Metzora (parsha) - in Classical Rabbinic Interpretation - Leviticus Chapter 15

Leviticus Chapter 15

Tractate Zavim in the Mishnah and Tosefta interpreted the laws of male genital discharges in Leviticus 15:1–18. (Mishnah Zavim 1:1–5:12; Tosefta Zavim 1:1–5:12.)

The Mishnah taught that they inquired along seven lines before they determined that a genital discharge rendered a man unclean. A discharge caused by one of these reasons did not render the man impure or subject him to bringing an offering. They asked: (1) about his food, (2) about his drink, (3) what he had carried, (4) whether he had jumped, (5) whether he had been ill, (6) what he had seen, and (7) whether he had obscene thoughts. It did not matter whether he had had thoughts before or after seeing a woman. Rabbi Judah taught that the discharge would not render him unclean if he had watched animals having intercourse or even if he merely saw a woman's dyed garments. Rabbi Akiba taught that the discharge would not render him unclean even if he had eaten any kind of food, good or bad, or had drunk any kind of liquid. The Sages exclaimed to Rabbi Akiba that according to his view, no more men would ever be rendered unclean by genital discharge. Rabbi Akiba replied that one does not have an obligation to ensure that there exist men unclean because of a genital discharges. (Mishnah Zavim 2:2.)

Rabbi Eleazar ben Hisma taught that even the apparently arcane laws of bird offerings in Leviticus 12:8 and menstrual cycles in Leviticus 12:1–8 and 15:19–33 are essential laws. (Mishnah Avot 3:18.)

Tractate Niddah in the Mishnah, Tosefta, Jerusalem Talmud, and Babylonian Talmud interpreted the laws of menstruation in Leviticus 15:19–33. (Mishnah Niddah 1:1–10:8; Tosefta Niddah 1:1–9:19; Jerusalem Talmud Niddah 1a–; Babylonian Talmud Niddah 2a–73a.)

Rabbi Meir taught that the Torah ordained that menstruation should separate a wife from her husband for seven days, because if the husband were in constant contact with his wife, the husband might become disenchanted with her. The Torah, therefore, ordained that a wife might be unclean for seven days (and therefore forbidden to her husband for intercourse) so that she should become as desirable to her husband as when she first entered the bridal chamber. (Babylonian Talmud Niddah 31b.)

Interpreting the beginning of menstrual cycles, as in Leviticus 15:19–33, the Mishnah ruled that if a woman loses track of her menstrual cycle, there is no return to the beginning of the niddah count in fewer than seven, nor more than seventeen days. (Mishnah Arakhin 2:1; Babylonian Talmud Arakhin 8a.)

The Mishnah taught that a woman may attribute a bloodstain to any external cause to which she can possibly attribute it and thus regard herself as clean. If, for instance, she had killed an animal, she was handling bloodstains, she had sat beside those who handled bloodstains, or she had killed a louse, she may attribute the stain to those external causes. (Mishnah Niddah 8:2; Babylonian Talmud Niddah 58b.)

The Mishnah related that a woman once came to Rabbi Akiba and told him that she had observed a bloodstain. He asked her whether she perhaps had a wound. She replied that she had a wound, but it had healed. He asked whether it was possible that it could open again and bleed. She answered in the affirmative, and Rabbi Akiba declared her clean. Observing that his disciples looked at each other in astonishment, he told them that the Sages did not lay down the rule for bloodstains to create a strict result but rather to produce a lenient result, for Leviticus 15:19 says, “If a woman has an issue, and her issue in her flesh is blood” — only blood, not a bloodstain. (Mishnah Niddah 8:3; Babylonian Talmud Niddah 58b.)

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