Torah Study Notes 4-29-17

April 29, 2017

Rabbi Leah Berkowitz

NOTE TO READERS: All page references are to Plaut “The Torah – A Modern Commentary” Revised Edition

Page 735 Defilement, Childbirth and Purification.

12:1 Woman’s impurity after childbirth. Metaphorical? Also, touches on skin diseases and heredity. Note that the uncleanliness here is ritual impurity. The woman cannot enter the mishkan in a state of ritual impurity. This clearly places a greater value on the son than the daughter. The latter is impure twice as long. What is the symbolism of the numbers here? Some of this has to do with circumcision and the necessity of having the mother present at the bris. The bris provides spiritual protection to both the baby and the mother. Note that there would be no mourning until a child has survived at least a month. Medically, there are no clotting issues after eight days. There is no place in rabbinic Judaism to mourn miscarriage and stillbirth. Note that 40 is a significant number representing wholeness. That is the total of 7 and 33. Woman are supposed to go to the mikvah once a month. See Notes on page 734. Question as to practices in other ancient religions. Polygamy was common at this time. Partly because death in childbirth was common. See work of Rebecca Goldstein on male preferences.

12:6 The sacrificial offerings to be made by the woman who has given birth. Note the exception for woman not of means. If she can’t afford a sheep a pigeon will do.

13:1 Skin diseases. This section is most avidly read by dermatologists.  Note that there were rules against sorcery and witchcraft. Note also that the word “leprosy” here is a loose translation of a Hebrew word for an unknown disease. The priests were not healers or medical practitioners. How did the tradition of medical practice evolve among the Jews? Note that there was no distinction between philosophy and medicine/science. The rabbi’s would argue here that the described ailments are spiritual and the disease is punishment. The rabbis are not comfortable with unexplained suffering. LL The notion of physical isolation suggests that there was an awareness of the fact that some illnesses are actually communicable via contact. This suggests that there was something other than a spiritual malaise being addressed. The question is raised as to how we treat someone who is visibly ill. The limitation of day of “impurity” at least puts a limit on how the community might treat someone with disrespect. It appears that a pronouncement of “pure” is the same as a pronouncement of “cured.” One could use a flow chart to diagnose these diseases. See “Medicine in the Bible”

Until there was any proper understanding of the causative factors in disease and the actual disease processes themselves, there was a tendency to see sickness as the result of divine visitations and punishment for wrongdoing. The Bible itself knows little of physicians as such, and in the faith of Israel it was God alone who was the healer and giver of life. Ultimately, it was God alone who sent disease and disaster as a punishment for wrongdoing or, alternatively, rewarded the good with health and well‐being (see, e.g., Exod. 15.26; Deut. 7.12–15). It was seen especially with regard to contagious and disfiguring diseases, of which the best example is the disease complex unfortunately called leprosy in most English translations. Various ritual prescriptions were applied to such diseases in order to avoid the contamination of the community, which was seen as more important than the healing of the sick person.

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