Bucking world trends, Israel is one of the few, if not the only developed nation with an increasing birthrate. While most of the industrialized world no longer has enough babies to merely maintain its population, Jews in Israel, and not only among the ultra-orthodox but also among the secular, continue to reproduce at a growing pace. It might seem counterintuitive, observing from the outside and assuming, falsely, that Israelis fear the future, but most Israelis actual feel confident about their future and bringing the next generation of Jewish Israelis into the world.
Our parsha, Tazria, describing women in the days and weeks immediately following giving birth, twice uses a very unusual expression, תֵּשֵׁב בִּדְמֵי טָהֳרָה (Teishev b’dmei tahara), she will sit in her blood of purity (Vayikra 12:4 and 5). Right before this phrase the Torah, seemingly contradicting this idea, uses the phrase וְטָמְאָה (v’Tamah), and she will be (ritually) impure (Vayikra 12:2 and 5).
I need to digress for just a moment to explain that the concepts of טהרה tahara) “pure” and טאומה (tumah) “impure” are not in any way equivalent to “good” and “bad”. Rather they are a measure of proximity to death, a human corpse being the אבי אבות (Avi Avot), literally “grandfather”, i.e. highest form of tumah. The reason a menstruating woman is considered temporarily tamei, “impure” is not because of a squeamishness about blood, but because, as a missed conception she represents close proximity to a life which didn’t occur.
Thus, when birth occurs, a new life happens, even though it is accompanied with blood which, coming from the womb, resembles menstrual blood, this time it’s the blood of tahara, of life! This celebration of birth, calling special attention to a new life, is especially poignant as the Torah was given shortly after Yetziat Mitzraim, the exodus from Egypt where, not long before, the fate of baby boys born to the Jewish people was instant death, being thrown into the river.
Indeed, in our long history it’s been an all too common fate of Jewish children to die young. Anywhere from one-half to three-quarters of the Jewish people (a significantly greater percentage of our people than during the Shoah/Holocaust) were slaughtered by the Romans during Bar Kochba’s attempt to free ourselves (especially commemorated during this period of Sefira (the counting of forty-nine days (seven weeks) between Pesach and Shavuot). As perennial targets of pogroms in both Christian Europe and the Moslem Middle East and North Africa, as the first victims of the Crusades, of course as victims of the Shoah/Holocaust and as recent terrorism has targeted our children as well as adults, bringing Jewish children into this world has always been an act of defiance, courage and faith.
Chazal, our sages, explain in the Talmud (נידה לא:ב) that the reason a new mother is required to bring a חטאת (Chatat) sin-offering (Vayikra 12:5, continuing our verses) because in the midst of childbirth pain they swear that they’ll never have another child, but after experiencing the joy of the new baby they realize that it was an oath they don’t intend to honor, thus the required sacrifice. I believe that fear of immediate pain is very much the minor component of why a Jewish woman would, sensibly, be reluctant to have another child. Rather, this historically-justified fear that her child might become an innocent victim of hate against Jews is a very real fear. One can imagine a deep “what have I just done?” regret when a Jewish mother holds her precious new baby.
Rather, as the Torah describes or prescribes, we celebrate our defiance of fear and hate. We say לחיים (l’Chaim) and celebrate Life, the ultimate source of טהרה (Tahara), purity.
I always enjoy when you explain so clearly the problems with mistranslation of the Hebrew and the subtlety of meaning for such polarizing words as pure and impure. This is so critical.
Rabbi Olivier BenHaim Bet Alef Meditative Synagogue
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From:”Rabbi Zeitlin” Date:Fri, Apr 24, 2015 at 1:27 am Subject:[New post] Children–Thoughts On Tazria
Harry Zeitlin posted: “Bucking world trends, Israel is one of the few, if not the only developed nation with an increasing birthrate. While most of the industrialized world no longer has enough babies to merely maintain its population, Jews in Israel, and not only among the ult”