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April 20, 2014 / 20 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘impurity’

The Impurity of the Birthing Mother and Her Offering

Thursday, March 27th, 2014

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:

Impurity, Heresy, and Immorality

Thursday, August 22nd, 2013

Although purity and impurity figure as essential dimensions of Judaism and Jewish law, the truth is that without the Beis HaMikdash we have little connection to the world of tahor and tameh, the pure and impure.

We have ritual washing of hands and we have the mikveh, but essentially we all remain in a state of ritual impurity.

It seems we have found a substitute, though, focusing instead on ideological purity and impurity. In recent years especially, we have seen members of the Orthodox community seeking to identify and root out heresy – whether suspected, imagined, or genuine.

We have seen this in efforts to ban books and label people as standing outside the camp. There has been particular anxiety over the “left” boundary of Orthodoxy. (Interestingly, there has not been a similar worry over heresy on the “right” boundary, despite the fact that some of what passes for basic Yiddishkeit on that end of the spectrum seems contrary to what we find in sources from Pirkei Avos through the Rambam.)

We have seen a similar focus on what we might call genetic purity and impurity, observable in heightened suspicion of and hostility to potential converts and even to people years or decades after their conversion. We have heard increasing talk of the “Jewish neshamah,” as if it is some genetic or otherwise essential aspect of our souls that makes us different from (and, in some unclear sense, “better” than) non-Jews.

The alternative perspective is that the souls of Jews and non-Jews do not differ; rather, Jews have been chosen to bear a special responsibility in this world, to be a “light unto the nations.”

What is most striking, however, is not simply the current concern with ideological heresy and impurity but the increasing passion and panic with which it has been expressed. The language and actions are strong, such as concerted efforts to push rabbis out of the Rabbinical Council of America. And the freedom of the Internet has made the “exposure” of alleged heresy easier; one only has to browse some of the comment threads on Orthodox websites to see the vitriol and unkindness expressed, often anonymously, by so many.

What happens when we step back and take a broader view of the concerns and rhetoric in the Orthodox world? It seems the most excited and passionate voices, among both centrist and right-wing groups, target ideological heresy, as if that were the greatest threat. But might we not say that the greatest threat is ethical impurity?

Why have we not mobilized with a greater or at least similar zeal to root out wrongdoing, to push people out of the Orthodox camp for corruption and criminal activity, for extortion and misuse of funds, for verbal and physical intimidation and violence?

The cynical answer, perhaps, is that we do not see morality as a matter of purity and impurity; that someone who is born Jewish and maintains proper ritual practice but engages in corruption has no lack of purity, whereas someone who is absolutely upright in his or her relationships and business dealings but whose beliefs are on the edge is an impure heretic.

Is there nothing wrong with this picture? Why are crime and corruption not considered a sort of heresy in themselves, a kind of denial of the Torah and its precepts?

Let us consider the reasons for the destruction of the two Temples: the first for the three cardinal sins of murder, sexual immorality, and idol worship; the second for sinas chinam, baseless hatred. Are these matters of ritual purity and impurity? Not really. Maybe one could argue that sexual immorality falls, in part, into such a category. Are they matters of ideological purity and impurity? Well, for idol worship, yes. Are they matters of moral purity and impurity? With the possible exception of idol worship, certainly.

When the prophets railed against the people, did they do so because of incorrect beliefs or because of corruption and immorality?

We lost our Temples largely due to ethical failure. Not heresy, but immorality. And yet today, when we claim to mourn our ongoing exile and the loss of the Beis HaMikdash, how do we direct our passion, our anxiety, our anger?

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/impurity-heresy-and-immorality/2013/08/22/

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