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This question was inspired by the account in Matthew of the events immediately following Jesus' birth. According to Matthew, Jesus was born in Bethlehem, but his parents took him away immediately after his birth.1

My limited knowledge of Jewish laws regarding the postnatal period leads me to believe that women who have just given birth are not allowed to travel until the period of impurity has ended, and if I'm not mistaken, this period lasts for a month in the case of a boy being born, or two months in the case of a girl being born.

The only scriptural evidence I was able to find is from a single translation of the bible, which I believe was written for Christians:

Leviticus 12:4

"Then she must stay at home for 33 days in order to be made clean from her bleeding. She must not touch anything holy or go into the holy place until the days needed to make her clean are over."

The obvious confusion this question has caused leads me to wonder if this is simply a misunderstanding/mistranslation. The only other source I found was a book about the nativity narrative, written by and for Christians, which increases my suspicions about a possible mistranslation.

Would it be permissible for a woman who has recently given birth to undertake a long journey before the period of impurity has ended?


1 If it makes a difference, it is widely accepted among most scholars that this account is incorrect, because it suggests that Herod killed thousands of babies over the course of a few days, which is not recorded in any other historical documents (and it is virtually impossible to imagine that scribes would fail to record such an atrocity), and it is generally believed that Jesus was actually born in Nazareth. Matthew probably invented the story of the birth in Bethlehem in an attempt to make Jesus better fit the expectations that the messiah would be from the house of David.

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    You should consider comparing Christian translations to Jewish ones (such as the one found here mechon-mamre.org/e/et/et0.htm) when you have questions. The phrase "at home" in that quote isn't found in the Hebrew as far as I can tell.
    – Double AA
    Aug 16, 2015 at 4:13
  • @DoubleAA - I did check a few other translations, and I'd begun to suspect that this was a mistranslation problem. Thanks for the help!
    – Wad Cheber
    Aug 16, 2015 at 23:43
  • The Hebrew word here is תֵּשֵׁ֖ב which literally means 'to sit', so a literal translation would be 'she shall sit for 33 days'. In regular English, she must wait ('sit' it out?) until the 33 days pass before she can purify herself and come to the Temple.
    – simyou
    Nov 22, 2019 at 11:28

4 Answers 4

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From the perspective of Jewish law, she can travel as long as her doctor is okay with it.

Leviticus was saying not to enter the Temple, because she's ritually impure. That status of ritual impurity wouldn't affect any other travel today.

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Leviticus 12:4

And for thirty three days, she shall remain in the blood of purity; she shall not touch anything holy, nor may she enter the Sanctuary, until the days of her purification have been completed.

She shall not enter the Temple or touch (eat) any sacred items. It has nothing to do with travel away from her home. As Rashi says

she shall not touch [anything holy]: [Although the verse says “shall not touch,” this is] a warning against one eating [anything holy] as is taught in Tractate Yev. (75a).

she shall not touch] anything holy: This comes to include terumah [being prohibited to this woman, before she is ritually clean (Torath Kohanim 12:16). This woman is considered a טְבוּל יוֹם, i.e., someone who has immerses in a mikvah, but must still wait for that day to elapse in order to become completely clean. Now, how is she considered a טְבוּל יוֹם ? We are talking here about a thirty-three day period. However, she does fall under this category] because she is considered a טְבוּלַת יוֹם אָרֹ [i.e., she must wait a “prolonged day,” insofar as] she immerses after seven [days], but the sunset that she must wait for [in order to become pure is not the sunset of the day of her immersion, but rather, it] is the sunset of the fortieth day [from birth], since it is [only] on the following day that she may bring the atonement [sacrifice] of her purification. [Thus, the whole period is to be considered one prolonged day, in the context of the law regarding her eating anything holy.]

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  • It's not sacred items, only sacred food. She's a טבולת יום ארוך and can't be matam'ah keilim.
    – Heshy
    Nov 22, 2019 at 11:41
  • @Heshy I will add Rashi to make it clear. Nov 22, 2019 at 12:45
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Aside from the other answers, we have an actual example in Jewish literature of a woman traveling within 30 days after childbirth:

Rav Yehuda said that Shmuel said: For a woman in childbirth, there is a halakha of thirty days. The Gemara asks: With regard to what halakha was this stated? The Sages of Neharde’a say: It was stated with regard to the halakha of immersion. A woman does not purify herself through ritual immersion within thirty days of giving birth because she is in a weakened state and susceptible to catching cold.

Rava said: We say that the ruling that she does not immerse during that period applies only when her husband is not with her. However, if her husband is with her, her husband warms her by engaging in relations with her, and she is not susceptible to catching cold, as is illustrated in this incident involving the daughter of Rav Ḥisda, Rava’s wife. She immersed within thirty days of giving birth, not in the presence of her husband, and caught cold, and afterward they brought her funeral bier* after Rava to Pumbedita.

(Talmud, Shabbat 129a, Sefaria translation)

'* Seems to be a mistranslation, because the point isn't that she died, but that she needed to be intimate with her husband to warm her up. A better translation is simply "bed."

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My limited knowledge of Jewish laws regarding the postnatal period leads me to believe that women who have just given birth are not allowed to travel until the period of impurity has ended, and if I'm not mistaken, this period lasts for a month in the case of a boy being born, or two months in the case of a girl being born.

You are wrong in this assumption. The translation you quoted from Lev 12:4 is definitely an erroneous paraphrase, mentioning she stays at home during the whole period of impurity. I found a couple of Bible versions, including NASB 2020 which shows the stay at home phrase in italics, suggesting it is supplied by translators with italics. They are making a conjecture that the woman is completely unclean for the full duration of 40 or 80 days, or that it is mandatory that she remains secluded for the whole period.

In reality, her first stage of impurity is severe (one or two weeks) in which she is contagious, she cannot touch anyone (Lev 15), but during the second stage, of 33 days for a boy, she can touch people, but not holy things such as temple sacrifices etc. (Lev 7, 22).

Gordon J. Wenham writes in The Book of Leviticus (TNICOT) (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1979), p. 186.

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The misunderstanding of translation must have come from dealing the word "she shall remain" to be "remain at home", rather than "remain in her condition of impurity". However, generally, the women must have been kept relatively isolated, because even though she is not contagious, she and the child are still unclean and require purification. But, for the sacrificial offering, she would naturally have to travel to Jerusalem as historical sources states, many people used to travel to the temple for the offering. For some detailed discussion, read Isaac W. Oliver's article and book Torah Praxis After 70 CE (2023).

Thus, to offer sacrifices, she would definitely have to travel and touch things and people. The severe uncleanness period is only for the first stage. However, it was customary in some other nations to maintain strict isolation for the mother and child for the full period, that some nations built a separate hut for them to stay there. We read in the African Bible Commentary (Zondervan 2010) on Lev. 12

By contrast, in many African societies both the child and its mother are considered unclean and must undergo purification rituals. For example among the Tsonga of Mozambique, both mother and child are kept in seclusion for a month, after which the infant is taken out and washed in purifying water containing salt. Among Christians of Garantia Apostolic Church of Zion, this washing is combined with the reading of Lev 12:1-5.

As for the Matthew's infancy narration, you should take it for what it is, a narration, not history. Ancient biographies were often embellished with such dramatic themes for the heroes. As Plutarch wrote in one of his biographies, "I am not writing history, but lives". The account of Herod's massacre of infants had nothing to do with prophecy fulfilment, it was just the contemporary literary requirement for dramatic embellishments. Scholars like Isaac Oliver have noted that the authors of the Gospels were very keen on demonstrating the Torah obedience. We can be assured that their knowledge of the law was perfect, and all the doubts raised by modern critical scholars against them are purely out of ignorance.

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  • "In reality, her first stage of impurity is severe (one or two weeks) in which she is contagious, she cannot touch anyone" - whilst she would indeed make others impure, becoming impure is not prohibited
    – AKA
    Jan 6 at 20:02
  • Perhaps you reject Torah or perhaps you used a wrong choice of word. You can say its not the end of the world, highly undesired. But If it wasn't "prohibited" , he or the niddah wouldn't be commanded to be separated,and the man who sleeps with her wouldn't be killed. Also see Lev 15:31. Make a new topic if you wanna ask about that.
    – Michael16
    Jan 7 at 3:50
  • Lev 15:25 And if a woman have an issue of her blood many days out of the time of her separation, or if it run beyond the time of her separation; all the days of the issue of her uncleanness shall be as the days of her separation: she shall be unclean
    – Michael16
    Jan 7 at 3:52
  • This discussion has been had the other time you asked this - nothing will be added by continuing this here.
    – AKA
    Jan 7 at 12:27

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