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I read that women are unclean for two weeks after giving birth to a girl and seven days after giving birth to a boy. What does it tell us?

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Maybe the term "unclean" should be replaced with "teme'a" and linked to en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tumah_and_taharah. Uncleanliness seem to imply there is something objectively wrong with a women who gives birth. –  David Perlman May 17 '11 at 10:53
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@David I think we should leave it as it is in the question, since that's how the question is often posed. The answers can take care of defining terms properly. –  Isaac Moses May 17 '11 at 12:36
    
See here for a 3-part class on the impurity associated with childbirth by Rabbi Yossi Paltiel: insidechassidus.org/spring/251-parsha-tazria/… –  Menachem May 5 '13 at 3:14

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I recommend that you take a look at the commentary of R' Samson Raphael Hirsch on Leviticus 12, and in particular 12:5. I'll try to summarize the pertinent points here, but I won't do his beautiful thoughts and words justice.

The "uncleanliess" you're referring to is "tum-a." According to R' Hirsch, tum-a is a mental condition that would prevent a person from participating in holy practices with the correct mindset. In particular, many types of tum-a cause this problem by afflicting a person with the illusion that people are trapped by the physical world and have no genuine free will. One can't participate in the holy service, in which one dedicates some aspect of oneself to God, without a complete sense that one is approaching God out of free choice. The paradigm of this type of tum-a is contact with a human corpse, which can give a person the depressing impression that people have no more value than this inanimate body.

In the process of giving birth, a woman necessarily surrenders to the overwhelming physical process and thus is intimately subject to the illusion that she is an unfree object of natural forces rather than the holy, volitional being that she is. Until enough time has passed for the depressing effects of this spiritual trauma to ebb, she needs to take a break from holy offerings that require a whole spirit. That's the tum-a that she experiences. The first stage of such recovery takes seven days.

That's for the mother. Of course, the child who's born also goes through a traumatic physical process and what's more, needs to be inducted for the first time into the world of free-willed submission to God. For this purpose, we have different processes for a son and for a daughter. For a son, we do circumcision (12:3), which R' Hirsch says represents "the free willed moral subordination of our physical bodily sensuality under the laws of God" (see his commentary on Genesis 17 for more).

For a daughter, the mother goes through the tum-a recovery period for a second time. It will be the mother's job, in addition to serving as a free-willed moral Jewish Woman in her own right, to also serve as a model of that role for her new daughter. "... and at the birth of each fresh daughter has doubly to arm herself, for the child and for herself, to tread the lofty path of purity and morality up to the heights preached by the Sanctuary of God."

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Isaac, why have your glottal stops turned into hyphens? Uh-oh! –  WAF May 17 '11 at 2:14
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@WAF To distinguish from non-stops on one hand and from guttural stops (for which I use an apostrophe) on the other. –  Isaac Moses May 17 '11 at 2:20
    
K'le Yakar (to Vayikra 12:2) says something I don't understand, but it might be along similar lines to RSRH's. –  msh210 Jul 11 '12 at 4:50
    
@msh210 Based on your transliteration scheme (as I remember it) it seems you are treating כלי with a tzere and יקר with two kematzim. However, the only place in Tanach I can find the phrase is Mishlei 20:15 where כלי has a chirik and יקר has a shva na' under the yod. –  Double AA Dec 31 '12 at 5:52
    
@msh210 Though I see now in his introduction he (Shlomo Efraim Luntschitz) writes: וקראתיו כלי יקר על שם הבן יקיר לי אפרים (ירמיה לא יט), ופסוק כלי יקר שפתי דעת אמרו שלמה (משלי כ טו), ובזה נכללו בו שני שמותי, –  Double AA Dec 31 '12 at 5:54

One way to look at Tuma is that it is a lack of holiness. When a women gives birth she has less life inside her, and thus less holiness.

When she gives birth to a girl she lost more holiness than with a boy because the girl inside her also has the capacity to grow life.

http://www.613design.com/tti/articles/tahara-tuma.pdf

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Was she extra pure before giving birth? Shouldn't she now return to normal? –  Double AA May 5 '13 at 2:37
    
It's the change in holiness that causes tuma, not the value. –  Ariel May 5 '13 at 2:38
    
So you're agreeing with my comment, just noting it's the process of falling which causes the tuma. –  Double AA May 5 '13 at 2:41
    
@DoubleAA I don't think there is a "baseline" of holiness. i.e. no such concept of extra pure, normal, etc. But loosing some (falling) causes Tuma. –  Ariel May 5 '13 at 2:51

The gemoro niddah 31b asks this question. The gemoro answers that tuma is dependant on when she will accept her husband back again. Rather a new notion for it. That the idea of tuma is to stop her being available for her husband so that he should not be able to 'force' or 'pressurise' her into it. And for a boy where everyone is pleased it is after seven days and for a girl fourteen.

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The status of "tumah" is not meant to imply sinfulness, degradation or inferiority. On the contrary, it emphasizes, in particular, the great level of holiness inherent in woman's G‑dly power to create and nurture a new life within her body, and the great holiness of a husband and wife's union, in general. Since a woman possesses this lofty potential, she, also bears the possibility of its void. http://m.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/510244/jewish/Ritual-purity-after-birth-of-males-and-females.htm

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Welcome to Mi Yodeya. I like where you're going with this, but would you mind fleshing out what you meant in your last sentence by summarizing what is in the link. A brief summary might better encourage people to go to the link. –  Bruce James Mar 27 at 20:11

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