FAMILY LIFE CENTER
In Conjunction with
The Caring Community Committee
& the Temple Treasures, Presents:
Laws Of Purity Affirm Life
Confront Death's Inevitability
if impurity is the result of the symbolic
forces of death? Furthermore, why would
a mother's period of impurity double
upon the birth of a female child?
There are several compelling sugges-
tions. First, childbirth in the ancient Near
East was fraught with danger to the
y spiritual and intellectual mother and high infant morality rates.
journey as a teacher of
Thus, every childbirth was an encounter
Torah began with the
with potential death. Secondly, the preg-
purity system of Leviticus.
nant woman is a vessel of abundant life.
Perhaps this was a strange place to
Following delivery, her discharge of life
begin my life's passion — exploring geni-
leaves a void and creates the ritual necessi-
tal discharges, corpse contamination and
ty for purification. While neither of these
leprosy. However, as a young
answers perfectly reconciles the
feminist college student, I dis-
impurity of childbirth within
covered that the ancient Jewish
the symbolic system, they both
laws of menstrual impurity
address the experience of child-
were not an example of gender
birth as a nexus point between
discrimination or blood taboo.
life and death.
Rather, the Torah teaches that
In a discussion about insta-
all genital discharges, female
bility in the Middle East and
and male, are sources of tumah
the vulnerable state of world
(ritual impurity). These laws
affairs, a colleague described the
are part of a broader symbolic
RABBI LAUREN frightening experience of bring-
system that highlights the
ing a child into this world.
power of confronting mortality
"While I feel great joy in creat-
Special to the
and the subsequent need to rit-
ing a new life," he remarked, "I
ualize the reaffirmation of life.
also know that I have created a
According to theory, one
new potential for death." Every
becomes impure upon contact with death human being will die. Each birth brings
or with the loss of potential life. Indeed,
another fragile, mortal being into the uni-
the greatest source of impurity is a
human corpse (Numbers 19). Leprosy, a
Herein lies one explanation for the
scaly white skin disease that made one
double period of impurity following the
look like a corpse (Numbers 12:12), is
birth of a female child. The baby girl
another severe form of impurity. Genital
embodies the potential to one day bear
fluids, which represent the loss of genera-
another new life. Each life that is brought
tive material from the font of life, also
into the world will also bring another
cause impurity (Leviticus 15).
death. Therefore, the Torah marks the
According to biblical theology, God is
birth of a girl, a future holy vessel for the
the source of life. The God of Israel
creation of life, as fraught with twice the
embodies life. Therefore, our encounters
amount "death symbolism."
with death or symbolic reminders of
Perhaps the laws respond to the con-
death momentarily removed us from the
flicting emotions of any new parent. A
life-affirming rituals of God's abode in the new birth brings joy and trepidation, awe
Temple. Only after a symbolic rebirth
and fear. A new parent has faith in the
through immersion in the "living waters"
potential for life, yet dreads the possibility
of the mikvah could an Israelite return to
of death. The biblical purity system pro-
a state of purity.
claims that our confrontations with the .
temporal nature of life leave a deep spiri-
Parashat Tazria declares that a mother
becomes impure following childbirth:
tual imprint — from conception to birth
"When a woman at childbirth bears a
to illness to death. At every stage in life,
male, she shall be impure seven days ...
we acknowledge and ritualize our
she shall remain in a state of blood purifi-
encounters with death. Then we embrace
cation for 33 days ... if she bears a female,
and immerse in life anew
she shall be impure two weeks ... and she
shall remain in a state of blood purifica-
tion for 66 days" (Leviticus 12:2-5).
Why would a mother contract impuri-
Why do you think the Torah
ty upon bringing new life into the world
specifies a covenantal ritual for a
Lauren Berkun is a rabbinic fellow for
male child and not for a female
the Jewish Theological Seminary of
child? How are the purity laws
America, teaching adult education in
still relevant to us in an era after
Detroit and Chicago. Her e-mail
the destruction of the Temple?
address is laberkun@JTSA.edu
SENIOR ADULT PROGRAM
II Kings 4:42-5:19.
Thursday, April 10, 2003
1:30-3:00 pm at Temple Israel
Please join us for
coffee, cookies and good company.
Come alone or bring a friend.
Open to the community free of charge.
No reservations necessary.
Please call Kari K. Provizer, ACSW
director of the Family Life Center
if you have any questions.
Partly Funded by the David Arthur Stulberg Memorial Fund
and the Harry & Phyllis Kellman Memorial Fund
THE T R/004,6
FRIDAY, MAY 9 & F