Friday, January 9, 2015

Fact-Checking the Torah -- Leviticus 15

We’re talking about tumah and your assignment was to read Leviticus 15 which finishes off the urban legend that Jewish law treats Jewish women worse than men in this area.
We found that a Jewish woman is called niddah when she has her period.  The same rules apply to both niddah and the period after childbirth. 
We found that a man who has sex with her while she is niddah might be subject to the penalty called kares, but the woman is not.  He might also be subject to flogging, it depends on the circumstances.  The woman is not.  Adultery has to be proven to affect the woman, and if proven, both of them die.
We found that priests who enter the tabernacle or temple while tameh are subject to the death penalty.  Women cannot be priests.
We found that men and women lepers are treated identically.
Now we’re going to look at two other conditions.  One is called zav or, for women, zavah.  It means a flux for three consecutive days.  Men and women with this condition are treated identically.
The other situation is emission of sperm.  For men, this is a nocturnal or excited emission.  For women, it is when the sperm escapes her body after sex.  Men and women are treated identically.
If one gender risks more than the other in situations that lead to tumah, it is men, and that is the end to that urban legend.  Jewish women are not second class citizens as a result of their normal biological function just because it is something that doesn’t happen to men.
And tameh does not mean “unclean.”  It means “excluded from normal activities or use due to specific circumstances.”
Now the linguistic evidence.  In Exodus 25:11, there is a description of “pure gold” for part of the tabernacle.  The phrase is zahav tahor.  It is not possible to interpret this phrase as meaning “grime-free gold” or “germ-free gold.”  The Jews of ancient times had absolutely no concept of what a germ was.  The rules for dealing with tumah existed no later than 25 centuries ago.  The Germ Theory of Disease originated less than 2 centuries ago.  There are over two millennia between the phrase in Exodus and the scientific concept.
It’s also true that when traveling around, it would have been impossible to keep the gold forever grime free.  What the phrase zahav tahor means is gold that is ready for the purpose intended, that is, smelted out of its ore. 
Now that I have explained that concept, I’m ready to finish off tumah with how to deliberately end the period and what happens after that.  Your reading for next week is Leviticus 11 and Leviticus 17:15, and Numbers 19.  You should also look at Deuteronomy 14.
© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights  Reserved

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