The laws relating to the severe ritual impurity caused by this condition appear in (15:1-15) and in tractate Zavim. The zav becomes ritually impure as a result of the secretion of a white, pus-like discharge. A man who experiences a discharge of that kind on one occasion becomes ritually impure for one day, like a man who has discharged semen. If he experiences a second discharge on the same or the following day (or a prolonged initial discharge), he contracts the more severe ritual impurity of a zav, which lasts seven days. A third discharge experienced within the next twenty-four hours obligates him to bring a sacrifice as part of his purification process.
Rav Huna teaches that the initial discharge of a zav will make him tameh under all circumstances. The second discharge, however, is not significant if it came about because of an ones – that some outside event – circumstances beyond his control – precipitated it. The Mishna in Massekhet Zavim (2:2) teaches that there are seven bedikot – things that are checked for – to ascertain whether the discharge may have been caused by something other than the disease. They are:
- Ma’aḥal – If he overate or ate foods that are known to lead to discharge
- Mishteh – If he drank too much
- Masa – If he carried a very heavy burden
- Kefitzah – If he jumped from one place to another
- Ḥoli – If he was ill
- Mar’eh – If he saw a woman (even if he did not have sensual thoughts)
- Hirhur – If he had sensual thoughts (even if he did not see the woman)
There is some discussion about the definition of the last two bedikot. According to Tosafot, mar’eh refers to seeing a couple engaged in sexual relations; according to the Rambam it is when a man sees a woman and fantasizes about her. Others suggest that it means that a person sees a frightening event that panics him, which does not relate to thoughts of sexuality at all.