By Israel Drazin
The Torah is frequently unclear; both the meaning of some words and legal requirements are obscure. This has led to differences in opinions and the acceptance of strange ideas.
The word tazria in Leviticus 12:2 is a good example. It literally means “brings forth seed”: “If a woman brings forth seed and gives birth to a male, she is impure for seven days.” Verse 3 states that on the eighth day the boy is circumcised, 4 states that thereafter she “shall continue in the blood of purification for 33 days, and 5 requires twice these numbers for female children: 14 days of impurity and “for 66 days she continues in the blood of purification.” What does “bring forth seed” mean? Most commentators understand it as “give birth,” even though the term is never used elsewhere to mean “give birth.” Arnold Ehrlich, in his Mikra Ki-Pheshuto (The Bible According to its Literal Meaning), suggests that it means emit seed that can produce if something does not intervene. This, he writes, is how the term is used in Genesis 1. Thus, he says, if the woman miscarries, the laws of impurity do not apply. However the halakhah, Jewish laws, states that the laws of impurity apply to a miscarriage. Ehrlich feels that the halakhah changed to original Torah rule.
The Karaite sect of Judaism began in the eighth century. The sect, which still exists, is made up of Jews who only accept the literal reading of the Bible and not rabbinical interpretations. They understand verse 4 to require husbands and wives to refrain from marital intercourse during the 33 day period for male children and 66 days for female children. The twelfth century sage Maimonides strongly disagreed. He fought against Karaite ideas, but insisted that the people should be respected. He showed that the verse does not say that sex is prohibited; it only restricts the touching of “holy objects.” People, including Jews, are fearful beings and many Jews accepted and still accept stringent irrational beliefs and practices “to be on the safe side.” Thus there were and are many rabbis who follow the Karaite restriction even though it makes no sense.
Why was the impurity period for females twice as long as the time for males? The Bible gives no reason. This is another example of the vast number of obscurities in the Torah. Some see such obscurities teaching that Jews must do as God commands whether they understand the rule or not. Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik taught: we must accept the paradigm of Isaac who was willing to allow himself to be sacrificed by his father Abraham because he understood that God wanted him to die; even though he didn’t understand why God wanted him dead. Others search for explanations, and some people settle on irrational ones. Many early but not later Christians felt that this rule punishes women for Eve’s guilt in the “original sin” of enticing Adam to eat the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. The notion of an “original sin” is not Jewish. Normative Judaism teaches that descendants are not punished for their ancestors’ misdeeds. Besides, men also suffer during this month or two of abstaining from sex. However many rabbis who are unfamiliar with the history of the development of Christian ideas, think that “original sin” is a Jewish concept and insist that “normative Judaism” does not disagree.