In Essays

Parsha Tazria-Metzora | Take a bath and clean the sheets

Photo by bruce mars on Unsplash

Explore Jewish heritage with an amateur Jew’s commentary on Parsha Tazria-Metzora, Leviticus 12:1 – 15:33. Click here to read the previous Parsha, Parsha Shemini.

This double reading jumps right into it with more rules. This time, the rules concern what a woman needs to do after child––because childbirth renders the woman unclean. I don’t have a kid, but I imagine that’s not something you’d want to say to your wife after the birth of your child.

“I’ll take the child for now, honey. You’re unclean.”

We then get the rules for the bris––Jewish ritual circumcision. That is, slicing off the foreskin. There’s actually not much on the procedure, considering how synonymous it’s become with being a male Jew. Then again, how much more do you need to hear about it? We saw Abraham kick things off with ritual circumcision (or rather, read about it) and this is just a friendly reminder in the rule book.

Then we get a laundry list of rules about how to deal with someone who might have leprosy. I know, timely stuff. But something did stick out as I read this during coronavirus times. If someone is suspected of having leprosy, “the priest shall isolate the affected person for seven days.”

Sound familiar?

“On the seventh day the priest shall examine him, and if the affection has remained unchanged in color and the disease has not spread on the skin, the priest shall isolate him for another seven days.”

Even in the biblical era, fourteen was the apparent lucky number to know you were out of the woods of having contracted a serious disease. Unfortunately for suspected leprosy cases, they didn’t have Netflix and sourdough starters to kill the time.

Men and their “discharge”

The leprosy rules go on for a bit before another interesting tidbit pops up. We get a discussion of what to do about men who discharge semen. This surprised me because so much of the Torah (specifically, Leviticus) seems to have rather patriarchal rules about women, their periods, and getting ‘clean’ again. For example, after a woman gives birth, she enters a “period of purification” and shall remain “unclean” for two weeks––the same rule as when a woman is on her period.

How does a woman get clean again? Glad you asked.

“On the completion of her period of purification, for either son or daughter, she shall bring to the priest, at the entrance fo the Tent of Meeting, a lamb in its first year for a burnt offering, and a pigeon or a turtledove for a sin offering.”

Hot damn! Animal sacrifice. Sure beats the mundanity of a baby shower.

But men have rules about their private parts, too.

“When any man has a discharge issuing from his member, he is unclean. The uncleanness from his discharge shall mean the following –– whether his member runs with discharge or is stopped up so that there is no discharge, his uncleanness means this: Any bedding on which the one with the discharge lies shall be unclean, and every object on which he sits shall be unclean.”

Here I thought Leviticus was wildly out of date, but this seems rather current. I mean, you’d sure as shit change the bedding if somehow you knew your male guest had a discharge. Similarly, you’re rendered unclean too if you do sit on an object on which a man had a ‘discharge.’ To get clean, you need to wash your clothes and bathe in water––and even then it takes until the evening to actually be clean again. But the point is, these are all things you and I would do in a similar situation. Maybe some involuntary vomiting, but Leviticus doesn’t say you can’t do that.

So, you’re probably imagining that “discharge” means “ejaculation.” That’s what I thought. But then I kept reading and read the rules for when “a man has an emission of semen.”

Wait, that’s different than “discharge”? I’d like a biblical expert to chime in on the difference, please. Either way, the remedy is basically the same. Bathe your whole body in water and you’ll be clean by evening. Get some of that semen on your clothes? Was that shit, too.

I guess Leviticus isn’t so ancient after all.

Onward with Parsha Achrei Mot-Kedoshim.

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