TAZRIA-MET­ZORA

The Jewish Chronicle - - Judaism - RINA WOLF­SON

“If a woman con­ceives and gives birth to a male... she shall be re­main un­clean for 33 days... and if she gives birth to a fe­male... she shall re­main un­clean for 66 days”

TAZRIA con­tains pas­sages I have long strug­gled with. As the mother of baby daugh­ters, it is painful to read that child­birth is some­how con­tam­i­nat­ing and that the birth of daugh­ters is twice as con­tam­i­nat­ing as sons. Oth­ers share my dis­com­fort. Abar­banel states flatly that the new mother “has com­mit­ted no sin”, while Nechama Lei­bowitz de­scribes this rul­ing as “most per­plex­ing”. Per­haps the so­lu­tion lies in in­ves­ti­gat­ing the He­brew terms used. The words tumah and taharah are tra­di­tion­ally ren­dered “un­clean” and “clean”. They clearly de­note op­po­sites, but is the only in­ter­pre­ta­tion pu­rity and the lack of it?

Rachel Adler sug­gests tumah re­sults from con­fronting our own mor­tal­ity. It oc­curs when we en­counter, or are threat­ened with, death. She notes that mourn­ers also adopt this state. By con­trast, taharah is a re-af­fir­ma­tion of our im­mor­tal­ity, what she calls “re-en­try into the light”, that re­sults from en­coun­ter­ing the Divine.

Oth­ers sug­gest the terms re­fer to the in­di­vid­ual ver­sus the communal. Tumah re­sults from ex­pe­ri­ences which force us to con­cen­trate solely on our­selves, such as be­reave­ment and child­birth, while taharah is the state in which we can fully give our­selves to the com­mu­nity.

Tumah, then, fol­lows an over­whelm­ing, trau­matic episode, and for many, child­birth is ex­actly that. It is rea­son­able to ex­pect a pe­riod of pri­vate re­flec­tion be­fore fac­ing the world again. Per­haps this is why tumah lasts longer when a daugh­ter is born. When we look at our new­born daugh­ters, in the knowl­edge that these tiny, frag­ile ba­bies might one day achieve this amaz­ing feat them­selves, per­haps we’re jus­ti­fied in main­tain­ing our soli­tary, pri­vate joy, for just a lit­tle longer.

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