Metzora: Great Source

Leviticus 15 is a tightly constructed essay on genital pollution, arranged chiastically but not along gender lines. In what may be an added verse to the otherwise tightly constructed chapter (v.31) all Israelites, men and women, are warned to be on guard against uncleanness. In case we have any doubt above the overall structure of the essay, we find the apt conclusion in vv. 32-33:

Such is the ritual concerning one who has a discharge, and him who has an emission of semen and becomes unclean thereby, and concerning her who is in her menstrual infirmity: anyone, that is, male or female, who has a discharge, and also the man who lies with an unclean woman.

“Anyone…male or female” — that is the key to Leviticus, which establishes impurity rules, but does not discrimiate between men and women. Both are agents of impurity insofar as either emits an bodily substance through the sexual organs. The remarkable thing is how the Rabbis interpret the same rules with an entirely different criterion in mind…

…the key to body-fluid pollution should be sought in the issue of control….At issue is a deeper perception that the Rabbis have of men on the one hand and women on the other….this underlying perception takes us back once again to blood as the Rabbis’ primary means of symbolizing gender issues. The binary opposition obtains between men who are in control of their blood, so of themselves, and therefore of society; and women, who lacking control of blood and therefore of self, are thus denied control of society as well.
— Hoffman, Covenant of Blood,* pp. 149-150, 154

Much of this book is available through Google Books’ preview, so it’s easy to check out quickly. But consider investing in a copy. Particular as it may seem on first glance, this is a very wide-ranging and useful resource.

* Please see Source Materials for full citations and additional information.

Click on the “WeeklyTorah” tag for more resources on the weekly portion throughout the year, or on a portion name for parashah-specific notes. (The series began with Numbers; posts for Genesis, Exodus and Leviticus are being drafted, week-by-week.) You can also zero-in on particular types of “Opening the Book” posts by clicking Language and Translation, Something to Notice, a Path to Follow, or Great Source in the tag cloud.

The “Opening the Book” series is presented in cooperation with the independent, cross-community Jewish Study Center and with Kol Isha, an open group pursuing spirituality from a woman’s perspective at Temple Micah (Reform). “A Song Every Day” is an independent blog, however, and all views, mistakes, etc. are the author’s.

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