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Tumah & Taharah

טומאה וטהרה

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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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

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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

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Mother and Child: Postpartum Defilement and Circumcision

Dr.

Tzvi Novick

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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

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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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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

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Meeting the Challenge of Critical Scholarship with Leviticus

Dr. Rabbi

Irving (Yitz) Greenberg

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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.

Ethan Schwartz

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