Your assignment for this week was to read Leviticus 12. By the time we’re done with this subject you should have read Leviticus 13, 14, and 15 as well.
The word tameh is usually translated as “unclean,” while its opposite tahor is translated “clean.”
Of course you realize that I wouldn’t bring this up if it wasn’t an urban legend.
I’m going to argue that tameh means “unsuitable for the normal purpose of the subject” and tahor means the opposite.
Leviticus 12 is about a woman who gives birth and it also refers to “her niddah.”
Niddah in most cases means a woman’s menstrual period. In Jewish law she is tameh for 7 days, then goes to the mikveh and after sundown she is tahor.
If my definition is correct, what is a woman unsuitable for when she is tameh through niddah? For enjoying onata, her conjugal rights that I discussed in a previous post.
The urban legend is that she has to be put in seclusion and is considered dirty. That’s because of the mistranslation. That’s where we get the urban legend that women are second class citizens in Jewish culture.
The truth is, she has to refrain from intimacy with her husband, the classic example of which is handing him his goblet of wine at dinner. She is not exiled from her home.
If a man has sex with a woman who is niddah, the man is liable to karet if he does it willfully with no witnesses to bring him into court; that is one of the big 36 in Keritot. The man is liable for a sin offering if he transgressed mistakenly, ignorantly of the law or the fact, or in a fit of absent-mindedness. He is liable to flogging, according to Talmud, if he transgressed willfully with witnesses and hatraah. The woman is not liable either to karet or a sin offering, and also not to flogging – unless this was adultery and that’s a capital crime.
The man who had sex with the woman in niddah becomes tameh. If there were witnesses who tried to stop that, as per due process, and he then enters the tabernacle or temple, he becomes liable to flogging. It is prohibited to enter the tabernacle or temple while in a tameh condition, no matter what the cause.
Any priest who is tameh from any source is also prohibited from entering the tabernacle or temple, as well as performing services there, and he can be liable to the death penalty. All priests are men so this is one death penalty never inflicted on women, who cannot be priests.
The concept that a woman is tameh while in niddah only means that she has to sacrifice her conjugal rights.
The man who has sex with her may be subject to flogging, but the woman is not punished if niddah is the only thing involved. The man is penalized more than the woman if he transgresses. Get it? Got it? Good.
For next week, read Leviticus 13 or as much of it as you can get under your belt. It will illustrate two principles in Jewish law.© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights Reserved