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Purity Laws


Tum’ah: Ritual Impurity or Fear of Contagious Disease?

Already in the early 2nd millennium B.C.E., people knew that diseases were contagious, and fear of contagion plays a key role in the Torah’s laws regarding the skin ailment, tzaraʿat. What does this mean for understanding other kinds of tum’ah?

Dr.

Yitzhaq Feder

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The Sotah Ritual: Permitting a Jealous Husband to Remain with His Wife

The root ק.נ.א “jealous zeal” in the chapter on the sotah (Numbers 5) highlights a key goal of the ritual and its accompanying offering, namely, to remove the husband’s jealous zeal and allow him to remain with his wife without guilt.

Prof.

Hanna Liss

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Remarrying Your Ex-Wife

Why can’t a man remarry his wife once she has been married to someone else?

Dr.

Eve Levavi Feinstein

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Keeping Excrement out of God's Presence

The Torah requires all Israelite soldiers to carry a shovel with them for covering their feces, outside the war camp, because God is in the camp. Jewish interpreters have grappled with the meaning of this law: the Qumranites and Karaites assume feces must be impure, the rabbis extend the law to prayer and Torah study, and some medievalist interpreted the law homiletically, as a goad towards maintaining human decency at all times, even during war.

Prof.

Alan Cooper

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Mother and Child: Postpartum Defilement and Circumcision

Dr.

Tzvi Novick

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The Animal Laws Before Kashrut: A System of Purity

The dietary laws in Vayikra are not expressed in terms of kosher (כשר) or not kosher but in the terms of the Priestly purity laws: purity (טהרה), pollution (טומאה), and disgust (שקץ).

Dr.

Eve Levavi Feinstein

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Elazar Speaks Once in the Torah: Why Does He Interrupt Moses?

Moses tells the soldiers returning from the Midianite war that they must purify themselves from corpse impurity. Elazar then jumps in with a unique law in Moses’ name about the need to purify metal in fire. Critical and traditional scholars alike—including the scribes of the Samaritan Pentateuch—were troubled by why Elazar and not Moses teaches this law.

Dr. Rabbi

Zev Farber

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Niddah (Menstruation): From Torah to Rabbinic Law

In Leviticus 15, the laws of niddah are about purity; Lev 18 and 20, however, prohibit sex during menstruation. The rabbis, who inherited both of these texts, create a new, hybrid concept: the prohibition of sex while a woman has the status of menstrual impurity.

Prof.

Charlotte Elisheva Fonrobert

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Purity of Priests: Contamination through Marriage

The Torah (Leviticus 21) and Ezekiel (ch. 44, Haftarat Emor) regulate whom priests may marry. What rationale lies behind these laws? 

Dr.

Eve Levavi Feinstein

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Tzaraat in Light of Its Mesopotamian Parallels

Notwithstanding its lengthy coverage of tzaraat (צרעת, biblical “leprosy”), why does the Torah omit discussion of its cause (sin?), its infectiousness, and its treatment? Comparison to the Mesopotamian rituals pertaining to a strikingly similar disease (Saḫaršubbû) shows that these omissions were far from accidental.

Dr.

Yitzhaq Feder

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Biblical Purification: Was it Immersion?

The Archaeological and Textual Evidence 

Dr.

Hayah Katz

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On the Origins of Tevilah (Ritual Immersion)

When and why washing became immersion: between traditional-rabbinic and scientific-critical approaches to the origin of immersion and the mikveh.[1]

Dr.

Yonatan Adler

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The Purification of a Niddah: When Silence Matters

Immersing in the Priestly Text – A Reply to Dr. Yitzhaq Feder

Dr. Hacham

Isaac S. D. Sassoon

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