For some time now, I have heard women express questions regarding the scriptures in Leviticus 15:19-33 and Leviticus 12:1-8. This refers to the laws Yahweh put in place regarding the woman's monthly menstrual cycle and childbirth. Are these laws still in effect? Or have they been abolished? Were the women placed outside the camp as were the lepers? Or did they remain with their families? Looking at these verses, how did they attend to their families? Are these only ceremonial and ritual? Does our salvation depend upon obedience to this? Exactly how would these things be applied today.?
Lots of questions. And I certainly do not claim to have all of the answers. But let's look at it and see what we can learn. First, I ask that you read those scriptures in Leviticus so you will understand what this is all about. You may come up with additional questions.
Next, let's look at several outside sources and see what they say about these verses in Leviticus 15 and develop some background. We'll also look at some information about how some of the commentaries and Judaism handles this issue.
From The New Strongs Complete Dictionary of Bible Words by James Strong ----
Strong's Number 5079 --"Niddah -- rejection; by implication impurity, especially personal (menstruation) or morally (idolatry - incest) ----filthiness, menstrous (woman), put apart, removed (woman), separation, set apart, unclean (-ness, thing, with filthiness)."
From A Dictionary of the Targumim, the Talmud Babli and Yerushalmi and the Midrashic Literature by Marcus Jastrow, Vol 2, page 878 ----
"Niddah -- isolation, condition of uncleanness, especially period of menstruation ( ref to Lev 15:33)"
From the Torah Commentary edited by W. Gunther Plaut, pages 849-851, 855 ----
"Ancient man reacted to the phenomenon of menstruation with a horror that seems to us grotesque and hysterical, and the same is true of primitive man still today. 'According to Pliny, the touch of a menstruous woman turned wine to vinegar, blighted crops, killed seedlings, blasted gardens, brought down the fruit from trees, dimmed mirrors, blunted razors, rusted iron and brass (especially at the waning of the moon), killed bees or at least drove them from their hives, caused mares to miscarry, and so forth.' Many peoples went to extreme and even cruel lengths to protect themselves against any contact with menstrual blood. The onset of puberty in females was regarded as especially dangerous, and among many tribes adolescent girls were isolated for long periods.
"Similar superstitions were current among Jews. A talmudic statement warns against a woman passing between two men or a man passing between two women; and a further comment explains that, if the woman is at the beginning of her period, she might bring about the death of one of the men and, if at the end, she might cause them to quarrel.
"The chapter does not explain why blood defiles; it simply states the rules involved. This is not, however, a simple 'defilement of the body', intercourse with a woman during her menses is a 'defilement of the sacred' and is unconditionally forbidden; a violation entails the severest punishment (see Lev 18:19 and 20:18).
"In comparison with the taboos found in some societies, biblical law on this subject (Lev 15:19-24) appears mild and rational. The woman must remain apart from her husband for seven days from the onset of her period. During this time, her person, her bedding, and anything she sits on conveys ritual uncleanness. After the seven days, tradition requires her to take a ritual bath before she and her husband can share the same bed. The biblical text does not mention this immersion, but it is probably taken for granted since the bath is required for the lesser defilement of normal intercourse.
"The ritual bath at the end of the period may be taken either in a 'source' -- spring, stream, sea -- or in an artificial pool known as a mikveh. The laws of the mikveh were greatly elaborated by the rabbinic teachers.
"The term niddah, 'something to be shunned', 'impurity', is applied in the Bible especially to the condition of a menstruating woman, in postbiblical literature to the woman herself. It is also the name of a tractate, in the Mishnah and Talmuds, that expounds the laws in great detail. The established halachah is in fact much more stringent.
"Throughout the centuries, these laws were conscientiously observed.
"Because the rules of niddah are complicated and difficult, and the punishment for intercourse with a menstruant is so severe, the scholars and the pious Jewish women agreed, during the talmudic period, to apply the simpler but more stringent rules of the zavah to the niddah as well. The biblical law requires abstention for seven days from the onset of the menstrual flow. The later regulation required the woman to count seven days from the time of the cessation of the flow, without further reappearance of blood, before she could take her bath and rejoin her husband. A final formulation of the halachah added further stringencies, reducing still more the number of days each month when intercourse was permissible."
From Critical and Experimental Commentary by Jamieson, Fausset and Brown, Vol 1, pages 476-477 ----
"Though this, like the leprosy, might be a natural affection, it was anciently considered contagious, and entailed a ceremonial defilement which typified a moral impurity. This ceremonial defilement had to be removed by an appointed method of ceremonial expiation, and the neglect of it subjected any one to the guilt of defiling of the tabernacle, and to death as the penalty of profane temerity.
"The Divine wisdom was manifested in inspiring the Israelites with a profound reverence for holy things; and nothing was more suited to this purpose than to debar from the tabernacle all who were polluted by any kind of uncleanness, ceremonial as well as natural, mental as well as physical. The better to mark out that people as His family, His servants and priests, dwelling in the camp as in a holy place, consecrated by His presence and His tabernacle, He required of them complete purity, and did not allow them to come before Him when defiled, even by involuntary or secret impurities, as a want of respect due to His majesty. And when we bear in mind that God was training up a people to live in His presence in some measure as priests devoted to His service, we shall not consider these rules for the maintenance of personal purity either too stringent or too minute."
From Matthew Henry's Commentary, Vol 1, pages 394-395 ----
"This is concerning the ceremonial uncleanness which women lay under from their issues, both those that were regular and healthful, and according to the course of nature, and those that were unseasonable, excessive, and the disease of the body; such was the bloody issue of that poor woman who was suddenly cured by touching the hem of Christ's garment after she had lain twelve years under her distemper, and had spent her estate upon physicians and physic in vain. This made the woman that was afflicted with it unclean and every thing she touched unclean. And if she was cured, and found by seven days' trial that she was perfectly free from her issue of blood, she was to be cleansed by the offering of two turtledoves or two young pigeons, to make an atonement for her.
"The reasons we have been given for all these laws we have 1. Thus shall you separate the children of Israel (for to them only and their servants and proselytes these laws pertained) from their uncleanness; that is, (1) By these laws they were purified unto God a peculiar people, and were intended by the holy God for a kingdom of priests, a holy nation; for that was a defilement to them which was not so to others. (2) They were also taught their duty, which was to preserve the honour of their purity, and to keep themselves from all sinful pollutions. It was easy for them to argue that if those pollutions which were natural, unavoidable, involuntary, their affliction and not their sin, rendered them for the time so odious that they were not fit for communion either with God or man, much more abominable and filthy were they if they sinned against the light and law of nature, by drunkenness, adultery, fraud, and the like sins, which defile the very mind and conscience. And, if these ceremonial pollutions could not be done away but by sacrifice and offering, something greater and much more valuable must be expected and depended upon for the purifying of the soul from the uncleanness of sin. 3. In all these laws there seems to be a special regard had to the honour of the tabernacle, to which none must approach in their uncleanness, that they defile not my tabernacle.
"Now that the tabernacle of God was with men familiarity would be apt to breed contempt, and therefore, the law made so many things of frequent incidence to be ceremonial pollutions, and to involve an incapacity of drawing near to the sanctuary (making death the penalty), that so they might not approach without great caution, and reverence, and serious preparation, and fear of being found unfit. Thus they were taught never to draw near to God but with an awful humble sense of their distance and danger, and an exact observance of every thing that was required in order to their safety and acceptance."
From To Be A Jew by Rabbi Hayim Halevy Donin, pages 124-126, 136-138 ----
" 'Jewish family purity' --- refers to the laws which forbid sexual relations between husband and wife beginning with the onset of her monthly menstrual period, to the end of seven 'clean' days following menstruation. For the average woman this means a period of about twelve days. During this period, the woman is in a state of separation (niddah), during which time she is forbidden unto her husband.
"Reasons are not given in the Torah.
"Just looking at the calendar or glancing at a watch does not remove the woman from her state of niddah and return her to her husband in love and affection. A ceremonial act, a spiritually significant ritual does that. This ritual is the immersion in a ritual body of water (mikvah), without which a woman ritually remains in her state of 'separation', forbidden to her husband.
"That the immersion in a mikvah is not intended to be in lieu of a cleansing bath required by ordinary standards of hygiene is emphasized by the requirement that a bath must precede the immersion in the mikvah.
"The Biblical precept: 'You shall not come near a woman while she is impure by her uncleanness to uncover her nakedness' (Lev 18:19), is the basis for the sexual discipline and rules that govern the Jewish marriage relationship. These laws are generally referred to as family purity (taharat hamishpaha).
"For a full seven-day period from the onset of the monthly menstrual period, the Torah prohibits all sexual relations between husband and wife. The technical term for the state in which the wife is in during her menstrual period is called niddah (literal meaning: to be removed or separated).
"By rabbinic edict, the Talmud extended this period of separation (niddah) to 'seven clean days' following the menstrual period. Since the menstrual period lasts about five days for the average woman, the total period of separation that is in force each month is about twelve days. (It is of interest to note that the natural fertile period in a woman which lasts about three days, generally falls at the conclusion of this twelve-day period.)
"During the period of separation the husband and wife may not sleep in the same bed as a precaution lest they forget themselves. It is for this reason that twin beds rather than double beds have been the adopted style in the Jewish home.
"A woman remains in the state of niddah until she has immersed herself in a ritual body of water (mikvah). This immersion is the ritual act which divides the two periods of time -- the period of separation when marital relations are forbidden and the period of union when such relations are not only permissible but regarded as essential to physical and mental health.
"It is the responsibility of the wife to note carefully the day on which she last saw blood and to count the seven 'clean' days that follow, so that her visit to the mikvah is neither too soon nor unnecessarily delayed.
"The proper time for the immersion is after nightfall, following the seventh clean day.
"At the mikvah, supervised by a woman attendant, the woman prepares herself for the ritual immersion by first cleansing herself thoroughly in a hot bath and removing all articles, such as bandages, hairpins, rings, even nail polish, that would constitute a barrier between the water and all parts of her body. The hair is also washed and combed.
"After the woman has once immersed herself completely while in an upright position, the following blessing is recited: Blessed art Thou, Lord our God, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us concerning the immersion. After the blessing, the woman totally immerses herself once again."
From The First Jewish Catalog, compiled and edited by Richard Siegel, Michael Strassfelt and Sharon Strassfeld, page 170 ----
"The mikveh simulates the original living water, the primal sea from which all life comes, the womb of the world, the amniotic tide on which the unborn child is rocked. To be reborn, one must reenter this womb and 'drown' in living water. We enter the mikveh naked as an infant enters the world. We stand in the water, feet slightly apart, arms outstretched frontward and fingers spread. The lips, too, should be loosely compressed and the eyes loosely closed. Then we bend the knees so that the entire body, including the head and all the hair, is covered by water. Then we re-emerge. At this point, a niddah says a blessing. The blessing is followed by a second immersion.
"According to Torah law, it is forbidden for men and women to have intercourse when the woman is a niddah. The state of niddah includes the duration of the menstrual flow, for which one must count a minimum of five days, plus a 'dormancy period' of seven days during which there is absolutely no bleeding. The days are counted from sundown to sundown. After the seventh consecutive day which is free of bleeding the woman goes to the mikveh."
From The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, James Orr, general editor, Vol IV, pages 3036-3037 ----
"In Lev. 15:2-18, we find the laws applied to the issues of men and in Lev 15:19-33, we find the laws applied to the issues of women. Not only is the man or woman unclean because of the issue, whether normal or abnormal, but the bed on which they lie, or whatever or whoever is touched by them while they are in this state, is unclean. The uncleanness lasts seven days from the cessation of the issue. To become clean men must wash their clothes and bathe their bodies (though this requirement is not made of women), and both men and women must offer through the priest a pair of turtle-doves, or two young pigeons.
"By the days of Jesus the scribes and rabbis had wrought out a most cumbrous system of ceremonial uncleanness and purification. Nor did they claim that all their teachings on this subject were found in the Old Testament. This is fitly illustrated in the New Testament in the washing of hands. When the Mishnah (the collection of rabbinic teachings) was produced, the largest book was devoted to the laws of purification.
"See John 2:1-11, and note how the Jews had six stone waterpots for purification at the wedding in Cana. See John 3:25 as to the controversy on purification between John's disciples and the Jews. This question of cleanness and uncleanness was a tremendous issue with every Jew. He must keep himself ceremonially clean if he would be righteous and win the approval of God.
"Jesus utterly disregarded for Himself these laws of purification, though He orders the cleansed leper to return to the priest and secure his certificate of cleansing. He did not wash His hands before eating, and His disciples followed His example. Therefore the Pharisees challenged Him to give an account of His course and that of His disciples (Matt 15:3-20; Mark 7:6-23). Jesus then enunciated the great principle that there is no ceremonial, but only moral and spiritual, uncleanness. Not what goes into a man from hands that touch unclean things defiles the man, but the things that come out of his heart, evil thoughts, hatred, adultery, murder, etc, these defile the man."
Now, just to give an idea of how far the Jews have stretched some of these verses in putting a hedge about the law, here are but a few samples of their restrictions. And the rules can vary, depending on whether the Jew is Ashkenazi or Sephardic. These are taken from the web site http://www.judaic.org/halakhot/Taharat_habayit/7-behavior.htm
"The time when the woman is niddah is a time of abstinence of all physical contact. It is a time where the loving relationship between the couple should find expression in non-physical ways, such as greater sensitivity towards one another, consideration and giving. In addition to abstinence from sex, the halacha dictates certain other practices from which the couple should refrain, so as not to lead to temptation to physical contact.
"When the woman is niddah it is forbidden for the couple to behave frivolously with one another. Joking around is expressly forbidden. Of course, the couple should not be cold or nasty towards one another. Arguments should be avoided if possible.
"Even the slightest physical contact is absolutely forbidden. Additionally, they may not pass each other objects from one hand to another, as that might lead to inadvertent physical contact. One should also not touch the clothes of their spouse (while they are being worn) when the woman is niddah. (There is no restriction regarding clothing which is not being worn.)
"In situations where it is difficult for the couple to not work together (eg. taking the baby carriage down from an apartment, etc.) the couple might hold the long object together taking maximum precautions that they will not touch.
"It is permissible to throw things from one to another. However, it is commendable to be strict in this matter, and not to throw directly from one to another.
"One should not kiss or play with a baby being held by either him or her, while the woman is niddah. It is also better to be strict not to feed a baby being held by the other spouse, unless there are extenuating circumstances where this is necessary and the couple is careful not to touch.
"It is permissible for the husband or wife to blow away lint or a feather from each other's clothing while she is niddah, yet it is commendable to be strict in this matter, if possible.
"On a hot day they may not fan each other unless one of them is ill. However, there is no restriction regarding turning on the fan or the air conditioner for one another.
"A woman should have special clothing when she is niddah, though they may be just as nice are her regular clothing. This is so the couple will constantly remember that she is niddah.
"If the woman normally works in the house she may do all of her normal household chores, even those specifically done for her husband, even in his presence.
"When she is niddah a woman must continue to do all of her normal religious duties, like blessings and prayers. She should continue learning even with mentioning God's name when learning the verses of the Tanakh. One should not be lax during this time. Also the woman who is niddah can go to synagogue. She may touch holy books and objects without restraint.
"If a husband is very ill and his wife who is niddah is the only one who can take care of him she may do so: she may feed, clothe, straighten him, and even hand him whatever he needs. She must, however, be careful not to touch him. Washing him should be avoided unless it is absolutely necessary. She must still be careful not to make the beds in front of him."
Okay, enough of that. Amazing, isn't it, how so many detailed rules can be made out of so few verses.
If the woman is to be "separate", does that mean put without the camp as some have said? In Numbers 5:1-4 it says they were to put outside the camp every one -- male and female -- who was a leper, had an issue, or had been defiled by the dead. Why? Verse 3 says it was because that was where Yahweh dwelt -- in the camp. Did this only apply while they were in the wilderness with the tabernacle in their midst? I don't know. There is no mention of how this was to be handled once they were in the land and divided into cities.
Are immersions, as described by the Jews, required? Leviticus 15 does not specifically state so. Concerning the mikveh, what is it's origin? Are a description and directions in the scripture? Halachah says it must be of specific size and shape and hold a set amount of water with fresh water entering at a particular rate. Is this in scripture? There are specific times that the people were told, even by Yahweh or Yahshua, to bathe and wash their clothing, but no specifics on how to do it. Nor is there a required blessing that is to be repeated.
In Leviticus 12, the scriptures say that a woman who had given birth was unclean. She was not to touch any holy thing nor enter into the sanctuary. Does that mean that she should not attend sabbath services? Or, if she does, should she remain apart from others?
From Matthew Henry's Commentary, volume 1, page 384 ----
"The law here pronounces women lying-in ceremonially unclean. There was some time of strict separation immediately after the birth, which continued seven days for a son and fourteen for a daughter. During these days she was separated from her husband and friends, and those that necessarily attended her were ceremonially unclean, which was one reason why the males were not circumcised till the eighth day, because they participated in the mother's pollution during the days of her separation. There was also a longer time appointed for their purifying; 33 days more (40 in all) if the birth were a male, and double that time if a female. During this time they were only separated from the sanctuary and forbidden to eat of the passover, or peace-offerings, or, if a priest's wife, to eat of anything that was holy to the Lord."
From Jamieson, Fausset and Brown, volume 1, page 464 ----
"Everyone who came near her during that time (seven days if a boy, fourteen days if a girl) contracted a similar defilement. After these periods, visitors might approach her, though she was still excluded from the public ordinances of religion."
Today we do not have a sanctuary as was referred to here. Yahweh does not dwell in a sanctuary in our midst. The word translated sanctuary is Strong's #4720, "mikdash". It is defined as "a consecrated thing or place". It is translated in the King James as "chapel, hallowed part, holy place, or sanctuary". What "holy things" are there today that she should refrain from touching?
Some may say it refers to where the congregation meets. Does that agree with scriptures about the New Testament church? They met in homes (Romans 16:5; Colossians 4:15), by riversides (Acts 16:13), in catacombs (found in history), or wherever they could congregate in peace. Were these places "holy"? Based on what scripture? Gentiles were limited in access to the "mikdash" but they attended the New Testament services. If they could attend, why not the women?
We look at the covenant between Yahweh and Israel as found in Exodus 19 through 24. More than just the ten commandments. But the issues we're discussing are not found in this reading of the covenant. They were a part of the ceremonial/sacrificial law that was added (Galatians 3:19; Hebrews 9:8-14). The final cleansing for the issues from the body were animal sacrifices. Those are things that cannot be done today. The facilities and the priesthood are not available.
Some have asked if a woman's monthly period would prevent her from participating in the Passover service today. If what they touched was to be unclean, what about the woman whose feet she would wash?
Were there any restrictions in the Torah in regards to Passover? In Exodus 12 and 13, the only ones found refer to strangers and aliens. No mention at that time of clean or unclean. But by the time we come to Numbers 9, there is a distinction made. Verse 13 says "But if a man" -- or person -- "is clean...." At that time Passover was basically a family affair. Does that mean the women would not be allowed to participate? The provisions for the Passover in the second month would not be of benefit to the unclean woman as she would most likely be in the same condition one month later! I don't find these answers readily available.
As for today, Paul gives instructions in I Corinthians 11:20-34 for the New Testament Passover. He mentions no restrictions as to whether a person was clean or unclean. Neither did Yahshua put restrictions in place when He presented the new symbols. Paul said that we were to examine ourselves and then take part.
Mark 5:25-34 relates the story of a woman who had endured an issue of blood for twelve years. Why was she in the midst of people if she were to separate? Though she was considered unclean, she reached out to touch the Messiah. Did He rush to bathe? Note that He did not rebuke or reprove her for touching Him. So did that act make the Messiah unclean for the rest of the day? Would all He touched have been unclean? Yet in verses 35-42, He touched and resurrected a young lady.
Luke 5:12-14 gives another interesting insight. If lepers were to be separate, why was this one in the city? Among people? He was breaking the law of Yahweh, wasn't he? They were to cry out "Unclean" to keep people away from their contagious disease. He didn't. He approached Yahshua and requested healing. Did Yahshua rebuke Him for being among the people? No. He touched him! And healed him.
The Messiah was still in the future when the law was given and the people instructed regarding sacrifices for sin and for uncleanness. But those things have changed. Though it would be helpful to read all of Hebrews 7 through 10, I will mention a few verses here for you to check out ---
Hebrews 7:12 says that there has been of necessity a change in the law.
Hebrews 7:19 tells us that the law made nothing perfect.
Hebrews 7:26-28 says that our high priest offered Himself for us.
Hebrews 9:11-14 asks how much more purifying will be done through the blood of Messiah than in the blood of goats and calves (or any animals). Hebrews 10:4, 11-22 says that it is not possible for blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. But note verse 14 -- "For by one offering he has perfected forever them that are sanctified". And verse 18 -- "Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin."
Our obedience to His laws and our efforts to keep our bodies -- and minds -- pure will show our willingness to follow Him and come under His authority. But it will not save us. The Pharisees were very picky and strict and obeyed this beyond the Nth degree, yet Yahshua called them hypocrites. Only the blood of Yahshua alone can save us.
What about all the other laws that go along with the sacrifices? Do we apply those as well? How? If not, why not? If you try to apply these in Leviticus 12 and 15 so strictly, you'd better look at all the rest of the law as well. If you ignore them because you can't do the sacrifices, why not ignore these? We cannot pick and choose and place burdens as we see fit.
Yahshua stressed that what defiles a person is the things that come out of the mind and heart -- Matthew 15:1-20, Mark 7:1-23. A body can be pure and totally cleansed, but if the mind and heart are full of evil things, what is the cleanliness worth? A ceremonially clean body with an evil mind will not produce salvation. Yahweh looks at the heart (I Samuel 16:7; Isaiah 66:2).
To a certain point, the law can be applied today in that marital relations be suspended through out a woman's monthly period, as the scripture says in Leviticus 12 and 15. At that time they can set themselves apart from one another in physical relations so that they may be set apart before Yahweh. We can maintain good sanitary and hygienic practices in our life. But this is much more than good hygiene.
Yahweh insists that His people be holy -- set apart. How is that accomplished? Read Leviticus 20:26 and Deuteronomy 14:2. Yahweh says that He has severed us from others and has chosen us. But He expands on that and expects something from us in return. In Numbers 15:40, He expects us to do all His commands and be set apart. Note the word "if" in Deuteronomy 28:9 -- "Yahweh shall establish you a set apart people unto himself, as he has sworn unto you, if you shall keep the commandments of Yahweh your Elohim, and walk in his ways.". Apparently being set apart is conditional on what we as individuals do and on how serious we are about following Him and looking like Him..
Paul (or possibly another writer) says in Hebrews 12:14 that "without set apartness, we shall not see Yahweh". Meaning that if we don't seriously pursue being set apart, we will not be a part of Yahweh's set apart family? Something to consider.
Yahweh is no longer dwelling in our midst in a sanctuary that we are not to touch. There is no camp of Israel for us to be removed from. He, by His spirit, dwells in each of us, male and female alike. Read Romans 8:9, 14; and I Corinthians 2:12. Now how can we be set apart or separate from that? We can't get away from Him as we could from a physical sanctuary.
So the question is --- Is it possible to be ritually or ceremonially unclean when His Spirit is within us?