Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Tazria- Sanctity in Women



Isha ki tazria v’yalda zachar v’tam’a shivat yamim kimei nidat dotah titma… Ushloshim yom ushloshet yamim teisheiv bidmei tahara … V’im n’keiva teileid v’tam’a shvu’ayim k’nidatah v’shishit yom v’sheishet yamim teisheiv al d’mei tahara.
A woman who gives birth to a male, seven days she shall be tamei as [she is] during her menstrual period… And 33 days she will remain in blood purification…. And if she gives birth to a female, she shall be tamei two weeks, as during her menstruation and 66 days she will remain in blood purification.
In the previous parasha illuminated holiness through what we eat. Parshiyot Tazria-Metzora focus on what happens when our bodies become tamei, usually translated as impure. The discussion of childbirth at the start of Tazria has at led to accusations of misogyny throughout the centuries. Why is this here before a discussion of the treatment of skin disease? Why is time following the birth of a daughter twice the period following the birth of a son?
The placement is not as important as the second question. Placement comes after a section dealing with impurity following to deaths of Nadav and Avihu. In the moment the issues surrounding contact with a corpse had to be addressed. While death removes the neshmah, the soul, from its vessel that is the body, the body remains holy and must be cared for with respect. Its status, however, has changed, and with that anyone who comes in contact becomes tamei. Tamei is not so much impure as taboo, which in its full meaning is beyond forbidden including sacred. Even the Kohain Gadol in performing the ultimate purification ceremony, the red heifer, becomes tamei in performing this ritual.
While seemingly the opposite of death childbirth is similar in its status. Once she reaches the age of menstruation a women carries within her the potential for life beyond her own. Each month, as that potential leaves us, women become tamei. A fetus is not considered life in Jewish law, but the potential for life encapsulated in the woman’s body. With childbirth that potential leaves the woman’s body, turning her to a state of niddah, the same state as following menstruation. But birth is not menstruation. With birth the potential is gone from her body, but a new being has entered the word. The woman has not just had potential within her, but has felt that potential grow into a life, has felt its movement, and understood the meaning of this beyond her own body. With the change of this budding life to new being, the loss to the woman’s body is much more significant.  The new soul is now separate from her. For this she remains in a state of damei tahara, blood purification, no longer tamei, she is also not herself and not ready to resume regular activity. With the birth of a daughter this period is doubled. The new mother has not only given birth to a child, but a child that carries within her the same potential for life, doubling the loss. It is not a sign of misogyny, but rather a symbol of the strong matriarchal roots Judaism maintains.