People sometimes get the impression that God thinks women are dirty, or that Moses thinks women are dirty. I see none of those opinions expressed anywhere in the text. I do read that women, however, like men, can be in a state of uncleanness. They can be unclean. Aren’t dirtiness and uncleanness the same thing? I don’t think so, but that’s a topic for another day.
I find a few things interesting about this passage, which discusses the customary time of women:
When a woman has a discharge, and the discharge in her body is blood, she shall be in her menstrual impurity for seven days, and whoever touches her shall be unclean until the evening. And everything on which she lies during her menstrual impurity shall be unclean. Everything also on which she sits shall be unclean. And whoever touches her bed shall wash his clothes and bathe himself in water and be unclean until the evening. And whoever touches anything on which she sits shall wash his clothes and bathe himself in water and be unclean until the evening. Whether it is the bed or anything on which she sits, when he touches it he shall be unclean until the evening. And if any man lies with her and her menstrual impurity comes upon him, he shall be unclean seven days, and every bed on which he lies shall be unclean. (English Standard Version, Lev.15.19-24)
Notice, these instructions to bathe and wash clothing are not for the woman in niddah, but for the man who touches the woman. Interesting, no? Certainly, I love the romanticism of the mikvah for married women as much as anyone else; however, according to this passage, the woman doesn’t need the mikvah to pass from the status of unclean to clean: she becomes clean after counting for herself seven days. It’s the man who needs to take extra steps to restore himself to a clean state after touching the woman.
For all the reckless slander circulating about God being some kind of chauvinist or “ancient societies” and their hatred of women, this passage seems remarkably pro-woman. I have heard it said within the Chabad synagogues that baby girls are not circumcised because they are born already circumcised in some spiritual sense. I read this passage in Leviticus in that same kind of light: women already have within them the power to change status through time alone. Men are the ones who have to wash and bathe in order to do what we do naturally. Cool.