On the "feminine impurity": when the New Testament does not notice the Old
Today there are various rules in the Church regarding “ritual impurity” that vary from coming to coming. Priest Alexy Volchkov, a clergyman of the St. Theodore Cathedral in St. Petersburg and a teacher of the Old Testament, understands where the idea of “female impurity” came from and how these prescriptions are interpreted in modern times.
Priest Alexy Volchkov
Today we will talk about what is usually not the subject of discussion. Immediately enter a word that will replace everything that we will talk about. It is given to us by the Old Testament itself: this word is “nidda” (niddah). It has two meanings: neutral and highly negative. The first meaning of the word "nidda" is menstruation, which happens to a woman regularly. The second meaning, which is derived and which affects the understanding of this state, is something nasty, impure, that which causes (these are not my words, the Bible understands this word) disgust. It is quite normal to replace the concept of sin, vice with the word "nidda." “You, Israel, sin, you have nidda. You are in a state of nidda. ”
Pure and unclean: there is no limit to "pedagogy"
Take the Book of Leviticus and read two verses from chapter 10.
10 so that you may distinguish the holy from the unholy and the unclean from the clean,
11 and teach the children of Israel all the ordinances that the Lord spoke to them through Moses.
Why does God give Israel all this diversity of different rules, regulations and statutes related to the entire spectrum of human life? Trade, marriage, divorce, relationship with God, with his neighbor, children, parents – all of this is subject to coverage by the Old Testament law. It seems that this is in order to meticulously put everything in a hierarchical relationship in order to give young Israelis a guideline on how to live correctly. Even the whole physiological aspect of human life deserves close attention. It turns out that when a man or a woman is experiencing something in his body or is touching something special, they may turn out to be unclean. As a result, they will not be able to participate in religious life, they cannot be “kosher”, suitable for religious relationships: for prayer, visiting the temple, offering sacrifices. They can not be suitable for a full social life.
What causes uncleanness in the life of a person in the understanding of the authors of the Book of Leviticus who lived before Christ? For example, contact with something dead. Participating in a battle, when you kill someone, touch a dead body. The corpse of an animal. The science in Old Testament times, as we understand, was poorly developed, and therefore the whole variety of allergic reactions, skin lesions and eruptions on the body boiled down to two main diagnoses: deprive and leprosy. Considered and female filth. When can nidda occur? When a woman has bleeding. The woman who has nidda is unclean. Touching her makes you unclean too. I will say more: if a woman sat on your bed, and then went away, and there you sat down – you also turn out to be an unclean person; impurity strikes you, your body.
What else can cause the state of impurity? This applies to both men and women – various unhealthy discharge on the genitals, purulent discharge, which are interpreted by commentators as diseases, sexually transmitted infections – this is called "zava" and also gives a person a state of impurity. What is impurity? This is some kind of contagious disease that can be transmitted from person to person through touch, hug, exchange of some products or objects. The disease has a holistic nature, encompassing the whole person. It concerns his spiritual abilities, his spiritual qualities, religious competence. For example, you can touch your dead grandfather, you will not have any painful processes in your body, but you will become unclean and you will not be able to carry out religious cult activities.
Every impurity requires its elimination. There are three main elements that helped and help the Israelis to get rid of the state of impurity: the first of them is ablution (mikvah), and the second is the sacrifice, when turtle doves were brought to the temple. The third element is time. Water, sacrifice and time – that helps to find a state of purity.
From the fifteenth chapter to the very end, various aspects of all these subjects are exaggerated in Leviticus: leprosy, deprive, successful and unsuccessful childbirth, bleeding, ejaculation in a man, sexual intercourse. All this worries people and causes different feelings – shame, rejection, curiosity.
“If a woman has a flow of blood flowing from her body, then she must sit for seven days during her purification, and anyone who touches her will be unclean until the evening; 20 and everything upon which she lies during the course of her purification is unclean; and everything on which he sits is unclean; 21 And whoever touches her bed shall wash his clothes and bathe in water and be unclean until the evening; 22 And whoever touches any thing on which she sat must wash his clothes and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the evening; 23 And if anyone touches anything on the bed or on the thing on which she was sitting, he will be unclean until the evening; 24 If a man lies in bed with her, then her filth will be on him. he will be unclean for seven days, and every bed on which he lies will be unclean ”(Leviticus, 15: 19–23).
In another place, in chapter 17, the prohibition is much more severe: if a man has sexual contact with his wife, who is nidda, then severe punishment awaits them – expulsion, deprivation of the status of an Israeli. As it was all practiced in life, we do not know, but the rulings related to the regular periods in the life of a woman are unusually harsh and cruel for our time.
The ancients did not understand what was happening
Why did this happen? I read one article in which there was a parallel with Greek medicine. In the Greeks, menstruation was called cleansing and had a positive meaning: a woman is cleared of unnecessary, unnecessary, spent and after that turns out to be even cleaner than before. But in the Old Testament a negative perspective arises: a woman who experiences this condition is clearly perceived as a sin, an abomination, something that has no place in the life of Israel. Why is this happening? Scientists, anthropologists, psychologists, psychiatrists, biblical scholars, historians, and cultural scientists have a number of answers.
The first is a very likely explanation: the ancients did not understand what was happening. Blood gushing was connected in their minds with tragedy and disaster — for example, with a wound from an animal during a hunt. How can I bleed during the day after injury? You will die! And in women it happens regularly … There was a misunderstanding, and the inability to figure out, of course, caused a negative attitude of men. The second version is the connection of the female cycle with the moon. What is the moon? Goddess, cosmic forces! It caused men – and they were the creators of all these models and meanings – some kind of horror. If the connection is – is it good or bad? What to do with all this? ..
If you think about kosher food, the blood of an animal is unclean, you should not touch it, and only gently pour it down. And then the blood is straight in the center of family life! So is not a woman a source of family defilement? Observing the world of animals, the ancients could not find anything like it. Consequently, there was something wrong with the woman. This we now understand "not so" as a feature, an unusual feature. For the ancients, everything was simple: there is a normal and abnormal condition, and the “normal” states of a woman are to be a teenage girl or to be pregnant, to feed a child or to be an experienced old woman. During these periods of hemorrhage she does not have – it means that she “works correctly”, otherwise she produces uncleanness in the family on a regular basis.
Eero Jarnefelt. Jesus and the harlot, XX c.
The ancient world was the world of male domination, and men needed facts to confirm their dominance: in their opinion, a woman turns out to be lower than a man just because of her uncleanness, she is somehow broken, sick, and inferior. A man can be a Levite and a high priest, and a woman cannot do religious work because there is “breakdown” in her body. One witty commentator remarked that the woman in Leviticus has the only cult role, and she, of course, is negative: the role of the fortune-teller, stoned.
Anthropologists have suggested that the roots of the problem go back to tribal relations. A woman begins a cycle, it lasts 5–7 days, and during these five days she is inviolable. Seven more days after, according to the Old Testament laws, her immunity must be observed, and we end up with 12 days, when there is no contact between a man and a woman: then the woman begins to ovulate, and she can immediately become pregnant, so that the man’s strength is spent very focused. Another anthropological observation is that the Babylonian Talmud reports that Jewish women themselves were on the side of these principles and strictly followed them. Why? They put boundaries from men! In this position, they became the mistress: they first appeared personal space. Up to the turn of the XIX – XX centuries, no means of hygiene, except for elementary ones, existed. Therefore, women had to be on the sidelines, not to go anywhere and not to contact anyone. Sick? Sit at home!
What is the meaning of God’s impurity?
And what is the meaning that all the God of Israel put into it? Everywhere there are moments of activity and abstinence, and the ability to obey God even in some incomprehensible states is necessary. As Christian authors will say later, the topic of impurity must be spiritually understood. It should be interpreted allegorically as impurity not of the body, but of the soul! But this, of course, will be much later.
The topic of female blood is a problem in almost all ancient cultures. She always causes bewilderment, murmur or even hysterical horror in a man. This situation needs some logical explanation, myths, habits, rules should appear – and so, here and there the rules turn out to be even more severe. Among Zoroastrians, for example, sexual intercourse with a woman who has not yet emerged from a state of impurity, threatened a man with death. Subsequently, the topic of impurity receives a theological interpretation: intolerance of this phenomenon is becoming more and more distinct. We give two verses in support of my thesis. The first of these is the Book of Numbers, the fifth chapter:
“And the Lord said unto Moses, saying, They commanded the sons of Israel to send all the lepers out of the camp, and all who had the discharge, and all those who were defiled from the dead, and send men and women; send them out of the camp, so that they would not defile them, among whom I live ".
Why does a woman defile the camp of Israel? Why does excommunication await her? Next is Ezekiel, a highly respected and respectable prophet; chapter 36 verses 16–17:
“And the word of the LORD came unto me, Son of man! When the house of Israel lived on his land, he defiled her with his behavior and his deeds; Their way before my face was like the uncleanness of a woman during the cleansing of her. ”
Why there is no such image with a beard? For example, let's say a man grows a beard, it is natural – why does she not defile anything? It turns out that the Israeli woman is guilty of having nidda.
Healing bleeding. Byzantium, XIII century.
Here is what Josephus says: The Temple of Jerusalem, expanded by Herod and including places even for pagans, did not give a corner to women in the state of nidda. In Qumran, there were settlements where the sick and the nidda lived, and there was a separate cemetery for them. In the Talmud, there is a cycle of essays “On Purity”, and there are 12 treatises in it, which deal with stories related to nidda. For example, 12 days in a month it is impossible not only to have sexual contact, but also just hug or hold hands. I think it was very difficult. Well, how is it that when half of life you have to sit in different parts of the apartment with your wife? And if a woman died in this state, all the more it was impossible to come in contact with her. My husband had to watch from afar at how she was buried. I will say more: the woman had to constantly live in conditions of neurosis, fearing whether she was suddenly nidda. Maybe she ruined everything, and everything was ruined? ..
New Testament changes the case
We remember the story of the bleeding one, the three evangelists have – Mark, Matthew and Luke. Knowing all that we talked about, one can notice that a woman who finds herself in a meeting of religious men and touched someone there violates all the existing rules! It touches clothes, and Jesus turns out to be “unclean” – but He’s a teacher, he prays, preaches, teaches! But, as we know, the Gospel positively assesses this collision: “Dare, daughter, your faith has saved you.” She, being an outcast unworthy of life in Holy Israel, did everything right – this is the verdict of the Gospel.
When is this topic still coming up? In the parable of the good Samaritan. Same! Why did the Levite and the high priest pass by the wounded man? In order not to touch the blood. What if he is dead? Then everything is gone! They cannot help a sick or deceased person for religious reasons.
It seems that the Law and God are against helping one’s neighbor. But when Jesus Christ is on the side of Love, this Law does not work. Everything needs to be reviewed and changed.
In the entourage of Jesus Christ were women. It is a fact. Nobody sent them home, thus the topic of nidda was irrelevant there. It is important to recall the conversation with the Samaritan woman. The Jews had two opinions: either Samaritan women constantly bleed, or they relate very easily and can, for example, quietly go to the well. But Christ does not ask the Samaritan woman about her condition, He avoids an unhealthy obsession with the intimate subject and calmly communicates with the woman. The Apostle Paul also does not touch on this topic: he talks about food, circumcision, keeping the Sabbath, but never mentions women’s blood.
Methodius Olimpiyskiy, author of the turn of the II – III centuries AD e., writes the following:
“It is clear that one who was once purified through new birth (baptism) cannot be more tainted by what is mentioned in the Law.”
Since you have already been cleansed by baptism, impurity cannot defile you with anything! The next literary monument is “Didaskalia the Syrian”, written in the III century:
“If you think that women are deprived of the Holy Ghost for seven days after your cleansing, then if you died at this time, you would have departed empty and without any hope.”
Very good thought! There are other authors, and they all speak in favor of the fact that this topic should not be raised at all: let it remain in the Old Testament, and we will interpret everything allegorically. It is necessary to replace the physical ritual impurity on the moral, ethical – and deal with sins.
"Ordinary female" and modernity
But at the same time there is a discussion in the Christian environment, and of course, everything that we talked about before gains weight again: fear and misunderstanding of men, poor hygiene, and so on. These factors did not abolish, and therefore the Jewish rules began to penetrate again into the thick of Christian life. Apocrypha “The First Gospel of Jacob,” describing Mary’s childhood and the feast of the Entry into the Temple, says that Mary lived in the temple for up to twelve years, and then Her “ordinary female” began, and She was removed from the temple. And then Dionysius of Alexandria repeatedly writes that "it would be good for them to refrain from full-fledged church life." You do not have to go to church, you have to stay at home, because a woman in this state is inferior and unfit for religious life. The funny thing is that both Dionysius and Didaskalia refer to the same subject, namely the healing of the bleeding. Dionysius pays attention to the fact that she touched only the garment of Christ, and not His body: so how can you partake of the Body of the Lord if you are unclean?
Painting by Elena Cherkasova (XXI century)
We make a small conclusion. Who does not take communion with us? Two categories: pagans and sinners. It turns out that nidda is either a pagan or a sinner. There are canons that prescribe the impossibility of a full-fledged church life for a woman during her period when she is nidda.
Modern parishes solve this problem in different ways. Somewhere women are forbidden to enter the temple in general, but somewhere they can freely pray and take communion. Most often there is something in between: come in and stand at least at the iconostasis, but do not take communion and do not participate in the Sacraments. I think biblical scholars, physicians and psychologists should get together and try to give an answer: why modern Christians cannot take Communion?
It is necessary to formulate and substantiate this, because at the moment we rely on semi-primary prerequisites that have received a medical answer: it is already clear that this is not a disease and not a sin.
If we rely on Leviticus, then I have a question: why did we leave chapter 15, but refused, for example, from circumcision, to loyalty to the kosher ideas about food? Why did we leave the law of impurity, while others removed? I would like this to be the subject of modern reflection and debate.
Prepared by Elizaveta Trofimova
Original lecture here
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