parshat tazria (Leviticus 12)
Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on Clubhouse on Thursday March 31st 2022 as we use the Torah’s treatment of postpartum impurity to explore postpartum depression, gender definition and female sexual needs and rights, to name a few stimulating topics…
Welcome to Madlik. My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish text or tradition. Along with Rabbi Adam Mintz, I host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday at 8pm. Eastern, and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite platform. Today, we use the Torah’s treatment of childbirth to explore postpartum depression, gender definition, and female sexual needs and rights to name a few stimulating topics. So put away your Masters and Johnson forget about your chosen pronouns, and ditch your favorite child rearing book and join us as we explore Of Women Born. Boy, did I fit enough in that intro?
Adam Mintz 00:55
I don't want to miss it either.
Geoffrey Stern 00:58
I mean, you know, usually we focus on just a few verses, but I gotta say that this week, boy, oh, boy, there were so many topics and they all relate to the subjects that I described. So let's just jump in Leviticus 12: 1-5 "God spoke to Moses saying, Speak to the Israelite people. Thus, when a woman at childbirth, bears a male, she shall be impure seven days, she shall be impure as at the time of her menstrual cycle. On the eighth day, the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised, she shall remain in a state of purification for 33 days, she shall not touch any consecrated thing nor enter the sanctuary until her period of purification is completed. However, if she bears a female, she shall be impure (twice as long,) two weeks, as during her menstruation, and she shall remain in a state of blood purification for (not 30 days, but) 60 days." So there's so much to unpack here. Why is she impure? Why does she bring a sacrifice? And yes, why is there a difference between whether she has a boy baby, or a girl baby, and as a new father, grandfather of a baby girl who's today, four weeks old.... This is really pertinent to me. So Rabbi, what is the most interesting, stimulating, engaging question that comes to your mind from these verses?
Adam Mintz 02:52
So to me, the question of why the period of purification is different if you give birth to a boy or to give birth to a girl? To me, that's always the hardest question. And I don't know even after all these years, whether I have the perfect answer.
Geoffrey Stern 03:11
So I'm going to go out on a limb here, and I know that we are supposed to be having Disruptive Torah. And I'm always gonna be dredging and saying, "Why is this gender different? And why is this like this?" But I've got to tell you, that I actually believe that the issues that are raised are more important than necessarily the conclusions that are reached. So let's begin with your question about why is it different if you have a baby boy, and why is it different if you have a baby girl? So the most I think accepted answer comes from the Talmud in multiple places. I'm gonna quote Nida 31b. And it says and the students of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai, not a small Rabbi further inquired of him. What reason does the Torah say that a woman who gives birth to a male is ritually impure for seven days, but a woman who gives birth to a female is impure for 14 days. Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai answer them. When a woman gives birth to a male. Everyone is happy, and she regrets her oath, that she will never engage in sexual relations with her husband. Already seven days after giving birth. She's so happy that she had a baby boy, she forgets about all the nasty things she said about her husband and having sexual intercourse with her husband. By contrast, after giving birth to a female, over which everyone is unhappy, she regrets her oath only 14 days after giving birth. So it takes her twice as long to get over the fact that every woman during childbirth, as they are living through the hevlei Leadah, the pangs of giving birth, and are saying, How did I get into this situation? Am I crazy? I'm never gonna touch my husband. Again. It's a question of how quickly she gets over it. So that is the traditional answer. Rabbi, how do you how do you take that, and I assume that you were as happy when you had a girl as you had a boy, so I'm putting you on the spot.
Adam Mintz 05:46
I don't know what that means. I'll tell you the way I always understood it. And we'll see if that's what the Talmud means. I always understood that the period of purity is longer for a girl. Because giving birth to a girl is actually more significant than giving birth to a boy, because a girl is herself going to have children. So actually, the period of purity is not only for your daughter, but for all of the generations that are going to come from her, which doesn't apply to a man.
Geoffrey Stern 06:20
You know, I have not seen that explanation in all of the traditional commentaries is that your own Hidush?
Adam Mintz 06:28
I heard it a long time ago from George Rohr. George Rohr runs the beginners service at KJ on the east side, you know, it's hard to run a beginner service on these kinds of weeks, because the beginners asked hard questions, because they don't have any background. And that's the way he always used to explain it. And of all the explanations, that explanation is the best explanation I've ever heard. I don't know if it's perfect, but it's the best explanation I've ever heard.
Geoffrey Stern 06:58
So we're gonna get to a bunch of explanations, but one of them is similar in terms of the compound nature of a woman having a woman. But I absolutely love George Rohr's explanation. I think that's fantastic. That is just beautiful. So what I take away from this is I focus less on the kind of the characterization of social norms of a time where everybody wanted a son to carry on their family name, everyone wanted a son to carry on the business, and I get it. But what I love about this is that it focuses on the psyche of the woman. And it focuses on the fact that having a baby is a major milestone. And that psychologically, it is difficult for the woman. I've been preaching since the beginning of Leviticus, that sacrifices are made to help us deal with pain, with pleasure, with joy with thanks. And if this isn't a case study, in a sacrifice being created to deal with postpartum with giving birth, you've been carrying this child inside, the pain of giving birth is traumatic. And here, the Torah is distinguishing between nuances. Forget about the gender issue. I just love the fact that it's focused on you got to deal with different people in different ways. And then you talk about I mean, again, and it engenders an explanation like George Rohr gave, which is, yes, I'm giving birth to a woman who is going to go through this. I just love it. So I in terms of my reaction that I just love, the fact that the Torah is seems to be really empathizing with the emotional impact. I want a quote from Tzeror Ha-Mor of R. Abraham Saba (1440–1508) Oh, and by the way, I found some beautiful monographs and some very scholarly studies that were done on these verses, and they were all in the notes on Safaria. If you look at his he goes into this birth, Pang things. And he uses words lay like God היודע הלבבות, who knows the souls of people. And again, he's focused on the fact that in his milieu, having a boy was different than having a girl, but I'm focusing on that he goes on to say, היא עצובת רוח בעצב כפול that when the woman has a girl, she is doubly depressed. And again, I'm not focused on the girl, I'm focused on the depressed, I'm focused on the fact that a commentator is focused on עצובת and עצב . On the fact that you can have a very strong dose of depression, and then he uses another thing, and he says, so therefore the total gives the woman two weeks to recover, התורה שירדה לסוף דעתה, it goes down and understands her mind. And that's what as lovely and as wonderful as I love to be the contrary guy, I also want to appreciate that whether it's in the actual verses themselves, or in the commentaries and the tradition, here, we're looking at something that has become recognized as a very important; postpartum depression, and focused on how you address it. And did they know how to address it perfectly. 1000 1500 years ago, maybe not, we can discuss that, but they wanted to address it. That's my takeaway.
Adam Mintz 11:10
So I like I love that point. That point that they wanted to address it, that maybe they didn't have all the tools that we have, you know, we are very sophisticated. Now we're educated, we have a lot, but they wanted to address it, I liked that idea that there are some things that are kind of built into the human psyche that people have been trying to deal with since the beginning of time. That's really a nice idea, isn't it?
Geoffrey Stern 11:35
I love it, I just absolutely love it. And, you know, this is typically a parsha that people have difficulty talking about. But I mean, here in these three, four verses, the fact that it distinguishes between gender bothers me less than the fact that I'm aware that it distinguishes between personal responses to similar situations. So let's drill down a little bit deeper. You talk about, maybe their understanding of science was limited. So in some of the monographs that I quote, it's fascinating that there was a concept out there in Greek medicine. And it goes to Galen, and it goes back to Hippocrates. In the fifth century, that a female fetus takes longer to develop than a male. So again, the rabbi's looked at the science, the best science that they had. And there were some traditional commentaries who go back to that and explain it based on that. And the fact that they explain it means they were bothered by it, too. And how great is that? That 1500 years ago, there were rabbis who we all like to say are the patriarchy and you know, men writing for men? And they were concerned about why does the Torah distinguish between men and women? And again, it was based maybe on a false thing. And you can you can give any kind of commentary; you want to why it would take longer for a female fetus to develop. But again, it was using the best science that they had, and asking themselves, why is there this difference, which is based on the premise that men and female are equal, and I love that too.
Adam Mintz 13:37
I love that too. I mean, that is interesting. Again, it doesn't really matter whether the Greek science is correct or not. The point is that they're addressing this topic. And I think that's great.
Geoffrey Stern 13:47
But as we continue this discussion, and it's kind of like when you have a challenging problem like this, it's kind of like a Rorschach test, every Rabbi brings to the question, his own baggage and his own perspective. So the most amazing monograph that I quote, is based on a few Rabbi scholars who similar to what you quoted about George Rohr, talk about this is a compounded issue, meaning to say, Why does a woman who gives birth to a woman need two weeks and a woman who gives birth to a man only one week, and one of the answers that they give is that not only is she suffering addressing, compensating for her own life, but she is addressing the life of the mother of all mothers, which is Eve which is Hava and it's very rare in Jewish tradition that we have reference to what the Christians call Original Sin and The Fall. But if you all remember when we studied Genesis, we know the punishment that Adam was given was that he had to work and toil by the sweat of his brow. But the punishment that Eve was given his that she would give birth under pain. And so they harken this back to the original sin, which again, you can interpret in in all different ways. Have you ever heard of this kind of connection? And how does it resonate with you, Rabbi,
Adam Mintz 15:38
it resonates, I liked that explanation. And I agree with you. I like the compound nature of the these kinds of explanations. And I think that's interesting. Now, it's an interesting question about whether Original Sin is ultimately a Jewish idea.
Geoffrey Stern 15:56
Well, I think it's definitely an idea that Christianity took from us. And as a result, we raise our eyebrows when we see commentaries that reference it. But there was no question that the book of Genesis is not a storybook, that things in it are very important, and that the story of Adam and Eve explains our mortality. It explains the struggle of earning a livelihood that we've talked about when we talked about Lechem and Milchama, and now we're talking about childbirth. It explains the struggles of life. So I don't think there's anyone who takes the Bible seriously. Who would ever say, nah that's just a fairy tale? It was, we're talking about chapter two, of the Bible. And so the change of man, mankind leaving Eden.... You can call it The Fall, you can call it Original Sin. But whatever you call it, it's, it's if you take your Bible seriously, it's important.
Adam Mintz 17:05
There is no question that that's right. And it was interesting what you just said, and that is, it doesn't really matter what you call it. The question is how it helps you understand some of these complicated laws in the Torah.
Geoffrey Stern 17:19
So I want to go in a completely different direction now. We've kind of looked at the gender issue a little bit. Now I want to look at the question of why is a woman who gives birth to a beautiful child giving a sacrifice in the first place? What did she do wrong? What does she have to ask penitence for? And we've kind of focused on it a little bit, in terms of she made an oath, but let's hit the nail on the head, it needed the masechta the Tractate Nida 31b. It says the students of Rabbi Benue Hashem and when I asked him, Why does the toe say that a woman after childbirth brings in orphaning. He said to them at the time that a woman crowd to stick of birth. Her pain is so great, that she impulsively takes an oath, that she will not engage in intercourse with her husband ever again. So that she will never again experience this pain. Therefore, the Torah says that she must bring an offering for violating her oath, and continuing to engage in intercourse with her parent, her husband. So now we're talking on a whole different level. We're starting to talk about marital relationships, and we are focused on the woman in terms of what she might say during the pangs, the struggle of childbirth to her husband, but before I ask for your opinion, I want to quote the flip side of this discussion, because the flip side is much more radical. What I just told you now again, comes from the patrimony that guy's upset, his wife won't touch them. She gave birth and you know, he wants his conjugal waits. Here's what the mission in q2 boat 61 B says, with regard to one who vows that his wife may not derive benefit from marital relations with him. Beat samurai says he may maintain this situation for up to two weeks. But beyond that he must divorce her and give her the payment for her marriage contract. Paid Hillel says he must avoid sir, if he continues beyond only one week and the Gomorrah continues. Where do they learn this from Big surprise from our verses. So now we're not talking about the husband rights to conjugal rights. We're talking that any woman can say to her husband who wants to be either holier than thou, or he, he's not looking at her. He's not smiling at her. He's not caressing her. She can say, Listen, buddy, the verse that we just quoted from Viagra, whether you go like beit shamai or beit Hillel, it's one or two weeks, and if you can fulfill my sexual desires, I have a right to divorce you and you have to make full payment. How many documents do we have that provides such a representation of women's rights? To conjugal rights? Are you blown away like I am
Adam Mintz 20:53
blown away? That's amazing. That's actually amazing.
Geoffrey Stern 20:57
I mean, you know, I started by saying in the intro, throw away your Masters and Johnson
Adam Mintz 21:04
So let me just say that the Torah in the in the book of Exodus, when it talks about a husbands responsibility to his wife, conjugal rights are seen as the husband's responsibility to his wife. It's not this explicit, but the Torah does. Say She-era Kesuta lo dibra, Ona'ata means conjugal rights, so that he has the responsibility to give her conjugal rights. So the idea that that's the woman's right is actually there in the Torah, but it's not this elaborate.
Geoffrey Stern 21:39
But I mean, think of how radical the Fear of Flying and the Kinsley study, and all of this stuff was in the 60s. And here you have the rabbi's talking about a wife's right to sexual fulfillment.
Adam Mintz 21:59
Crazy, totally crazy.
Geoffrey Stern 22:01
So that's why I find this verse and these three verses and the discussions that are currently about them. So mind blowing. So let's move on a little bit. There are some commentaries who notice something interesting about our verses, if you remember, it says when it's talking about a male, that you shall be impure seven days. And then for another 30 days, you're going to go through this other cycle. But in verse three, it says, On the eighth day, the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised. And that, of course, we all know is Brit Milah, is circumcision. And normally, we take that to be something that relates to Abraham, and it relates to a covenant, so forth and so on. But you don't have that parallel on the female side. And so I quote, a wonderful study called Gendering a child with Ritual by Dr. Christine Hankinson Garraway, where she talks about the importance in ancient societies and she goes back to Akkadian and Hittite things about announcing the gender of your child, clearly, if we've learned anything so far, and I say so far, because we're going to go in a different direction in a few minutes. But so far, gender matters. If you have a boy, you feel one way, if you have a girl, you feel another way. But what she does is she takes the double week as something that balances the Brit Mila. So for the male, the way of introducing it to the community, as I had a male son, you have this milestone this, this rite of [passage], of circumcision. And if you have a girl, you show that by the two week period, by the 60 day period, she takes it to be something along those lines, which again, to me, I kind of back away and say it's not so much about gender, but that everybody has the right and the ability to announce their child joining their family, their community, the world in different ways. But she takes it as a positive and that's kind of fascinating.
Adam Mintz 24:40
That's very fascinating. I mean, that's, that's interesting to take it as a positive. Who is she,
Geoffrey Stern 24:48
You know, it's in if you look at the source, there's this wonderful blog, it's Torah.com I believe, and the level of this scholarship is extremely high. But she's a either a rabbinic student or something. And, and look, I love the source sheets that we always include with our podcast. And if you go there you can, you can do like I do, which is Hafoch bo v'hafoch bo de kulo bo, you can, you can dig in them, there's so much learning there. But again, see uses as a as a way of distinguishing and announcing the gender of your child.
Adam Mintz 25:32
It's very interesting. I think that that that's all you know, sometimes you say that when there are so many different suggestions about the reason for something, it's because nobody really knows the reason. It's not like, Yeah, I know, this is the reason I know, this is the reason everybody's all over the place, because nobody really knows the real explanation.
Geoffrey Stern 25:55
Absolutely. And it opens itself up for new interpretation.
Adam Mintz 25:59
You know, we haven't discussed one possibility that this was just part of the culture of the ancient world that all religions had.
Geoffrey Stern 26:09
Well, and to a degree, if you read her monologue, she says, yes, there was at least in the ancient Near East in the in the Hittite, and the Acadian communities, there was this sense of announcing and bringing into the community.
Adam Mintz 26:23
Oh, so she does raise that as a possibility.
Geoffrey Stern 26:26
She does. So what I'd like to take away in the next last segment, because we have so many segments to this discussion, is she talks about gender announcing. Now I want you to listen to the Talmud in Nida 40a. And the Gomorrah asks, and what do the rabbis derive from the superfluous expression, so the rabbi's are torn over every extra word in the Torah. And if you notice, when I read about if a boy is born, it says the following, and then it goes says and ve'im nekeva teled which means and if a girl child is born, and all of this commentary say, Why does it need to say if it's a girl? Why does it have to say "was born"? So the Talmud, and Anita says as follows why, for this superfluous expression, the Gemora answers, in their opinion, that expression is necessary to include the birth of a child whose sexual organs are indeterminate, which in the Talmud is called a tum tum, or a hermaphrodite an androgenous, which has a child that has both sexual organs, as it might enter your mind to say that the words male and female are written in the passage to only talk about them, therefore, it teaches she "gives birth", that is the birth itself, not the sex of the offspring that matters. Are you kidding me? This sounds like don't give me labels. If a child is born, I don't care what sex he is, or she is, I don't care what pronouns she/he/it's going to have. I mean, this, this verse blows me away. And in bottom line, what it says is, if you have a child whose sexual identity is in question, you do two weeks, and you do 60 days, but we learn it from the fact that "it is born". It's a child that is born, and it doesn't have to be male or female. I'm blown away that.
Adam Mintz 28:40
I love that. I mean, that is really amazing. I mean, you know, they derive it in, you know, in kind of classic rabbinic way. But what is the message that it gives us such an amazing thing isn't?
Geoffrey Stern 28:51
It is and, and again, it's the way we moderns read it, because we can read it differently than either they meant it or that it's been read for 1500 years. But I do believe that the way I just read is true to the text.
Adam Mintz 29:13
I think when you read it is fantastic. I love that.
Geoffrey Stern 29:15
So the last thing that I'm going to bring up is the question and I called this discussion of woman born. And for those of you who know your Shakespeare, you know that at the beginning of Macbeth, he is told he will be killed by someone who was not of woman born. And of course the punch line was that he was killed by someone who was born via cesarean and there was not of woman born. So the rabbi's also bring that into the discussion and they talk about where it says that from this, we learned that if you are born from cesarean, we all know those of us who have had cesarian births or children have had cesarian births. You don't do, for instance, the redeeming it from the Cohen, it wasn't literally Peter Rechem. It didn't open up the womb, the rechem but all other things that have to do with being a firstborn, whether being responsible [a double portion] or whatever, is still there. And the word that it uses for cesarean is Yotsei dophen. And today in modern Hebrew, when you say that something is Yotsei dophen what do you mean is it's exceptional? It's out of the ordinary. And I just love the fact that everything that we've been teaching, so the Mishnah in Berachot 47b says Rabbi Shimon says the first son is a firstborn with regard to inheritance, if he is his father's first son, and then it goes on to say but if she bears a girl, again, they're focused on this extra word "teled" that the apparently superfluous term "she bears" serves to include a child born by cesarean section, yotzei dophen. So I would conclude by saying that these verses that have struggled and been difficult for many people, especially people that are very gender conscious, you can read them in a way that absolutely opens up our minds and makes us think yotze dophen, which is out of the box, and to explore things that obviously intrigued our forebears and continue to intrigue us today. But ultimately, just love and admire the miracle of childbirth and everything that it means for us.
Adam Mintz 32:19
I think that's beautiful. This was a great topic. Thank you so much. Enjoy this this amazing stuff this amazing topic, everybody. Have a happy Shabbat and a happy Rosh Chodesh and we look forward to seeing you next week. As we will tackle Metzorah and get us ready closer for Passover. He well everybody.
Geoffrey Stern 32:40
Shabbat Shalom to everybody. And I just want to say that tonight is the week of my father's Yotzei he passed away five years ago Yehuda Leib ben David Shmuel, and this learning is dedicated to him and to Don Lebell who is if my stepfather who is an amazing person and was a very loving friend of my father, and it's dedicated to birth and the cycle of life so Shabbat Shalom to everyone. And see you all next week. Shabbat Shalom
Adam Mintz 33:15
when we remember your father so fondly, and we look forward to many years of studying together in his memory.
Geoffrey Stern 33:21
Thank you so much.
Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/396094
Listen to last week’s episode: No Martyrs No More