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Monday, October 14, 2019

Doctor Zorkner’s office was not at all what Jonathan had expected. Most doctors’ waiting areas had generic plastic seats or a couch and a few upholstered easy chairs. And of course they all had the required magazine rack, with the outdated copies of Time and Newsweek and the National Geographics from the Mesolithic Age. But with all of Dr. Zorkner’s fame, Jonathan thought his antechamber would be different. He expected something out of a style magazine, or at least some leather. Copies of Town and Country and Architectural Digest should be strewn about the room. But Jonathan was sorely disappointed. Dr. Zorkner had the most generic doctor’s decor he had ever observed. Despite his fame, Dr. Z.’s waiting room looked more like a subway station than a high-class Upper East Side medical office. Perhaps that was appropriate. After all, Dr. Zorkner did have his picture plastered all over the New York City subway system, so why shouldn’t his office look like a stop on the A Train?

“Mr. Rubin?”

Jonathan stood up.

“You can come in now.”

The nurse ushered him into an examination room and told him to get undressed and put on a blue paper gown, but Jonathan explained that wouldn’t be necessary. The nurse shrugged and closed the door behind her.

Jonathan was glad he hadn’t changed into a gown, because the room was heavily air-conditioned, and he was in there for a long time. Jonathan had brought along no reading material and there were no magazines in the room, so he spent his time staring at a Chagall print on the wall—a rabbi-like figure floating in the air above the image of a shtetl with a cow and a goat—and rereading a brochure about acne treatment. He sat in exam room number 5 for over 45 minutes before Dr. Zorkner made his appearance.

Dr. Jay Zorkner came into the room in his perfectly pressed white lab coat and shook Jonathan’s hand warmly. He looked older than his likeness in the subway and television advertisements, but as would be expected with a dermatologist, his skin was perfect.

“How can I help you, Mr. Rubin?” the doctor asked in his deep, sonorous voice.

“Well, I’m 35 years old, and I’ve started losing my hair. I was hoping you could take a look and tell me what you think.”

“Mr. Rubin, I’m not exactly a hair loss specialist. As you may have gathered from my ads all around town, I concentrate more on how to make your skin look its best.”

“I know, Dr. Z., but this problem has really been worrying me, and I decided that I want to get advice from the best.”

“Thank you, Mr. Rubin, that’s very kind of you.”

“Please, call me Jonathan.”

“All right, Jonathan, let’s have a look.”

After taking a careful medical history, Dr. Zorkner had Jonathan lean forward, and he looked through his hair with the equivalent of a fine tooth comb. Dr. Z. studied Jonathan’s scalp in earnest. He went over his hairline with a magnifying glass. He plucked out a hair and examined it under a microscope. Finally, he turned to Jonathan and spoke.

“Jonathan, you’re going bald.”

Jonathan stared at Dr. Zorkner, waiting for additional details, but none were forthcoming.

“That’s it?”

“Well, I can tell you lots of medical gobbledy-gook, like it’s not alopecia areata, and there’s no way it’s tinea capitis. I could bore you with the pathology of your hair follicle. But I’m going to give it to you straight. You have typical, run of the mill, male pattern baldness. It’s that simple.”

“So can you recommend a treatment?”

“I think at this point you would be better off with a hair loss specialist. There are pharmacologic treatments like minoxidil and finasteride. There are hair replacement techniques like plugs. You can even get an excellent hairpiece so that no one would suspect a thing. But can I be honest with you?”

“Sure, Dr. Zorkner.”

“If I were you, I wouldn’t do a thing. Bald is beautiful. There’s nothing wrong with losing your hair. It’s perfectly natural. And besides, G-d loves bald men.”

“Dr. Zorkner, I know you’re an expert in your field and a bit of a local celebrity to boot, but what on earth are you talking about?”

“It’s true, Jonathan. If you read the Torah carefully, it jumps right out at you. As a dermatologist, I always read the parshiot of Tazria and Metzora with great interest when they come around every year in the synagogue reading cycle. Every aspect of the laws of tzara-at, or what some call leprosy, fascinates me.”

“So what’s your point?”

“In the middle of Parshat Tazria, the Torah talks about baldness.”

Dr. Zorkner reached over to his bookcase, and from among the many medical texts he pulled out a Chumash.

“It says Ve-ish ki yimareit rosho keyreyach hu tahor hu. Ve-im mipe-at panav yimaret rosho tahor hu. If the hair of a man’s head falls out: he is bald at the back of his head, he is pure. And if the hair falls out toward the front of his head: he is frontally bald, he is pure. If there’s a better description of male pattern badness than these pesukim, I’d like to see it. Right in the middle of all these descriptions of diseased and impure skin, G-d takes the time to say that bald people are pure. Isn’t that something?”

“I suppose,” Jonathan said.

“Don’t you get it?” Dr. Zorkner said. “There are no superfluous words in the Torah. So if G-d goes to the trouble of stating that bald people are pure, He must really care for them.”

“Interesting point,” Jonathan offered.

“And this love of bald men extends to rabbinic law as well,” the doctor added.

“Oh?”

“Why do you think the rabbis established the custom of wearing yarmulkes? I believe this custom was created out of respect for bald men.

“And look around your local synagogue, Jonathan. G-d has given the Jewish people a genetic predisposition toward baldness. Clearly that was not a coincidence. And we all know He loves His chosen people.”

“So then why did G-d make the Jews so bald, Doctor?”

“Who are we to question the ways of our creator?” Dr. Zorkner said with his best bedside manner.

“And what about you, Doctor? What about your hair?” Jonathan asked, eyeing the healer’s pate suspiciously.

“Oh, this? It’s a comb-over,” Dr. Zorkner said. “Nobody’s perfect.”

By Larry Stiefel

Vayikra: 13: 40-41