METSORA

“A wo­man with whom a man has car­nal re­la­tions, they shall bathe in wa­ter and re­main un­clean un­til evening” Leviti­cus 15:18

The Jewish Chronicle - - JUDAISM JUDAISM -

THE func­tions of the mikveh, rit­ual bath, in­clude con­ver­sion and prepa­ra­tion for Shab­bat and fes­ti­vals, but the mikveh is pri­mar­ily as­so­ci­ated with the pu­rifi­ca­tion of women fol­low­ing their men­strual pe­riod. In this re­gard, our par­shah con­tains two sur­prises.

First, all but one of its many ref­er­ences to rit­ual bathing con­cern men, not women. Men must pu­rify them­selves in wa­ter af­ter their own dis­charge, in­clud­ing se­men; af­ter hav­ing come into con­tact with the dis­charge of other men (via furniture, cloth­ing, or spit); and af­ter con­tact with men­strual dis­charge (via bed­ding or cloth­ing). Sec­ond, Leviti­cus nowhere states ex­plic­itly that women should pu­rify them­selves fol­low­ing their own dis­charge, in­clud­ing men­strual. This could be, as Ja­cob Mil­grom ar­gues, be­cause it is as­sumed that the rules ap­ply­ing to male dis­charge also ap­plied to fe­male dis­charge, but, in the ab­sence of an ex­plicit state­ment, that must re­main a mat­ter of spec­u­la­tion.

So what bib­li­cal ev­i­dence do we have that women bathed af­ter men­stru­a­tion? A pop­u­lar proof­text is the ac­count of David’s en­counter with Bathsheba. II Samuel 11:2 re­ports that David saw Bathsheba bathing on the roof, and verse 4 men­tions that David lay her, that she pu­ri­fied her­self from her un­clean­ness ( mi’tu­matah), and that she went home. Surely, com­men­ta­tors rea­son, the ref­er­ence to pu­rifi­ca­tion in verse 4 is a flash­back to the roof bath — Bathsheba had just pu­ri­fied her­self from men­strual un­clean­ness be­fore ly­ing with David?

But our parashah con­tains a much bet­ter ex­pla­na­tion. The sin­gle law in Metsora that states ex­plictly that a wo­man must pu­rify her­self in wa­ter does not con­cern men­stru­a­tion, but rather car­nal re­la­tions that in­volve emis­sion of seed ( shikhvatzera): “A wo­man with whom a man has car­nal re­la­tions, they shall bathe in wa­ter and re­main un­clean ( ve’tomu, cf mi’tu­matah) un­til evening” (Leviti­cus 15:18).

In this light, 2 Samuel 11:4 is not a flash­back to the roof bath, and does not con­cern men­stru­a­tion, but rather de­scribes what Bathsheba did fol­low­ing car­nal re­la­tions with David, and pre­pares for the news of her preg­nancy (there was emis­sion of seed). Ha­lachi­cally speak­ing, mikveh and men­stru­a­tion are in­sep­a­ra­ble. Bi­b­li­cally speak­ing, the search for an ex­plicit, un­am­bigu­ous ref­er­ence to the post-men­strual mikveh must go on. DR DIANA LIPTON

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