Laws Pertaining to Purification after Childbirth in the Zadokite Fragments

Among other issues, 4Q266 also takes up the question of purification after childbirth.  This topic also appears in 4Q265 (Miscellaneous Rules) where an explanation for the number of days of purity and impurity is found that is also paralleled in Jub.3:8-14.[1] Our passage is closely based on Lev. 12:2-8.  At the end, we are told that the parturient (like the menstrually impure woman and one who has had an irregular flow) may not eat of holy foods nor enter the sanctuary, and that violation of these two regulations constitutes a capital crime (lines 9-10).  Our text has rearranged the biblical order of these restrictions in order to make the points that they apply after the birth of both male and female offspring and that they apply both to the times of “impure blood” and to those of “pure blood.”  From the Bible, we would not have known that a violation of this regulation would constitute a capital crime, but our text makes that claim.

Regarding the text’s emphasis on the fact that the offerings occur after both periods have elapsed and that only then may the parturient eat of holy food or enter the Temple, rabbinic tradition is in full agreement.[2]  Clearly, the sectarians determined that this was a capital crime.  The rabbis understood Lev. 15:31 to refer to karet (excision).[3] One may also compare Lev. 7:20-21 that mentions the punishment of karet for anyone who eats shelamim sacrifices while impure.[4]  The same punishment is prescribed for priests in Lev. 22:2-3 who eat sacrifices while impure.  All this evidence would seem to imply that we are talking about death at the hands of heaven or karet.[5] However, the term משפט מות  appears only in Deut. 21:22 where it refers to a crime punishable by execution.  This also appears to be the case with the sectarian term דבר מות, “capital case.”[6]  Nonetheless, it does appear from all this evidence that in our passage reference is to the divinely administered punishment of excision, and not to death at the hands of a human court.[7]

The most significant question regarding the relationship of Pharisaic-rabbinic views to the laws pertaining to purification after childbirth has to do with the understanding of the two periods of time that are designated in Leviticus 12.  The passage speaks of the period of impurity, similar to that of menstrual impurity, of seven days after the birth of a boy and fourteen days after the birth of a girl. The text also speaks of longer periods, namely of 33 more days for a boy and 66 days more for a girl during which the mother is in a state of “blood of purity.”  According to rabbinic exegesis, the first period is a period of absolute impurity in which the woman is separated from relations with her husband and prohibited from eating holy foods or entering the sanctuary.  For this purpose, the sanctuary is defined as the entire temenos— the Temple Mount.  Thereafter, during the second period, she is still forbidden from eating holy foods or entering into the Temple precincts, but she is permitted relations with her husband since she is in a period of “pure blood,” and this blood is clearly not menstrual and does not originate in the uterus.  During tannaitic times, and one would assume beforehand, this meant that it was permitted to have relations after the initial period if immersion took place, even if there continued to be bleeding during second period.  The lengths of these two periods were defined differently for women who had delivered male and female children, following the Torah.  Eventually, apparently in the early Middle Ages, the custom spread to forbid relations until all bleeding had stopped and there had been a seven-day period of purification on analogy with the law of the zavah, thus rendering this Torah law no longer operable.[8]  In this case, it appears that tannaitic practice, regarding the two different kinds of blood and the two periods, represented the dominant explanation of Leviticus 12.  Hence, we can assume that sectarian and Pharisaic-rabbinic practice were unified on this particular issue.  There seems to be no reason to assume that the later rabbinic stringency has its origins in Second Temple sectarianism.

As mentioned above, a variety of stringencies relating to impurity came into practice toward the end of the Talmudic period and in the Geonic era, spreading throughout the Jewish communities in the early Middle Ages.  Attempts have been made to explain these stringencies as arising from Karaite influence or from ancient sectarian traditions.  Some of the stringencies are found in a post-Talmudic work known as Baraita’ de-Niddah.  It is a mistake to trace these stringencies to Second Temple times and to assume them to have been Sadducean when they are not found in relevant Qumran texts that deal with the same issues.  On the other hand, certain of the stringencies are indeed documented in Qumran texts such as the Bet Niddot, the special house to which menstrually impure women were exiled, mentioned possibly in one manuscript of the Mishnah and required by the Temple Scroll.  It is certain that a variety of historical causes contributed to the onset of such stringencies at the beginning of the Middle Ages, and ancient sectarianism was only one of those causes. In fact, tendencies towards greater stringency in these issues can be observed within the Talmudic corpus and so seem to have been part of the general trajectory.

[1] Wassen, 55.

[2] Ramban, B. Hul. 31a, H. Bet ha-Behirah 7:15.

[3] Rashi.

[4] Wassen, 56 n. 35 for some reason contains numerous errors.  Num. 7:20-21 should be corrected to Lev. 7:20-21.  Num. 22:23 is also incorrect, but Lev. 22:23 is also irrelevant.  It is most probably an error for Lev. 22:2-3 which is also cited by her.  The reference to Lev. 7:20 at the end of the note is a correct reference which had been incorrectly referred to the beginning of the note as Num. 7:20-21.

[5] Wassen, 55.

[6] For refs see Wassen 55 n. 33.

[7] Wassen, 56.

[8] Cf. H. ’Issure Bi’ah 11:5-7.  Even longer period of waiting before returning to sexual relations after childbirth became customary in some Jewish communities.  See Shulhan ‘Aruch

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