Study the Torah with Academic Scholarship

By using this site you agree to our Terms of Use

Purity Laws


Postpartum Impurity: Why Is the Duration Double for a Girl?

Compared to the birth of a son, Leviticus 12 requires a double-period of purification upon the birth of a daughter. Interpreters in antiquity offered two basic models to explain this. The first approach was to utilize biological “knowledge,” the second was to ground the law in the biblical story of Adam and Eve.

Dr. Rabbi

Zev Farber

,

,

Postpartum “Bloods of Purity”

Mesopotamian gynecological texts and what we know about women’s post-partum flow are helpful in parsing the unusual Hebrew idiom demei tohorah, literally, “bloods of purity,” used in Leviticus 12 to describe the second stage of postpartum bleeding.

Prof.

Tamar Kamionkowski

,

,

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

,

,

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

,

,

Gendering a Child with Ritual

A child’s mother remains impure for forty days after the birth of a boy and eighty days after a girl. A comparison of this procedure with similar ones in Hittite birth rituals suggests that this gender-based differentiation may serve as a kind of ritual announcement of the child’s gender.

Dr.

Kristine Henriksen Garroway

,

,

Menstruant as Zavah: How the Laws of Niddah Developed

Leviticus 15 describes two types of impure bleeding for women: menstruation (niddah), and bleeding that is “not during her menstrual period (zavah).” The Rabbis attempt to define the difference in an abstract manner, and in so doing, elide the two.

Prof.

Charlotte Elisheva Fonrobert

,

,

Remarrying Your Ex-Wife

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

Dr.

Eve Levavi Feinstein

,

,

The Rites of the Red Heifer

Prof. Rabbi

Michael Chernick

,

,

Sex During Menstruation: From Impurity to Prohibition

According to Leviticus 15:24, sex with a menstruating woman results in temporary impurity but seems to be allowed. According to Leviticus 18:19 and 20:18, on the other hand, it is strictly prohibited. What accounts for these two different approaches?

Dr.

Eve Levavi Feinstein

,

,

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

,

,

Mother and Child: Postpartum Defilement and Circumcision

Dr.

Tzvi Novick

,

,

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

,

,

Interpreting Circumcision as Purification

The Torah declares that circumcision will be a sign of the covenant, but is silent about the significance of the act itself. Some Jewish interpreters filled in this gap by connecting circumcision to the language of טומאה  and טהרה, but is this purification physical or spiritual?

Dr.

David Bernat

,

,

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

,

,

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

,

,

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

,

,

The Purification of a Niddah: The Legal Responsibility of the Reader

A rejoinder to Rabbi Dr. Zev Farber’s “The Purification of a Niddah: The Torah Requirement.”

Dr.

Yitzhaq Feder

,

,

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

,

,

Biblical Purification: Was it Immersion?

The Archaeological and Textual Evidence 

Dr.

Hayah Katz

,

,

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

,

,

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?

Dr. Rabbi

Zev Farber

,

,

Meeting the Challenge of Critical Scholarship with Leviticus

Dr. Rabbi

Irving (Yitz) Greenberg

,

,

The Purification of a Niddah: The Torah Requirement

Dr. Rabbi

Zev Farber

,

,

The Red Heifer in Synagogue: Purifying Israel from Sin

Ezekiel 36 uses Priestly “purification” imagery similar to that of the red heifer ritual to describe God’s future reconciliation with Israel, inspiring the rabbis to choose this passage as the haftara for Parashat Parah.

Dr.

Ethan Schwartz

,

,

The Purification of a Niddah: When Silence Matters

Immersing in the Priestly Text

Dr. Hacham

Isaac S. D. Sassoon

,

,

Coronavirus: What We Can Learn from the Bible and the ANE

An expert in ancient Near Eastern contagious diseases reflects on living through a modern one.

Dr.

Yitzhaq Feder