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November 23, 2014 / 1 Kislev, 5775
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The Impurity of the Birthing Mother and Her Offering

The sin offering atones for the incomplete and imperfect situation in which all mortals exist, and which finds its most powerful expression at the moment of encounter between the body and the soul – at birth.
Pregnant woman

Pregnant woman
Photo Credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash 90

The parshiyot of Tazria and Metzora deal with the laws of ritual purity and impurity which Bnei Yisrael must observe now that the Mishkan stands at the center of the camp, such that the Divine Presence rests in their midst.

The categories of impurity that are addressed are:

* the birthing mother (chapter 12)

* tzara’at (chapters 13-14)

* zav (a man who experiences an emission) (chapter 15:1-15)

* zava and nidda (menstrual and irregular bleeding) (chapter 15:19 and on) In this shiur we will be discussing the first category: the impurity of the birthing mother.

God spoke to Moshe, saying:

Speak to Bnei Yisrael, saying: A woman who conceives seed and gives birth to a male, shall be impure for seven days; like the days of her menstrual sickness shall she be impure.

And on the eighth day, the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised.

And she shall retain the blood of her purification for thirty-three days; she shall touch nothing that is sanctified, nor shall she come into the Sanctuary, until the days of her purification are completed.

And if she bears a female, she shall be impure for two weeks as in her menstruation, and for sixty-six days she shall retain the blood of her purification.

And when the days of her purification for a son or for a daughter are completed, she shall bring a lamb of the first year for a burnt offering, and a pigeon or a turtledove as a sin offering, to the entrance of the Tent of Meeting, to the kohen.

And he shall offer it before God and make atonement for her, and she shall be purified from the issue of her blood; this is the teaching for a woman who bears a male or female child.

And if she is unable to obtain a lamb then she shall take two turtledoves, or two pigeons – one as a burnt offering and the other as a sin offering, and the kohen shall make atonement for her, and she shall be purified. (Vayikra 12:1-8)

The above unit gives rise to many questions,[1] but in this shiur we shall concern ourselves mainly with one: why must a mother bring a sin offering after giving birth?

The fact that the Torah refers to this sacrifice as a “sin offering” suggests that it is brought as atonement for sin.

In Parashat Vayikra, the Torah describes the instances where a sin offering must be brought:

Speak to Bnei Yisrael, saying: If a soul should unintentionally transgress any of God’s commandments concerning that which should not be done, and perform one of them,

(Or) if the kohen who is anointed sins, bringing guilt upon the people, then he shall sacrifice for his sin which he committed a young bullock without blemish, to God as a sin offering.[2] (Vayikra 4:2-3)

There is also the general principle stating that “a negative commandment whose deliberate violation is punishable by karet, is [atoned for], when committed unintentionally, by means of a sin offering.” In other words, a sin offering makes atonement for a sin committed unintentionally, where a person who committed that same sin intentionally would be punishable by karet.

What is the sin of the birthing mother?

Thus, when we read here that a birthing mother is obligated to bring a sin offering, we are puzzled: what is the sin of every birthing mother, requiring that she bring a sin offering?

The commentators offer various opinions on this question. The first answer, offered by Chazal and echoed by some of the commentators,[3] is that during childbirth the woman swears that she will no longer have relations with her husband. On account of this “oath” she must bring a sin offering:

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6 Responses to “The Impurity of the Birthing Mother and Her Offering”

  1. Leo Erwin says:

    GIVE BIRTH…RENEW…LIFE…BUT GET A BRAIN TOO….NO ONE NEEDS SURROGATE…

  2. Nathan Katz says:

    Purity/impurity has nothing to do with sin.

  3. Women in Ireland used to get “churched” post partum. Some got enslaved. Not unconnected.

  4. This seems ridiculous ! Is the male impure or sinfull by doing his part?

  5. Sometimes Judaism doesn’t seem to understand Judaism. These (this) sin is not a ‘sin.’ It makes one ‘unclean’ (ritually defiled rather than ‘evil’ and less so ‘intentionally evil’). Are they taking theology lessons from Christians??? Ritual defilement has to do with bringing defilement to sacred precincts only. It is remedied. (and btw, men are defiled by sperm. Remember things like not coming to/having relations/sex before approaching Har Sinay?) Nathan is 100%.

  6. Nathan Katz says:

    Bonnie, males are rendered impure by any seminal emission, as well as by many other things.

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