Leviticus And The Biblical Value of Daughters

In Leviticus, the length of purification time after the birth of a daughter is twice the length of the time for a son.  This is generally cited as proof that the Bible is anti-woman.  Having come to spend much more time in my life around birthing mothers, I see something that was always there if I could have but opened my world-blinded eyes.

The extra time for a daughter is extra bonding time and extra time for the husband as well.  Given the inheritance rules, if the times of “no-touch wifey” were the same, there would be temptation to rush things after the birth of daughters in a pursuit of sons.  But by enforcing a longer time of purification (and correspondingly time to physically recover and bond with the baby and enjoy that old oxytocin song) for daughters, this temptation is subverted and husbands have extra time to value their daughters and give their wives the reassurance of their faithfulness by abstaining for even longer than with a son.  It also, with the extra bonding time, provides a means for the very earliest sort of woman-to-woman support to happen. Thus, what looks like oppression is actually a way to establish that daughters are precious and to be valued despite the fact that their place and future follows a different path than that of sons.  Both different, but both precious and worthy of love.

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4 thoughts on “Leviticus And The Biblical Value of Daughters”

  1. The terms clean and unclean are often interpreted incorrectly and therefore, when they say a woman is unclean for longer after the birth of a daughter it must mean there is something extra “unclean” about daughters over sons.

    The terms refer to ritual purity. In order to participate in ceremonial rituals the person had to have bodily integrity. This was a sign of holiness. To be in God’s presence meant you had to be able to demonstrate holiness not only in your moral state but also in your body. God is holy at all times and is the source of life and always capable of generating life. Death or the potential of death is a state that is not fit for being in the presence of God.

    When a Jewish woman was menstruating, there was the possibility, due to her greater potential to participate with God in creating life, of being “touched by death” due to the fall of humanity in the garden of Eden. So a menstruating woman could also be losing a recently conceived life. This is why she was ritually unclean.

    After birth, the child was seen as the greatest sign of woman’s ability to participate with God in generating life, however, the newly born child was also seen as very vulnerable and to be touched with the potential of death because of its weakness. The baby needed time to nurse and gain strength. A new mother was seen as unclean for a time because of her closeness to the potential death of her newborn. Because a female baby dying shortly after birth was not only potentially touched by death herself but all of her future life-giving capability, more time was given her to remain with her mother and be strengthened. Her higher life-giving capability also meant on the flip side she also had a greater potential to be touched by death for the loss of her future children if she died (absence of holiness).

    That is a far cry from females being less valued. She was more valued because of her ability to carry life.

    Great topic!

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  2. I have to make a correction to my comment about ritual impurity I gave above. i read about this quite awhile ago and was going from my memory of how I had understood the laws to work but alas, I had the right idea but the cause of the unclean state I got mixed up on.

    The woman being unclean was not the potential loss of the baby and the mom’s ritual impurity from being so close to that potential death. Although it is true that if you were to touch a dead body you were ritually unclean and had to to through purification rituals to become clean again.

    It is the change from the high holiness of carrying life to the absence of that life that has left the body that signifies a sort of death. The blood flow after childbirth are the remnants of the life that used to be there and is there no longer. The greater time of separation after a daughter is born is due to the greater emptiness of life (holiness) that has left the womb. The word loss that I remembered the article talking about is where I got confused in my memory because it didn’t mean if there was a loss of a child through death but the loss of the child from the womb.

    There was also health implications for the longer time for girls than for boys. Females had a higher mortality rate than males and lower birth weights and therefore needed more time to gain strength to get a good start. The mothers semi isolation during purification meant she was relieved from traveling and other duties and could spend more time focusing on the baby.

    Sorry for the confusion. That’s what I get when I try to rely on only my brain for information:)

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  3. What a fascinating post! I have always wondered about the differences in time spent ” unclean” for a male versus a female baby. Thanks for the explanation!
    Amanda

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