Metzora in Context: Niddah – what the Word does and does not say

metzoraFor this week’s Torah portion I am cutting and pasting a chapter from The Bridge: Crossing Over Into the Fullness of Covenant Life, Second Edition

First of all, I am not going to tell you how to observe this or any other Law – that’s your business.  My entire purpose is to address what is and is not written, because frankly there are a lot of misconceptions out there.  A whole lot of folks get upset because of what they think is written in Leviticus 15:19-24.  Right now we are only taking about a normal menstruation cycle here, and not the issue of abnormal bleeding, which is entirely different and points to a serious medical condition.

And if a woman have an issue, and her issue in her flesh be blood, she shall be put apart seven days: and whosoever toucheth her shall be unclean until the even.

And every thing that she lieth upon in her separation shall be unclean: every thing also that she sitteth upon shall be unclean.

 And whosoever toucheth her bed shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the even.

 And whosoever toucheth any thing that she sat upon shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the even.

 And if it be on her bed, or on any thing whereon she sitteth, when he toucheth it, he shall be unclean until the even.

 And if any man lie with her at all (this is sexual, not simply laying next to someone), and her flowers be upon him, he shall be unclean seven days; and all the bed whereon he lieth shall be unclean.

First misconception: uncleanness is a sin.  Where does it say this?  Nowhere; this comes from a non-Hebraic understanding of what it meant to approach God’s physical throne on earth – often rooted in a lack of understanding of the concept of holiness.  Uncleanness is a condition that must be remedied before one goes to the Tabernacle/Temple.  I will give the verse telling why a bit later.  YHVH did not create us to be sinful without any hope.  If uncleanness were a sin, then any woman with a sexually overactive husband would be ritually unclean every day of her life, and therefore in sin!  No, uncleanness was simply something that had to be dealt with, and the remedy was simple – bathe and wait until evening and then one was eligible to go to the Temple.  No biggie.  Seriously, this wasn’t a big deal. In this day and age, we have to understand that we are all subject to a currently incurable brand of uncleanness – corpse impurity. Even being in the same room with a corpse makes a person unclean, needing to be cleansed with the ashes of a perfect red heifer.[1] Perhaps you have seen in the news stories every now and then about possible red heifers – this is why they are so dearly sought after. Without the red heifer, we cannot rebuild the Temple, and even if we did, no one could get anywhere near it. God’s earthly throne is absolutely holy – no human death, defilement or blood can come near to it or it is a dishonor to His majesty.

Second misconception: touching someone unclean, or being touched by them, is a sin.  Oh I know people like to use this verse entirely out of context, from II Corinthians 6:17 “Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you.”  The entire context of that was idolatry, not natural body functions! Yeshua touched unclean lepers[2] and so there could be no question of sinfulness.  He also touched the bier of a dead person and went into a room with a dead girl, and touched her hand in order to raise her up.[3] Nowhere are we forbidden to touch the unclean.  It would be a terrible thing if we refused to care for our dead love ones. Talmudic writings speak of on-duty priests becoming unclean and then going to wash, leaving the Temple grounds until nightfall. There was no punishment, no shame attached – it was just something that had to be dealt with. To refuse to become unclean, when one’s presence isn’t required at the Temple, is misguided.

Third misconception: women have to live separately during their periods.  Some folks really get upset about this one, but what does ‘put apart’ mean?  Put apart in the KJV is literally the word ‘niddah’ and it means separation or set apartness related to uncleanness.  In other words, the menstrual woman had a special status – she was not the same as she was the rest of the month.  Sexually she was untouchable (Lev 18:19), and so in essence she was separated.  Was there a commandment for her to live elsewhere?  No.  Was there a commandment not to touch her?  No.  What there was, was a specific commandment of what to do if you did touch her or the things she laid or sat on during her cycle.  It is a set apart time, a different time, a time to be aware and was only a big deal if you were heading over to the Temple or Tabernacle that day. Touching an unclean person is only a big hairy deal if you are like my teeange sons and have an extreme aversion to bathing.

What was the reason for this? In the Ancient Near East, a woman’s menstruation was tied to demonic activity (literally, as a demonic attack against the woman). They didn’t see it as a natural, but an unnatural function (in the same way, they saw a noctural seminal emission in a man as a sure sign that he was having sexual relations with a demon). It was believed that touching a woman in Niddah would put someone at risk. God’s laws concerning menstruation were completely different – menstrual blood is associated not with life but with death, a failure for life to occur, and therefore had to be kept away from the sanctuary, With His own laws, God eliminated the demonic from the minds of the ancient Israelites and showed that the woman was only temporarily ritually unclean, not demonized (and by extension, that the man with the noctural emission wasn’t carrying on a torrid affair with demons in the night).

Fourth misconception: the couch she sits on and her bed need to be cleaned.  I’ve had this one thrown in my face, “Oh yeah, do you wash the couches?”  They say this (generally with a smirk) because some versions of the Bible have a different rendering of Mark 7:4 than we see in the KJV “And when they come from the market, except they wash, they eat not. And many other things there be, which they have received to hold, as the washing of cups, and pots, brasen vessels, and of tables.”  Instead of table, the word couch is used, which it indeed can mean.  But as we see here, Yeshua is clearly referring to the Oral Torah commandments surrounding the preparation and eating of food and not actual Torah commandments.  As you see from above, no, there is no commandment to steam clean the bed and couches.

Fifth misconception: men and women are only at risk of being unclean during niddah. Earlier in the same chapter we see this in verses 16-18.

And if any man’s seed of copulation go out from him, then he shall wash all his flesh in water, and be unclean until the even.

And every garment, and every skin, whereon is the seed of copulation, shall be washed with water, and be unclean until the even.

 The woman also with whom man shall lie with seed of copulation, they shall both bathe themselves in water, and be unclean until the even.

That’s right, normal everyday sex makes you unclean as well, with the exact same remedy!  God would not command us to be fruitful and multiply if it were His desire for us to be ritually clean 24/7.  Ritual uncleanness is never a problem except for special circumstances – like going up to the Temple for the Feasts or sacrifices or to serve, or when one is about to do battle in the Name of YHVH, as we see in Joshua.

Niddah is about awareness, not about shunning.  Niddah teaches us when to and not to come into the Temple, and what steps have to be taken in order to be ritually clean again.  Sin would be going up to the Temple in an unclean state, and because everyone knew what it took to make one unclean, this was easily avoided.  Here is the specific verse that sums it all up.

31 Thus shall ye separate the children of Israel from their uncleanness; that they die not in their uncleanness, when they defile my tabernacle that is among them.

There you have it – don’t go to the Temple unclean!  Remember when Uzzah died after touching the Ark of God?[4] His level of holiness wasn’t high enough (his level of defilement from normal everyday life was too high, not to be confused with sin) and God’s holiness killed him. In Exodus 19, God repeatedly warns the people to stay back from the mountain, even the priests, because their holiness level was not yet high enough.

As for the bathing requirement, who doesn’t want to bathe (I mean, besides our kids once they get too old for bubbles and splashing)? Uncleanness boils down to one simple thing, a temporary disqualification from going to the Temple. We must never forget that the Temple was the throne of God on Earth, and just as we would never barge in to Buckingham Palace filthy and dressed ‘however’ we would certainly owe far more respect to the King of kings than the Queen of England.

And we must remember that during ancient times (as well as today), not having blood properly taken care of was a health concern to everyone.   Frankly, in ancient times one’s menstruation would have been quite an ordeal. I am so glad we are alive now when it is much easier! How terrible if God had had so little compassion as to require a woman’s presence, like He did with the males, at the Temple, no matter what.

Almost all of the misconceptions about this Law are related to what people hear about how the Orthodox Jews do things, separation for fourteen days, separate beds, etc. but once again, read what the Bible does and does not say, and the truth shall set you free.  Keeping this Law according to the Talmud can be extremely demoralizing for women who were not raised this way, making a difficult time of the month far worse than it has to be, especially when one does not already possess the mindsets and cultural attitudes of the Jews.

[1] Num 19:14

[2] Matt 8:3

[3]  Luke 7:11-15; Luke 8:49-55

[4] 2 Sam 6

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8 Comments


  1. I’m still a little confused. So during that time of the month, it’s okay to come together? What if your cycles are 8 or 10 days, dragging out just a teeny bit, but there’s still something? Keeping things an extra 7 days adds such a burden to every.single.month! Have we been misinterpreting this, and it only applies if you were going to the temple?

    Because there is still the verse about the one that touches an unclean female being cut off. Thanks for any further light you can shed.

    Reply

    1. What’s your definition of “come together?” If you mean sex then no because that is an abomination. But if you mean simply snuggling then that is not a problem – it is not a sin to become unclean, but it is a sin to remain that way. It sounds like you are using the verses that apply to an irregular uterine discharge and applying them to a regular period. The irregular discharge is stated as not being the same as a woman’s menstrual cycle. Could you please provide the verse that you are cited about someone who touches an unclean female being cut off? I am not aware of any such verse in all of scripture. If you are referring to Lev 20:18, it is talking about sex. I can’t really tell you what to do when you have an abnormally long period – I never tell anyone how to obey any law. It’s a personal call, but the Scriptures are clear that there cannot be any sex so long as there is any blood at all.

      Reply

      1. Yes, I was referring to sex and Lev 20:18. The basic issue here is that there are usually 3 to 4 days prior to the actual flow that are spotting. So by the time the flow really starts, it’s always over a week. Which means we have do add an additional 7 days after it’s all clear. This equals more than 1/2 the month every month!

        What I’ve read in places is how people insert a cloth to be extra sure there’s no traces of blood, and if there is, they start counting then.

        It’s becoming more of a burden that we’re questioning if it’s a man-made one.

        Reply

        1. Well, there is no biblical commandment to add the seven days after the end of your regular period. That is a Rabbinic commandment, one that Jews actually attribute to Jewish women being concerned over purity. As long as there is blood, no sex, but after the blood is gone, then the blood is gone. The problem is that we are not the same people that the Law was given to. Our bodies have really been messed up and we aren’t as genetically intact as the people were thousands of years ago. Chemicals, birth defects, hormones, etc, have all contributed to many women having abnormal periods – but that isn’t the same as the abnormal uterine bleeding which would be a sign of cancer. If I were personally in your shoes, and this is just me, so take it for what it is worth – I would wait until the first real day of the period and start counting seven at that point and see if you can come up with a livable pattern. But if you are observing Niddah for ten plus seven days a month then yes, that would be incredibly burdensome. I myself have an 18 day cycle so for me that would be insane – to observe the Rabbinic seven days after the end of bleeding.

          Reply

  2. OK, so since we do not have a temple in Jerusalem to go to for Passover, is there a problem with going to a group seder while on your period? Or for that matter, is there a problem with going to weekly Torah study? Thanks for help understanding these issues.

    Reply

    1. I just answered the second question you submitted, I am so sorry for not seeing this – it ended up somehow in my trash folder and I am wondering if I have emptied it in the past with good messages in it

      Reply

  3. OK, so since we do not have a temple in Jerusalem to go to for Passover, is there a problem with going to a group seder while on your period? Or for that matter, is there a problem with going to weekly Torah study? Thanks for help understanding these issues.

    Reply

    1. Goodness sakes, I was going through my trash and I found your comment – not sure why that happened and I am so incredibly sorry! No, I would not see any problem with it and I feel terribly about not seeing this until after passover. Our places of meeting are not holy ground. Please accept my apologies, I will be sending this to your email box as well.

      Reply

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