Part three of Leviticus talks about what it is to be clean or unclean.
Interestingly, the study portion of my Bible makes effort to define these words. It says that it’s more about ritual than cleanliness. I had been taught in the past that it largely has to do with allergens, germs, and other things that are easy to combat now but may have been deadly. Remember that God is not talking to a well-educated mass. These people had been slaves a few months ago.
Looking at the animals that are listed as not edible, it’s understandable how both these lines of thought can happen. Rather than try to suppose God’s intention with it all, let’s just accept the above reasons.
Being unclean is also not a permanent state, so it just doesn’t seem like quite as big a deal as some people make it out to be. If you touch this or eat that, you’re unclean until evening. That goes even for the foods that you’re allowed to eat if you touch the carcass. Until evening, not forever. There isn’t even a sacrifice or anything that needs to be done. At evening, you’re just clean again. The only thing that doesn’t become clean again is earthenware that has had any of this stuff on it, that must be broken.
Honestly, some of it sounds like the habits of a germaphobe, making that reasoning just as good as the ritual reasoning. The ritual reasoning does, however, have the added benefit of being easily removed on God’s command while germaphobic stuff makes it sound like God just stopped caring about it. But that’s for another book.
This chapter deals exclusively with the post-partum mother. I think it’s a little messed up that the unclean period is double for a girl child as for a boy. I can see how this could contribute to a desire for a boy. I mean, it’s a whole extra month to wait to not be touched if you just had a girl.
I did manage to find some explanations, none of which are wholely satisfying. My study Bible even makes an attempt to make it not sound like this had horrid cultural effects with this:
A woman who has just given birth is considered unclean because of loss of blood. Three steps are required to become clean again. The time of purification for the mother is twice as long if she gave birth to a female. This may have been because the female is potentially more unclean because of the probability of her menstruating and giving birth. Whatever the reason, this law in no way suggests that women are inferior to men.
With a little research, I did find that the girl timeframe didn’t go passed the regularly expected amount of time to be post-partum bleeding. The comments that I found on it rest mostly on that the boy child bears some of the purification through circumcision but there is no such ceremony for the girl, so the mother must bear it all.
Either way, it could be ridiculously easy even now for someone to take this passage as an excuse to find boys “better” than girls, according to God. That it isn’t true is a matter of perspective and culture, I think. It can easily be taught either way. I’m sure my preference is obvious.
Here we have the many ways to diagnose a leprous person and how long to quarantine them and at what intervals. It also goes into garments that are leprous, but it sounds like just those made of skin. All these sounds again like they deal with handling the spread of germs.
And then this chapter gives direction on making the leprous things clean again. It includes what happens when a house becomes leprous too. It never occured to me that a house could be leprous, but it makes a little sense too. We do have to treat homes for things today too, like mold.
Alas, the moment I had really been waiting for. Honestly, I had never heard of the post-partum stuff before and was a little wierded out to find it. On the other hand, the stuff about our periods was a different story. I’d first come across some of it in Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots by Deborah Feldman. As the title suggests, this is a memoir of being raised as a Hasidic Jew and involves the keeping of these laws.
What did surprise me in this chapter was that it was not all put on just the woman. Men are also unclean whenever they have some sort of “discharge”, be it a runny or stuff nose or an ejaculation. It also surprised me that the sharing of fluids meant the sharing of uncleanliness.
While it is interesting that the condition can be shared, I’m not sure how it effected marital relations. This is one of those instances where it’s possible that “lie with” could literally mean to lie down too. As in lying down next to your wife when she is on her period makes you unclean for seven days. It sounds like you could still sleep in the bed with her but deal with the uncleanness. Also, the rules for discharges that are not her period are the same as discharges from a man.
I can totally see how this would make me feel to be unclean and therefore untouchable for half the month, barring times like pregnancy and menopause. You kinda get a taste of it in the book mentioned above. However, it’s not as lopsided as I had originally thought. Again, the uncleanness is shared when the fluids are shared and it goes for any kind of fluids. Periods are just incredibly inconvenient for us because they happen so often.
The chapter ends with:
“Thus you shall keep the people of Israel separate from their uncleanness, lest they die in their uncleanness by w defiling my tabernacle that is in their midst.” 32This is the law x for him who has a discharge and y for him who has an emission of semen, becoming unclean thereby; 33 z also for her who is unwell with her menstrual impurity, that is, for anyone, x male or a female, who has a discharge, and for the b man who lies with a woman who is unclean.
So there are my feelings and impressions on chapters 11-15 of Leviticus. Have you read it? What do you think?