concerned the spiritual disease known as tzara’at resulting from improper speech. While a tzara’at infection appeared on a person as a white skin blemish, the Torah also details how this sign of spiritual degradation could also affect inanimate possessions. In the case of a person’s house, tzara’at appeared as dark green or red blotches.

In Talmud Negaim 12:5, the sages relate that a person who believes their home to be infected should go to the kohain (priest) and say, “There seems to me to be, as it were, a plague in the house.” All people, even great Torah scholars, had to use this non-committal phrase. The kohain would then come and carefully inspect the entire edifice, making certain that the diagnosis was unquestionably tzara’at.

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