Elaine Goodfriend, who edited the commentary to accompany the portion Metzora in The Torah: A Women’s Commentary,* notes a number of reasons that menstruation was probably less common for ancient women compared with contemporaries:
sparser diet and later onset of menstruation;
earlier marriage and more pregnancies;
breast-feeding for 3 years (based on biblical stories).
I have read similar comments over the years. Was menstruation regarded in the ancient world, then, as out-of-the-ordinary, rather than a regular, natural process for women? I don’t know the answer, but it could explain much of the disconnect between the biblical and the modern understanding of women’s bleeding/discharge.
We can also consider a connection between menstruation and covenant. The prophet Zechariah speaks to “daughter Jerusalem” and “daughter Zion” about “your covenant of blood” as that which releases prisoners from the dry pit (9:9-11).* It does not say “the covenant of blood,” as most translations render it, but rather emphasizes that blood is the focus of the covenant. The address to the feminine persona suggests that all “daughters of Zion” have that covenant of blood. It is through menstruation — from puberty when we accept our responsibilities as Jews, through the elder years when bleeding stops and deep wisdom starts — that the entire world is saved from the dry pit of death, in which there is no water, no womb, no regeneration, no rebirth.
See menstrual blood, then, as women’s covenantal blood — just as blood of b’rit milah (ritual circumcision) is men’s….
–Elyse Goldstein in The Torah: A Women’s Commentary** (p.675)
* gam-at [also you (fem. sing.) b’dam [in blood] b’riteich [of your (fem. sing. possessive) covenant]
** Please see Source Materials for full citation and additional information.
The “Opening the Book” series was originally presented in cooperation with the independent, cross-community Jewish Study Center and with Kol Isha, an open group that for many years pursued 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.