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April 15, 1994 - Image 26

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1994-04-15

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.




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Life, Death Join
At Childbirth



Rabbi Leonardo Bitran,
Shaarey Zedek - B'nai Israel Center

Rabbi Aaron Bergman,
Beth Abraham Hillel Moses

Dr. Nancy Gad-Harf,
Program Director, Temple Israel

David Gad-Hart,
Executive Director,
Jewish Community Council

Rabbi Edward Garsek,
Etz Chayim, Toledo, Ohio

Sarah Garsek,
Hebrew Academy of Toledo


5075 West Maple Road
West Bloomfield

TUESDAY, APRIL 26, 1994 at 7:30 P.M.

The community is invited.

Admission is free.

Refreshments will be served.

Please call 851-6880 for further information.

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of surprisingly, the occa-
sion of childbirth is so
momentous that the
Torah, in the first half of
this week's double portion of
Tazria Mezorah commands sac-
rifices to be brought after the
birth. But what does surprise
many people is that the Torah
distinguishes, seemingly arbi-
trarily, between the birth of a
male or a female.
If it's a boy, the mother brings
the sacrifice after waiting 40
days, the first seven days in a
state of impurity (tumah), fol-
lowed by 33 days of purity
(tahara). And if it's a girl, the
waiting period for bringing the
sacrifice is 80 days, divided into
14 days of impurity and 36 days
of purity.
The first question to be asked
is why the Torah stresses the
sex of the child in regard to the
mother's state of being. Is there
any record, be it scientific or
folklore, that the process of giv-
ing birth to a male is different
from giving birth to a female,
and that the mother feels or ex-
periences something different
depending on the child's sex? I
would hardly think so. So why
the discrepancy, particularly in
these times when discrepancies
between male and female are
taken very seriously?
Indeed, some might even ac-
cuse the Torah of patriarchal
prejudice in telling the mother
to wait one amount of time for
the male and a different
amount for the female.
There is, however, a more
fundamental question. Re-
gardless as to whether the pe-
riod is seven days for a boy and
fourteen days for a girl, why
should the woman be tamei —
ritually impure — at all? What
is Tumah, the biblical ritual im-
purity, all about? How and why
does it come into existence?
Conceptually, states of im-
purity treated in the Bible all
have something to do with the
opposite of life — death. Both life
and death are mysteries, but
the Torah wants us to "choose
life," and views the totality of
life as good (Genesis 1). Hence
anything that militates against
life and expresses death is de-
clared tamei, ritually impure,
the severest form of such im-
purity being a human corpse.
Anyone who comes into contact
with death also becomes tamei.

Rabbi Riskin is chief rabbi of
Efrat and founder and dean
of Ohr Torah Institutions.

Not only death itself, but
even the unfulfilled potential
for life also creates tumah. This
is the source for the tumah al-
most everyone has heard about,
a woman's monthly menstrual
cycle. Every month, the egg pro-
duced in a woman's body is
ready for fertilization and the
birth of new life. But if this
process doesn't take place, the
blood vessels that would have
nurtured the fetus burst, re-
sulting in the monthly flow. The
sight of blood means that the
potential for new life was not
fulfilled, an indirect encounter
with death. A pregnant woman
does not menstruate because
the blood nurtures new life
growing inside the womb.
To return to a state of puri-
ty, one must completely im-
merse oneself in a mikvah (a
pool of water collected from
rainwater or a well, as opposed
to a bath), water being the sym-
bol for life itself; the mikvah wa-
ters are biblically called "living
waters" (mayim hayim), and all
of life emerged from water at
the time of Creation: "And the
spirit of God hovered over the
face of the waters [Genesisl:2]"
But our question is now only
intensified! Why does the Bible
speak of tumah altogether in
the context of childbirth? The
creation of new life might result
exclusively in tahara, purity,
with no reference to tumah at
The truth is that childbirth
is the moment when death and
life come together. I would like
to suggest that the mother's im-
purity comes from the fact that
every woman who gives birth
has a serious brush with death.
During labor, the suffering may
become so intense that the
mother actually believes she is
about to die. If something does
go medically wrong, any doctor
will testify that all of nature
converges to save the child even
at the expense of the mother.
And until only 75 years ago, the
greatest cause of death among
women was childbirth. In fact,
a woman who gives birth is re-
quired to recite birchat hagomel
(the blessing of thanksgiving)
in the presence of a quorum in
the synagogue, the same bless-
ing said after every successful
encounter with death. The blood
in the wake of childbirth is rem-
iniscent of the element of death
present in that mysterious mo-
ment which hovers between life
and death.
Since the act of childbirth


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