Parshat Tazria opens with one of the strangest examples of biblical ritual “impurity”: tumat yoledet, tuma resulting from childbirth.
The Torah relates that, following the birth of a male child, a childbearing mother enters a seven-day period of tuma, while following the birth of a female child, a fourteen-day period of tuma is mandated. In each case, these days of tuma are then followed by much lengthier periods (thirty-three days after the birth of a male child and sixty-six days after the birth of a female child) of modified separation from sanctified objects.
Finally, at the close of each extended period, the mother brings a burnt offering and a sin offering to the Temple to mark her full reentry into society.
Bearing a child is clearly one of the most highly sanctified acts possible; the first divine blessing/commandment given to man while still in the Garden of Eden; the clearest demonstration of man’s partnership with God. Why, then, does a woman automatically incur a state of tumah as a result of childbirth?
What is the significance of the different separation periods mandated in response to the birth of a male and female child, respectively? Aren’t all children of equal value?
Finally, and most problematically, what is the significance of the korbanot brought by a yoledet, a childbearing mother? In particular, why does the Torah instruct a woman to bring a sin offering in the aftermath of childbirth? What possible “sin” could be associated with the glorious act of bringing a new life into the world?
This new feature presents questions on the weekly parsha for your consideration, excerpted from Rabbi Shmuel Goldin’s new book, Unlocking the Torah Text on Vayikra.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.