In Leviticus 12 it talks about the purification of women after childbirth.
Why is the woman considered unclean for twice the amount of time if she gives birth to a female than if she gives birth to a male? (I understand being unclean from a medical perspective of healing, but I thought it took the same amount to heal regardless of gender)
Our egos are struggling here! It seems that you have not read every Thought Tool or Ask the Rabbi that we have posted. (Disclaimer: we are smiling as we write this)
One of the absolutely worst translation mistakes in Scripture substitutes the word ‘unclean’ for the Hebrew word ‘TaMEI’. If we could, we would go through all English Bibles crossing that word out.
Please look at these two posts where we refute the bad translation and then come back so that we can deal with your specific question.
Having, hopefully, expunged that terrible translation from your mind, we want to preface our answer by saying that we cannot do justice to this topic in the format available to us, but we do hope to give you a glimpse into reality.
Now that you understand a bit more about what the word TaMEI conveys, you will see that the physical act of childbirth renders a woman TaMEI. She has lost a living part of herself and as much as she rejoices in the new baby, her body no longer houses a new life. That is a reality that mustn’t be ignored for her to move forward in a spiritually and mentally healthy way.
As to the discrepancy between giving birth to a son or a daughter, if you think about it, you might see the beginning of an answer. In The Thorn Birds, Colleen McCullough’s best-selling book, the mother gives birth to many boys and one girl. There is a poignant sentence which speaks of her wonderment at having boys emerge from her body which isn’t present where her daughter is concerned. She (partially mistakenly) thinks that she understands her daughter by virtue of shared femininity.
It is true that mothers have a deep understanding that the future ability to nurture new life is already present in their infant daughter’s body. They have given birth to someone who, with God’s blessing, will give birth as well. The extended period of TaMEI when the Temple stood, reflected that understanding.
Your question, like many we receive had multiple parts. As we did in this case, we often edit these questions to answer only one part. It is the only way that we can keep this column from becoming too long. We hope that this at least starts you down a fresh, many thousands of years old, way of thinking.
Now go cross out all the ‘unclean’s in your Bible,
Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin
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Don’t be stuck with bad or limited translations!
This inside look into the wonders of the Hebrew language will astound you.