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Uncleanness and Pure Blood After Childbirth

I was studying Leviticus 12 and came across the notion of a woman’s impurity after childbirth. What is the notion of her observing days of “pure blood?” Also, why is it that a woman is impure for a longer period if she bears a daughter than when she has a son?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

Thank you for your good questions. When a woman gives birth to a son, she is impure for 7 days and then observes 33 days of “pure blood.” For a daughter she is impure for 14 days and then observes 66 days of “pure blood.” After these periods, she would immerse herself, bring certain Temple sacrifices, and become entirely pure (Leviticus 12:1-8).

For the first 7 or 14 days, such a woman would be impure in the typical sense. She would both be forbidden to her husband and would not be able to come in contact with sacred items, such as Terumah (Priestly dues) and sacrificial meat. She would also not able to enter the Temple.

For the 33 or 66 days after this, she would be permitted to her husband (after immersion in a mikvah) but would still be excluded from coming in contact with sacred items. This is the notion of her “pure blood.” (Note that the above is Biblical law. Today, the universal practice is to forbid a wife to her husband for all blood, even during the “pure blood” period. See Rema to Shulchan Aruch Y.D. 194:1.)

Why are the periods twice as a long for bearing a girl as for a boy? One of the most plausible explanations is as follows. In general, the Torah notion of “uncleanness” results from the departure of sanctity. Some situations which cause impurity are death, women’s menstruation, leprosy, and childbirth. What do these have in common? Potential for life, with all its sanctity, has been lost. When a person dies, a human soul is lost from this world, and all that remains is a lifeless body. The vacuum created by the loss of life is spiritually filled by “uncleanness.” Likewise when a woman menstruates, the potential to create new life has been lost. Leprosy too is considered a form of death (see e.g. Numbers 12:12).

When a woman gives birth, there is likewise a loss of life. Although a child has been born, the mother no longer carries a baby inside of her. Her own body carries less life than it had, and as a result, the vacuum within her is replaced with impurity.

Based on this, it is clear why bearing a daughter causes twice the impurity as bearing a son. When a pregnant woman is carrying a son, she had an additional life within her. And upon the loss of that life she becomes impure. But when she carries a daughter, not only does she have a life within her, but she has a life which itself is capable of creating more life. For the loss of that even greater potential, the mother becomes doubly impure, so to speak, and must wait even longer to reestablish her purity.

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