We rely on the support of readers like you. Please consider supporting TheTorah.com.

Donate

Stay updated with the latest scholarship

You have been successfully subscribed
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
script type="text/javascript"> // Javascript URL redirection window.location.replace(""); script>

Study the Torah with Academic Scholarship

By using this site you agree to our Terms of Use

SBL e-journal

Zev Farber

(

2017

)

.

The Parturient's “Days of Purity”: From Torah to Halacha

.

TheTorah.com

.

https://thetorah.com/article/the-parturients-days-of-purity-from-torah-to-halacha

APA e-journal

Zev Farber

,

,

,

"

The Parturient's “Days of Purity”: From Torah to Halacha

"

TheTorah.com

(

2017

)

.

https://thetorah.com/article/the-parturients-days-of-purity-from-torah-to-halacha

Edit article

Series

Symposium

ימי טהרה

The Parturient's “Days of Purity”: From Torah to Halacha

In reference to the parturient, the Torah speaks of a 33 or 66 day period of דמי טהרה “blood of her purity” as distinguished from a 7 or 14 day period “like menstruation.” What is the difference between these two periods according to Leviticus and how did later groups such as rabbinic Jews, Karaites, Samaritans, and Beta Israel understand it?

Print
Share

Print
Share
The Parturient's “Days of Purity”: From Torah to Halacha

“Mother” Joaquín Sorolla Date: 1895; Spain

Part 1

The Process of Post-Birth Purification

Leviticus 12 outlines a three-step purification process required of a woman who gives birth. The first two steps differ depending on whether the child is male or female.

1) A 7 or 14 period of impurity (impurity same as that of a menstruant)

Male

ויקרא יב:ב אִשָּׁה כִּי תַזְרִיעַ וְיָלְדָה זָכָר וְטָמְאָה שִׁבְעַת יָמִים כִּימֵי נִדַּת דְּו‍ֹתָהּ תִּטְמָא…
Lev 12:2 …When a woman at childbirth bears a male, she shall be unclean seven days; she shall be unclean as at the time of her menstrual infirmity…

Female

יב:הa וְאִם נְקֵבָה תֵלֵד וְטָמְאָה שְׁבֻעַיִם כְּנִדָּתָהּ
12:5a If she bears a female, she shall be unclean two weeks as during her menstruation,

2) A 33 or 66 period oftahara (purity or purification)

Male

יב:ד וּשְׁלֹשִׁים יוֹם וּשְׁלֹשֶׁת יָמִים תֵּשֵׁבבִּדְמֵי טָהֳרָה בְּכָל קֹדֶשׁ לֹא תִגָּע וְאֶל הַמִּקְדָּשׁ לֹא תָבֹא עַד מְלֹאתיְמֵי טָהֳרָהּ.
12:4 She shall remain in a state of blood tahara for thirty-three days: she shall not touch any consecrated thing, nor enter the sanctuary until herperiod of tahara is completed.

Female

יב:הb וְשִׁשִּׁים יוֹם וְשֵׁשֶׁת יָמִים תֵּשֵׁב עַל דְּמֵי טָהֳרָה.
12:5b and she shall remain in a state of blood tahara for sixty-six days.

The third step is the same for the birth of both male and female children, though for the former it occurs on day 40 and the latter day 80:

3) An olah (burnt) offering and achatat (sin) offering.

ויקרא יב:ו וּבִמְלֹאת יְמֵי טָהֳרָהּ לְבֵן אוֹ לְבַת תָּבִיא כֶּבֶשׂ בֶּן שְׁנָתוֹ לְעֹלָה וּבֶן יוֹנָה אוֹ תֹר לְחַטָּאת אֶל פֶּתַח אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד אֶל הַכֹּהֵן.יב:ז וְהִקְרִיבוֹ לִפְנֵי יְ-הוָה וְכִפֶּר עָלֶיהָ וְטָהֲרָה מִמְּקֹר דָּמֶיהָ.
Lev 12:6 On the completion of her period of tahara, for either son or daughter, she shall bring to the priest, at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting, a lamb in its first year for a burnt offering, and a pigeon or a turtledove for a sin offering. 12:7 He shall offer it before YHWH and make expiation on her behalf; she shall then be tahara from her flow of blood

Distinguishing the First Two Periods

The 7 or 14 day period is described as being like a woman’s menstrual period. Ostensibly, the reader is presumed to know what the rules are and thus, apply them to the parturient mother. The rules regarding the 33 or 66 day tahara period, however, are stated explicitly: She may not touch anything consecrated (קדש) or enter a sacred space (מקדש). How do these stages differ?

The Priestly Laws of the Menstruant

Leviticus 12’s claim that she is impure “like the days of her menstruation” refers to the laws of menstrual impurity in Leviticus 15:19-24. (See table below.) According to these laws, a menstruant transmits impurity to any person she touches and everything she touches, or upon which she lays or sits. Moreover, the items to which she transmits impurity themselves transmit impurity to others.

Table of Menstrual Impurity Laws

Impurity of the menstruant (7 days)

ויקרא טו:יט וְאִשָּׁה כִּי תִהְיֶה זָבָה דָּם יִהְיֶה זֹבָהּ בִּבְשָׂרָהּ שִׁבְעַת יָמִים תִּהְיֶה בְנִדָּתָהּ
Lev 15:19 When a woman has a discharge, her discharge being blood from her body, she shall remain in her impurity seven days.

Impurity (until evening) of anyone she touches, and anything upon which she lies or sits

וְכָל הַנֹּגֵעַ בָּהּ יִטְמָא עַד הָעָרֶב.
Whoever touches her shall be unclean until evening.
טו:כ וְכֹל אֲשֶׁר תִּשְׁכַּב עָלָיו בְּנִדָּתָהּ יִטְמָא
15:20 Anything that she lies on during her impurity shall be unclean;
וְכֹל אֲשֶׁר תֵּשֵׁב עָלָיו יִטְמָא.
and anything that she sits on shall be unclean.

Impurity (till the evening) of anyone who touches anything she laid upon, touches, or sat upon

טו:כא וְכָל הַנֹּגֵעַ בְּמִשְׁכָּבָהּ יְכַבֵּס בְּגָדָיו וְרָחַץ בַּמַּיִם וְטָמֵא עַד הָעָרֶב.
15:21 Anyone who touches her bedding shall wash his clothes, bathe in water, and remain unclean until evening;
טו:כב וְכָל הַנֹּגֵעַ בְּכָל כְּלִי אֲשֶׁר תֵּשֵׁב עָלָיו יְכַבֵּס בְּגָדָיו וְרָחַץ בַּמַּיִם וְטָמֵא עַד הָעָרֶב.
15:22 and anyone who touches any object on which she has sat shall wash his clothes, bathe in water, and remain unclean until evening.
טו:כג וְאִם עַל הַמִּשְׁכָּב הוּא אוֹ עַל הַכְּלִי אֲשֶׁר הִוא יֹשֶׁבֶת עָלָיו בְּנָגְעוֹ בוֹ יִטְמָא עַד הָעָרֶב.
15:23 Be it the bedding or be it the object on which she has sat, on touching it he shall be unclean until evening.

Impurity (7 days) of a man who has sex with her

טו:כד וְאִם שָׁכֹב יִשְׁכַּב אִישׁ אֹתָהּ וּתְהִי נִדָּתָהּ עָלָיו וְטָמֵא שִׁבְעַת יָמִים
15:24 And if a man lies with her, her impurity is communicated to him; he shall be unclean seven days,
וְכָל הַמִּשְׁכָּב אֲשֶׁר יִשְׁכַּב עָלָיו יִטְמָא.
and any bedding on which he lies shall become unclean.

The Impurity Room

Assuming that any given household wishes to avoid making their vessels and occupants impure, the woman would have to avoid touching anything or anybody in the house for a week.[1] In fact, as recently argued by Avi Faust and Hayah Katz, the standard four room Israelite house had a special room with no pottery in it, which is likely where impure family members, such as menstruant women, spent much of their time.[2]

The Camp versus the Sanctum

The first period of bleeding for the parturient is “like the period of her menstruation,” i.e., she transmits impurity. By implication, during the 33 or 66 day period of her tahara, she does not transmit impurity to people or objects, and she may return to the house and resume her normal behavior without worry.

Nevertheless, as the woman is considered to be still in the period of her postnatal blood flow, she must still avoid entering the sanctum or touching anything holy. At the end of the 40 or 80 day period, she brings a sacrifice to the Tent of Meeting, a stand in for the later Temple, and becomes “pure from the flow of her blood.” But already before that she had returned to normal behavior in the camp without fear of contaminating her belongings or family members.

Compromise on an Otherwise Impossible Demand

This hybrid period is likely a compromise, resulting from the extreme inconvenience of having to avoid touching anybody or anything, and staying most of her time in a bare room with no pottery, for so long. Doing this for a week or two weeks was probably difficult enough – adding another 33 or 66 days would be a virtually impossible demand both for the woman and from the rest of the household (including the men) who would need to do much of the work she could not do.

“Days of Tahara” – Pure Enough for the Camp

This essential distinction between “camp” and “sanctum” was already noted by the 14thcentury Karaite scholar, Aharon ben Eliyahu, in his Gan Eden (Inyan Tumah veTaharah ch. 9; 1354 CE):

ומה שראוי לפסוק שאין בין טמאה ראשונה לטמאה שניה אלא ביאת המחנה…
The proper decision is that no difference exists between the first and second stage of impurity except [the permission] to enter the camp…

Leviticus scholar, Jacob Milgrom, offers a similar observation:

The use of ṭohŏrâ here makes sense. It implies that her previous impurity no longer exists, a fact that the following verse makes explicitly by stating that she remains impure only regard to sancta. Thus she now has unrestricted access to the common sphere… (Milgrom, Lev 1-16, 749).

What about Sex?

The laws of the parturient in Leviticus 12 and the laws of the menstruant in Leviticus 15 are only about impurity. Nevertheless, Leviticus 18:19 adds a new dimension by forbidding intercourse during the period of menstruation:

ויקרא יח:יט וְאֶל־אִשָּׁה בְּנִדַּת טֻמְאָתָהּ לֹא תִקְרַב לְגַלּוֹת עֶרְוָתָהּ׃
Lev 18:19 Do not come near a woman during her period of uncleanness to uncover her nakedness.

Leviticus 20:18 repeats this prohibition, even mentioning a most severe punishment.[3]Nevertheless, these two chapters are not part of the same textual stratum. Leviticus 12 and 15 are part of P (Priestly text), whereas 18 and 20 come from H, the Holiness text. Only the latter, H, forbids sex during menstruation, but as we saw above in Lev 15:24, P does not forbid this, but merely warns the man that he will contract seven-day menstrual impurity mirroring exactly that of his wife.[4]

Holistic Torah and Jewish Law

This source distinction, however, plays no part in traditional understandings of the Torah, raising the question of at what stage a parturient woman becomes permitted to her husband, after the first 7 or 14 day period or after the second 33 or 66 day period. This question became a matter of serious polemic between rabbinic Jews on one side and all other streams of “Judaism” on the other.[5]

Part 2

The Inner-Jewish Polemic about Sex during the Days of Tahara

The Torah describes this 33 or 66 day period as her dwelling or remaining in the blood of her purity (תֵּשֵׁב בִּדְמֵי טָהֳרָה). The image is counterintuitive, since vaginal bleeding is generally associated with impurity. The difficulty with the idea of “blood of her purity” is highlighted by looking at the LXX, which “translates” the phrase inaccurately as “the blood of her impurity” (αἵματι ἀκαθάρτῳ αὐτῆς), as if it said דמי טמאתה.

Rabbinic Interpretation – Sex Permitted

The rabbis believed that once the first phase of impurity was completed, the woman was permitted to resume marital intimacy. The third century halakhic midrash on Leviticus, Sifra (Tazria 1:8), offers a midrashic/exegetical basis for this ruling:

בדמי טהרה – אף על פי שהיא רואה.
With blood of tahara – even though she sees [blood].[6]

The 11th century scholar, R. Tobiah ben Eliezer, puts the point vividly in his Lekach Tov (ad loc.):

בדמי טהרה. אפי’ שופעת דם כנהר טהורה.
With the blood of tahara – even if she is pouring blood like a river, she is pure.

This approach understands the phrase דמי טהרה as “blood of her purity” and ימי טהרה as “days of her purity.” In other words, tahara describes the state of the woman, i.e., she is in a state of purity despite the fact that she is experiencing vaginal bleeding.

“Pure Blood”

An alternative approach among the rabbis is to translate the term tahara as modifying the blood, i.e., “pure blood.” Thus, R. Abraham ibn Ezra (1089-1167) writes:

בדמי טהרה – שהוא דם טהור כנגד דם נדה, ואיננו מטמא.
With the blood of tahara – this is pure blood [which does not cause impurity] as opposed to menstrual blood, and it does not cause impurity.[7]

The rabbinic interpretation of this verse stands in opposition to the interpretation of virtually all other sects of Judaism since the idea of sex with a woman who is bleeding vaginally is halachically counterintuitive (see section 3 for more discussion).

Samaritan, Karaite, and Beta Israel – Intimacy Forbidden

The interpretation of Samaritans, Karaites, and Beta Israelites forbid intercourse during the second time-period.

Samaritan

In his Arabic work Kitab al-Khilaf (The Book of Differences), the 12th century Samaritan sage Shams al-Hukama writes:

The Jews reckon that dam tahara is [the blood of] “her cleanness” and treat it as clean blood. Their error in this is obvious: there is no kind of blood coming out of the vagina that is clean: all of it is classed as contaminated. Because of this, they let her associate with clean people and let her husband copulate with her. This is a fallacious ruling and contradicts the law of Moses.[8]

Karaite

Karaite sources similarly polemicize against the rabbinic interpretation. For example, in hisSefer Gan Eden (Inyan Tumah veTaharah ch. 9; 1354 CE), Aharon Ben Eliyahu declares that the tahara of the 33 or 66 day period does not mean that the woman becomes permitted to her husband:

ואין מאמר וטהרה לביאתה באיש רק לאכילת הקדשים כי הרחיצה הכשירה לביאתה באיש.
The phrase “and she will be pure” is not referring to relations with a man but only to eating of holy food, for [only] washing makes her permitted to lay with a man. [9]

Beta Israel

In his compendium on Ethiopian Jewish traditions From Sinai to Ethiopia [Hebrew], Rabbi Dr. Sharon Shalom—and Orthodox rabbi and scholar who is also part of the Beta Israel community—describes the process of final purification for a parturient woman with the same basic concept:

לאחר המילה נשארת האישה 33 ימים נוספים בבית הטומאה ובתום 40 יום יורדת לנהר וטובלת פעם נוספת… בלידת נקבה היולדת טובלת ביום השמונים… לאחר צאת הכוכבים היא הולכת לבית הכנסת, שם נערך טקס לציון סיומם של ימי הטומאה.
After the circumcision, the woman waits another 33 days in the house of impurity and at the end of forty days she goes down to the river and immerses herself another time… After the birth of a female, the parturient woman immerses on the eightieth day… After the stars come out she goes to the synagogue, there she does the ritual marking the end of the days of her impurity.[10]

Opposition to the “Days of Purity” among Rabbinic Jews

The rabbinic notion of permitting sexual relations while the woman is bleeding is counter-intuitive to a community that, following Lev 18 and 20, treats sex with a menstruant woman as a severe sin. This is even more so in modern times. The ancients could have appreciated the distinction between transmitting and not transmitting impurity, and between being permitted to be part of the household or not, but as halacha is currently practiced in the rabbinic community, the only marker of menstruation is the prohibition to have sex. Thus, “vaginal bleeding” and forbidden sexual relations are almost synonymous.

It is therefore, hardly surprising that stricter practices began to appear in rabbinic communities. This transpired in two iterations, a process likely encouraged by the reality that non-rabbinic Jews (Karaites and Samaritans) forbade relations during this period.[11]

For example, R. Moses Maimonides (1135-1204) describes a custom going back to the Geonic period to treat all vaginal bleeding, even during the 33 or 66 day period, as causing impurity.[12] Maimonides writes (Mishneh Torah, “Issurei Biah” 11:5-7):

וּמִנְהָג פָּשׁוּט בְּשִׁנְעָר וּבְאֶרֶץ הַצְּבִי וּבִסְפָרַד וּבַמַּעְרָב, שְׁאִם רָאָת דָּם בְּתוֹךְ יְמֵי מְלֹאת, אַף עַל פִּי שֶׁרָאָת אַחַר שֶׁסָּפְרָה שִׁבְעַת יְמֵי נְקִיִּים וְטָבְלָה – הֲרֵי זוֹ סוֹפֶרֶת שִׁבְעַת יְמֵי נְקִיִּים אַחַר שֶׁיִּפְסֹק הַדָּם, וְאֵין נוֹתְנִין לָהּ יְמֵי טֹהַר כְּלָל… וְדִין זֶה, בִּימֵי הַגְּאוֹנִים נִתְחַדַּשׁ…
It is an established custom in Babylon, Israel and the Islamic world, as well as in Spain and the West that if she sees blood during the days of completing [her purification], even if she bleeds after she has counted seven clean days and immersed herself, she still counts seven clean days [again] after the blood stops flowing, and she is not given any days of purity at all… This rule was conceived during the period of the Geonim…
וְשָׁמַעְנוּ שֶׁבְּצָרְפַת בּוֹעֲלִים עַל דַּם טֹהַר כְּדִין הַתַּלְמוּד עַד הַיּוֹם, אַחַר סְפִירָה וּטְבִילָה מִטֻּמְאַת יוֹלֶדֶת בְּזוֹב; וְדָבָר זֶה, תָּלוּי בַּמִּנְהָג.
We have heard that in France, to this day, the couple has relations while she bleeds “pure blood,” just like the law of the Talmud states, after she has already counted [seven days] and immersed herself from the impurity of having given birth in the state of ziva.[13] This matter is dependent upon custom.

As can be seen from Maimonides, this custom received a certain (grudging?) acceptance. Nevertheless, as late as the 18th century, some rabbis voiced reservations about the legitimacy of avoiding sex because of bleeding during the days of tahara. For example, Rabbi Ezekiel Landau (1713-1793) writes in response to a question about a parturient woman who had issues with blood appearing on the bedikah[14] cloth:

…הנה אם כבר טבלה פעם אחת אחר לידה – פשיטא שיש להקל כל ימי משך ימי טוהר, שטהורים מן הדין ואינו אלא חומרת הגאונים שלא לבעול על דם טוהר…
…if she already immersed herself once since her birth she can certainly be lenient throughout the entire period of her “pure days,” since they are technically pure and it is nothing more than a stricture of the Geonim to forbid sex with [a woman who is passing] pure blood…[15]

Prohibiting Sex During the 40 or 80 Day Period even Without Blood

A stricter custom also emerged that advocated forbidding the woman to have relations with her husband during the entire 40 or 80 day period regardless of whether the woman is bleeding or not. This seems clearly to be the consequence of the Karaite/Samaritan practice infiltrating rabbinic communities. Maimonides (ibid.) speaks very strongly against this custom.

…זֶה שֶׁתִּמְצָא בְּמִקְצַת מְקוֹמוֹת, וְתִמְצָא תְּשׁוּבוֹת לְמִקְצַת גְּאוֹנִים, שֶׁיּוֹלֶדֶת זָכָר לֹא תְשַׁמַּשׁ מִטָּתָהּ עַד סוֹף אַרְבָּעִים, וְיוֹלֶדֶת נְקֵבָה אַחַר שְׁמוֹנִים, וְאַף עַל פִּי שֶׁלֹּא רָאֲתָה דָּם אֵלָא בְּתוֹךְ הַשִּׁבְעָה–אֵין זֶה מִנְהָג, אֵלָא טְעוּת הִיא בְּאוֹתָן הַתְּשׁוּבוֹת. וְדֶרֶךְ מִינוּת בְּאוֹתָן הַמְּקוֹמוֹת, וּמִן הַצַּדּוּקִיִּין לָמְדוּ דָּבָר זֶה; וּמִצְוָה לְכוֹפָן כְּדֵי לְהוֹצִיא מִלִּבָּן, וּלְהַחְזִירָן לְדִבְרֵי חֲכָמִים…[16]
…That which one finds in certain places, and one can [even] find responsa from certain Geonim, that a woman who gives birth to a male should not have relations until the end of the forty days, even if she did not have any bleeding during this period but only during the seven days – this is not a custom, but it is a mistake made in these responsa. [Furthermore,] it is a sectarian practice in those places [which practice it], and they learned it from the Sadducess (=Karaites). It is a mitzvah to force them [to have relations] in order to remove [the practice] from their hearts and to restore them to Rabbinic practice…

Maimonides’ proposal that couples should be forced to have sex to prove they are not Karaites illustrates how intense this polemic was.

Part 3

Distinguishing between Bloods with “Science”

As noted above, one reason the Karaite/Samaritan practice may have been appealing to the rabbinic community is that the rabbinic concept of “pure (vaginal) blood” is counterintuitive.[17] In all other cases, vaginal blood is a marker of impurity; why should the case of the parturient be different? This question already bothered the Talmudic sages, who debated the question.

Divine Fiat vs. Two Uteruses

איתמר: רב אמר: “מעין אחד הוא התורה טמאתו והתורה טהרתו.”
It was stated: Rav said: “There is one fountain (i.e., uterus or source of vaginal bleeding); the Torah made it impure and the Torah made it pure.”
ולוי אמר: “שני מעינות הם נסתם הטמא נפתח הטהור נסתם הטהור נפתח הטמא.”
Levi said: “There are two fountains; when the impure one is closed the pure one opens, when the pure one is closed the impure one opens.”[18]

Rav’s answer follows what could be called the “chok” (חוק) or “divine fiat” approach, namely that no difference exists at all between these periods, physically speaking, and God simply makes laws as God sees fit; the same blood that was initially impure can later be pure. Levi, in contrast, offers a scientific explanation, that the blood comes from two different places. Thus, Levi posits—incorrectly of course—that women have two different uteruses, and that the pure blood comes from a second, alternative uterus that only flows during this one period of time.

Although the Talmud explicitly decides the halacha in accordance with Rav (b. Niddah 36a),[19] even so, Rashbam (R. Samuel ben Meir; 1085-1158), as was his want when halacha conflicted with what he saw as the plain sense of the Torah, adopts Levi’s position as peshat (ad loc.):

בדמי טהרה שאינו דם נידות. פשוטו כמאן דאמר שני מעיינות הן, זה של שלשים ושלשה ימים מעין טהור הוא.
With the blood of tahara – which is not menstrual blood. The plain sense follows the position which states that there are two fountains; the one associated with the thirty three days is a pure fountain.

Impure Filth and Pure Blood

A variation of the “two uterus” explanation was offered by another of the great French pashtanim, Rabbi Joseph of Orleans (late 12th cent.), known as Bechor Shor, in his commentary (ad loc.). Unwilling to follow Levi against Rav, but unsatisfied with Rav’s chok(divine fiat without reason), he tries to find a way to distinguish between the bloods:[20]

ולפי הסברה נראה, דאין דם הנידה ודם הזיבה מטמא האשה לבעלה, אלא הזיהום שיוצא עם הדם מגופה… ולפיכך כשהאשה יולדת, הזיהום יוצא מגופה עם הוולד ומטהר את גופה,[21]
Theoretically speaking, it would seem that it is not the menstrual or non-menstrual blood which makes a woman impure for her husband; rather it is the filth which comes out of her body with the blood… Therefore, when a woman gives birth, the filth exits her body with the fetus and cleanses her body,

Instead of arguing that the blood comes from a different part of the body, Bekhor Shor claims that it isn’t really the blood at all which causes the women to be forbidden sexually to her husband, but rather some other substance which flows out of her body with the blood.[22]

Old and New Bloods

Another variation on this theme comes from Rabbi Ovadiah Seforno (1475-1550), who believes that the blood which comes out after birth and throughout this period is menstrual blood which has backed up over the nine months:

כימי נדת דותה – כי בז’ ימים ראשונים יגר הנדות אשר לא התעפש עדין ולא הפסיד צורת טמאתו.
Like the days of her menstrual illness – for during the first seven days the menstrual blood which has not rotted or lost its form of impurity flows.
בדמי טהרה – כי עם היות דם נדות אינו מהוסת של עכשיו, אבל הוא מן הוסתות שקדמו בימי הריון שכבר נתעפש ונפסדה צורת דם אותם הוסתות וטמאתם.
During the days of her ṭahara – since the menstrual blood is not from the current cycle, but is from the cycles which preceded the pregnancy, the blood from these cycles have already lost their form and impurity, and have rotted.

According to this, the first blood is “fresh” and therefore still maintains its status as impure blood. However, the rest which flows out during the 33 or 66 day period has rotted, and is no longer considered fully menstrual blood.[23]

Sympathy for the Couple

An entirely different approach was taken by the 15th century Yemenite commentator, Rabbi David ha-Adani[24] in his Midrash ha-Gadol (ad loc.). Although he avoids making physical distinctions between the bloods, he nevertheless feels the need to give a reason for the Torah’s distinction and not to leave it as merely a chok:

לפי שגלוי לפני מי שאמר והיה העולם שחזקת דמים שופעין אחר לידה ואי אפשר להרחיקה מבעלה יותר מדאי, לפיכך אמרה תורה טהור הוא, אף על פי שהכל ממעין אחד הוא וממקום אחד הוא יוצא, התורה טימאתו והתורה טיהרתו.
Since it is known to “He who spoke and the world was” that, in general, blood will flow after birth, but that it is impossible to keep a woman from her husband for too long a period, therefore, the Torah said that [the blood] is pure. Even though it is all from one fountain and all comes from the same spot; the Torah made it impure and the Torah made it pure.[25]

Too Long a Time-Period

Ha-Adani’s explanation picks up on what appears to be the fundamental point of the tahara period: 80 days—or even 40 days—is simply too long a time to keep the woman in her state of impurity. In Leviticus 12—as opposed to later Jewish law—this is not really about sex. Instead the concern is about the inconvenience to the woman and (perhaps primarily) to her household/husband of her remaining so long in a state of transmitting impurity, during which everything and every person she touches becomes impure as well. Thus, the Torah needed to find a compromise position between concern for purity and allowing the household to return to day-to-day life.

Published

April 26, 2017

|

Last Updated

September 24, 2019

Footnotes

View Footnotes

Dr. Rabbi Zev Farber is a fellow at Project TABS and editor of TheTorah.com. He holds a Ph.D. from Emory University in Jewish Religious Cultures (Hebrew Bible focus) and an M.A. from Hebrew University in Jewish History (biblical period focus). In addition to academic training, Zev holds ordination (yoreh yoreh) and advanced ordination (yadin yadin) from Yeshivat Chovevei Torah (YCT) Rabbinical School. He is the author of Images of Joshua in the Bible and their Reception (De Gruyter, BZAW 457) and the editor of Halakhic Realities: Collected Essays on Brain Death (Maggid).