Sunday, April 14, 2013

why the difference in time for tumas leida for boy vs. girl?

My daughter asked why is it that the tumas hayoledes for a girl baby is twice the length of that for a boy baby (2 weeks of tumah followed by 66 days of dmei taharah as opposed to 1 week of tumah and 33 days of dmei taharah for a boy)?  Ramban and other Rishonim (e.g. Ralbag, Abarbanel, R' Bachye) generally take one of two approaches: 1) There is some relationship between tumas yoledes and the time it takes for cells to go from an embryonic stage to become a fetus, which is 40 days for a boy and 80 for a girl; 2) The recovery time for the birth of a girl is longer and more difficult than that for a boy.  I think we would all agree that neither of these answers are scientifically accurate (see the first Ramban on the parsha, who seemed to be concerned enough with scientific accuracy to quote the doctors of his time and the philosophers on an issue that Chazal had already weighed in on) and I doubt an intelligent person would be satisfied with either approach.  So how would you answer the question?  The Netziv writes that the father always really wants a boy, so he draws closer to his wife faster after the birth of a boy than after the birth of a girl.  (I challenge you to give that answer to your daughter, if you have one.)  That may explain the difference between the 7 and 14 day wait, but does not explain the difference between the 33 vs. 66 days.  Without resorting to a mystical explanation of tumas yoledes, what would you say?  

Parenthetically, I saw pointed out that the question of why a yoledes bring a korban chatas (what did she do wrong?) should not even get off the ground, as the chatas of a mechusar kippurim as nothing to do with sin.  See Rashi Kerisus 8b, "Mevi'im chatas v'lo al cheit elah le'echol b'kodhsim." 


  1. The MO community has developed a very nice response to this question, I believe. One approach I have heard a few times is to view tumas yoledes as a period of separation from Mikdash because it is a period of intense internal/inward focus for the new mother on her relationship with her new baby. After that period, she can "come back out," return to the mikdash and rejoin communal life. The relatively longer period of isolation for a daughter versus a son reflects human reality that a mother's identification with her daughter is in some sense even more complete and strong than with a son, and the gradual natural process of separating/individuating from a son is naturally somewhat easier and faster for the mother than separating from a daughter. This is reflected and symbolized in the Torah by the relatively longer separation period for a daughter.

    In the same vein, I have heard it suggested that the bris milah itself -- which is mentioned here seemingly out of context (although of course it is used in midreshei halacha ) -- represents a kind of early separation and individuation for the baby boy, whereby he officially becomes a member of the larger Jewish community and not just his parents' baby. As such, this milestone helps to terminate the initial (7-day) period of separation/tum'a as well as shorten the subsequent 33 day period, upon birth of a baby boy. Whereas there is no comparable milestone or ritual for a baby girl -- her identification and connection with her mother remains more absolute and strong, and so the separation period for her mother is consequently longer.

    These ideas may or may not be your cup of tea, and I am not suggesting that this is definitively the "real meaning" of these halachos, but I do think it is a very nice rationalist approach that may be helpful for modern intelligent thinkers.

    1. Let me add, for the record, that my wonderful wife disagrees with this. However, at least I did not feel embarrassed suggesting the theory to her.

  2. I once heard that;

    We understand tumas leidah to be like some other tumos , ie a loss of some 'life' broadly defined. A girl herself has the capacity to produce more children, hence she has more 'life capacity' than a boy, hence when the mother gives birth to a girl, she has more tumah as more 'life' is lost..

    Not sure if you would call this mystical or not, the basic idea that tumah is caused by a loss of 'life' in broad terms is quite mainstream, I think.

  3. chaim b.5:53 PM

    Steven, I don't know why you identify this answer as uniquely MO, but be that as it may, it makes sense to me. However, let me add for the record that I told your answer to my wife and she didn't like it either, so we males obviously have a different understanding of the parsha than our wives : ) My wife asked: l'shitascha, why would there by tumas leida if the child dies? She did not think there is the same bond between baby and mother in that case, proof being there is no obligation of aveilus.

    SB, shouldn't it be the reverse? Since a girl can produce more life, less life capacity is lost? (R' Y.H. Henkin in his Shu"T Bnei Banim vol 2. writes that tumah = opposite of G-dliness. G-d cannot die; human mortality is therefore a sign of man's distance from being truly G-d-like. Then he adds this twist: G-d cannot produce offspring; therefore, birth, particularly the birth of a girl, who has a greater capacity to produce more offspring, is also a source of tumah.)

    Thank you both for your suggestions!

  4. A girl represents 'more life', as she herself has the ability to give life. Hence, there is more 'loss' of kedushah to the mother when she is born, and hence more tumah.

  5. Anonymous9:04 PM

    The Kutzker Rebbe says that tumah is result of the shechina departing. The greater the loss of the shechina's presence, the stronger the tumah; that is why, he explains, a tumas meis is the most intense form of tumah. Birth only involves a slight departure of shechinah from a person; not as much as death. Given that idea, perhaps girl's have more shechina to them; thus their departure from the mother brings about a greater level of tumah.


  6. chaim b.8:30 AM

    I could see your answer going over well with my girls, but it's certainly a novel idea to suggest that girls have more Shechina presence around them. The Maharal all over writes that women are chomer and men are tzurah, where tzurah is the higher level. Men are obligated in more mitzvos; men have a chiyuv of talmud torah. Why would you say a girl has a stronger inherent Shechina presence around her?
    (My daughters have been taught that women are exmpt from mitzvos aseh she'hazman gerama because women are on a higher spiritual level and don't need the extra mitzvos to perfect them. My son loves to point out these other Maharals to them and tell them that their teachers are engaging in pure apologetics.)
    (BTW, the Kotzker is not talking about the gemara Ta'anis 2 that says the keys to leida are in Hashem's hands alone, so He must be present at the birth -- should be the same effect for boy or girl.)

  7. @DBS I just came across that at the end of the fourth volume of Chiddushei Aggadoth on perek yotzei dofen. He says that the female is more receptiive to teh sechel hayulani than the man who has more sechel and chachma, which is the sechel hanivdal. He also mentions that it is learned from the word "vayiven," building because the woman completes the building of the man, for which reason chachma would pertain to her. Nevertheless, he emphasizes that the sechel hanivdal is associated with man.