0

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it suggests that Herod killed thousands of babies over the course of a few days, which is not recorded in any other historical documents (and it is virtually impossible to imagine that scribes would fail to record such an atrocity), and it is generally believed that Jesus was actually born in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.

  • 5
    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 '15 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 stands with Monica Aug 16 '15 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 at 11:28
7

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.

2

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.]

  • It's not sacred items, only sacred food. She's a טבולת יום ארוך and can't be matam'ah keilim. – Heshy Nov 22 at 11:41
  • @Heshy I will add Rashi to make it clear. – sabbahillel Nov 22 at 12:45
0

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."

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .