Parashah of the week: Tazria

“Speak to the Israelite people thus: when a woman at childbirth brings forth seed and bears a male, she shall be impure seven days; she shall be impure as at the time of her condition of menstrual separation” Leviticus 12:1-2


These verses could be uncomfortable; it is taught that a mother should be separated from the sacred sphere after birth, and for more time for a girl than for a boy. The verses also discuss birth, seed and blood. Some might feel such topics are too base for a sacred text.

Yet Rabbi Simlai, in a comment cited by Rashi teaches, as the Torah now turns to the body and the baby: “Just as the formation of the human took place after that of every cattle, beast and fowl when the world was created, so, too, the teaching regarding the human is set forth after the law regarding cattle, beast and fowl”. 

He thus makes a parallel between the Divine creation of humanity (after the animals) and a woman giving birth to a newborn, the laws for which are given after the laws of kashrut, of animal consumption. What can we take from this?

Rabbi Simlai, the third-century sage, has an eye for structure and metaphor, and ultimately for humanity. He teaches elsewhere (in Sotah 14a) that the beginning and end of Torah is lovingkindness, for the Divine clothed the babies of humanity, Adam and Eve, in Eden, and buried Moses at the end of Deuteronomy. Thus he tells us that the very purpose of Torah is to make us turn to, to have more lived love for, the vulnerable, for the baby, the sick and the dying.  

So, here too, as the Torah turns to birth, Rabbi Simlai suggests that a woman giving birth is akin to the crowning act of Divine creation and celebrates that our Holy Torah directs us to pay attention to the pain, wonder, and even blood, of our sacred bodies. 

Although the verses themselves may suggest that after birth some separateness may be desired, we can still learn that there is nothing more holy than creating a human, and turning to another human, another body, caring for those who could have been rendered prudishly invisible, unseemly for a sacred text.

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