According to Leviticus 13, priests were to examine potential cases of leprosy.
Wouldn't the process of examination put the priest in danger of contracting leprosy himself?
Did the priests take any measures to protect themselves?
Note that the meforshim (Rav Hirsh, Rav Sorotzkin, Ramban, Rambam, etc.) point out that tzara'at is not a natural disease and cannot be treated as a normal disease. That is, it is not similar to someone who gets (lo aleinu) something like TB as a punishment for a sin who must be treated for the physical disease as well as doing teshuvah for the sin.
Leprosy became interchangeable with the biblical leprosy due to two inaccurate translations: The Hebrew tzaraat was first translated into Greek as leprosy in the sixth century, and later, the word leprosy was translated into Arabic as lepra in the ninth century.
The kohen was not called during the week after a wedding or during chol hamoed. The person who appears to have tzaraas is not isolated until after the kohen sees him. Even if the kohen must be told by an expert what to say he is not tamei until after the kohen makes the declaration. This shows that we are not concerned with the physical symptoms and it is not a medical quarantine.
The Mishna in Moed Katan 1:5 discusses this.
R’ Meir holds that inspections were carried out on Chol Hamoed but that the Kohanim were limited to rendering a positive judgement or remaining silent. The Rabbanan hold that the Kohanim were not permitted to examine the nega at all until after the festival was over. The Halacha follows the Rabbanan, but both opinions seek to prevent an individual from being banished from the community during the festival.
This anomaly can be explained by examining the true meaning
of Tzaraat. Tzaraat is often mistranslated as leprosy (a contagious bacterial infection). However this translation cannot be correct. Rather, Tzaraat is a spiritual disease. A person only becomes Tameh with Tzaraat once the Kohen declares them to be
impure. They are not considered ‘contagious’ unless and until this declaration is made. This contrasts with the
quarantine placed on someone with a physically contagious disease.
Even the greatest Talmid Chacham is not qualified to
diagnose Tzaraat if they are not a Kohen. Rambam Hilchos Tumat Tzoraas 9:2
The gemara in Masechet Moed Koton daf 7a - 7b discusses the matter and points out that besides not being declared tamei during Chol hamoed, there are those who allow him to be with his wife once he has been confirmed to be a metzora (though not while confined for seven days.
Even if it were considered that Hashem is sending a physical disease as a punishment, we would have to treat the physical symptoms as well as the spiritual cause. this is not done, since if it were an infectious disease, the metzorah would have to be quarantined until the kohen declares that it is not tzara'as and it would be more dangerous to allow him to stay within the community during chol hamoed.
In 5760, there was an article that discussed this> The article is too long to give the details but the summary shows why the author decided that it does not match a disease known today. The article was published in the Jounal of the American Academy of Dematology in January 1982.
From: Torah and Science[SMTP:firstname.lastname@example.org]
WHAT IS TZARAAT?
ABRAHAM R. FREILICH, MD
From the Division of Dermatology, Monteflore Hospital and Medical Center, Albert Einstein College of Medicine
Leprosy has long been thought to be the disease referred to in the Torah as tzaraat.*(1) Upon close examination of the text of the Torah, however, it becomes apparent that the description of tzaraat differs from our present understanding of Hansen's disease and may not be similar to any well‑known dermatological disease.(2) Here we discuss the clinical features and differential diagnosis of tzaraat, based on the text and multiple commentaries of the Torah. It is important to note that tzaraat is discussed in a chapter of Leviticus dealing with ritual purity and impurity, a metaphysical concept with legal and practical ramifications.(3) The strict definitions of this state of impurity, however, give insight into the disease process.
Indeed, it is only when Bnai Yisrael were at a sufficiently high level that tzara'as occurred. Note also that the plague on clothing and houses are considered part of the same "disease". The meforshim point out that one could be warned by his house and clothing to be able to repent before it affects him. This shows it is not a medical condition.
Also note that a person is able to remove items from the house before the kohen makes the pronouncement and is not put in "quarantine" before the kohen announces that he is a metzorah. If it were being treated as a medical condition, then the objects in the house would be treated as if they were "infected".
It is considered that tzaraas does not occur nowadays. If it were one of the medical conditions suggested by the term leprosy, then a person with that medical condition would be treated in the same way as the Torah prescribes for tzoraas. That is, the disease would not have diappeared when Bnai Yisrael went down in the spiritual level.
As Rabbi Berel Wein says
He implies that only where holiness exists – through the study and knowledge of Torah – can the physical symptoms of impurity and spiritual degradation be felt.
The Encyclopedia Judaica says
In fact, biblical descriptions of ẓaraʿat do not include the necrosis associated with Hansen's disease. Thus far no skeletons of the biblical period show any signs of Hansen's disease.
Rashi explains that we do not treat it as a (physical) disease sent by Hashem as a punishment, but as a totally spiritual one.
As Rashi says in Tazria 13:46
He shall dwell isolated: [meaning] that other unclean people [not stricken with tzara’ath] shall not abide with him. Our Sages said: “Why is he different from other unclean people, that he must remain isolated? Since, with his slander, he caused a separation [i.e., a rift] between man and wife or between man and his fellow, he too, shall be separated [from society].”- [Arachin 16b] [This rationale is based on the premise that a person is stricken with tzara’ath as a result of his talking לְשׁוֹן הָרַע, i.e., speaking derogatorily of others, although he may be telling the truth.]