Yom Rivii, 12 AdarI 5781
Wednesday, 24 February 2021
Parashat Tazria 2014

Parashat Tazria
Rabbi Yuval Keren
28 March 2014

Of all the books five books of the Torah, the book of Vayikra-Leviticus is the most challenging for Liberal Jews. The Greek name ‘Leviticus’ means – belonging to the Levites.· Another clue to the content is taken from the Hebrew ‘nickname’ of the book: ‘Torat Kohanim’ – ‘The Priestly Teaching’. Both names gives us more than clue about the content and purpose of the book. It contains little narrative and plenty of laws and rules relating to the priestly Temple work. It has instructions relating to ritual purity and impurity and Temple sacrifice. There is an ancient Jewish tradition that young children should start their Torah study from the book of Leviticus. For Liberal Jews it poses a few challenges. We do not wish for the Jerusalem Temple to be rebuilt and we do not pray for the day that animal sacrifice will be restored. For us prayer and meditation is not a poor substitute for sacrifice but a higher and more progressive form of worship.

In Liberal Judaism we treat all Jews as equal, and we do support the old caste system of distinguishing between the status of the humble Israel, the Levite and the Cohen (Priest). All are equal before God and all the mitzvot and prohibitions we sustain apply equally to all Jews. Therefore we find it challenging to read the book of Leviticus which is aimed at supporting Temple worship and the work of the Priests.

Of all the portions in the book of Leviticus, despite being one of the shortest,Parashat Tazria is one of the most challenging for Liberal Jews. The beginning of the Portion deals with women after birth; immediately following birth a woman is considered ritually unclean. She is unclean for a total of forty days following the birth of a son and eighty days following the birth of a daughter. Following that time of uncleanliness she must bring a burnt offering and a sin offering.

There are many questions relating to this passage. Why would a woman be considered impure after birth? Why would she be impure for twice as long if she gave birth to a daughter? Why does she need to bring a sin offering at the end of her impurity period?

There are many attempts at answering these questions, none of them very successful.

Maimonides claims that the laws of impurity serve a number of purposes. They keep Jews away form from dirty objects, they keep the Sanctuary clean and they keep an established custom.

Another explanation by Menachem Mendel of Kotzk (the Kotzker Rebbe) is that impurity appears where there is removal of holiness. Life is holy and the life of the baby is holy. The removal of this holiness from the woman’s body leaves the body in a state of impurity.

Yet both Maimonides and the Kotzker Rebbe fail to explain why it is necessary to observe double the time of impurity after the birth of a baby-girl.

What about the sin offering? The Rabbis of the Talmud tell us that this offering comes to atone for the woman's cursing of her husband during the pains of labour, saying that she will never again have intercourse with her husband. Sacrifice is needed as she is likely to violate this promise.

I believe that this passage has many problems. It shows that the attitude of the people at the time was to consider a woman impure even if all she did was completely natural and in many ways more pure and holy than anything men could ever achieve, ensuring the next generation. The Torah here treats baby-girls as less desirable than baby-boys and the act of childbirth is a sin.

This is to be completely rejected in our times. All bodily functions of both men and women are natural and are all to be considered holy. Childbirth only increases holiness and light in our world, and it is to be celebrated not with a sin offering by the woman, but with a thanksgiving praise to God by both parents.

Mazal Tov