In this post, I will be discussing the rules surrounding 3 situations during which a state of uncleanness occurs as described in the Torah.
- Menstrual cycles
The topics covered in this post are quite sensitive and some will find this post outright uncomfortable, so I apologize for that upfront.
What does it mean to be unclean according to the Torah?
Before we jump in let’s address the elephant in the room…When someone hears the term “unclean” it creates a very negative impression. The idea of dirt, grime, and germs immediately comes to mind.
But uncleanness according to biblical standards is not about germs or making someone feel dirty. It’s actually referring to ritual imperfection, a state during which one was not allowed to enter the temple of Elohim.
And so you shall keep the sons of Israel separated from their uncleanness so that they will not die in their uncleanness by their defiling My tabernacle that is among them.
And while we no longer have a temple to enter, in my humble opinion, I believe we are still expected to follow certain instructions when these situations occur.
So let’s take a closer look…
Uncleanness due to the menstrual cycle
When a woman begins her regular menstrual cycle, she becomes unclean for 7 days. (Leviticus 15:19)
This time is not a measure of hours. Day 1 actually begins the day on which the blood is discovered even if it’s a few minutes before sunset. This time period extends through to the end of Day 7 at sunset.
So if the blood is discovered Tuesday afternoon, then the time of separation will end on the following Monday evening at sunset.
No washing is necessary by the woman in order to become clean. This simply occurs by default at the end of the 7th day.
During this time, anything on which the woman lies or any object on which she sits shall become unclean. (Leviticus 15:20)
This would presumably include not only the actual mattress but also any sheets, blankets, pillows, and any other item on a bed.
It’s not 100% clear how long these things remain unclean. It could be until evening or perhaps until her 7-day period of separation is complete. Considering them unclean until her period of separation is complete would be the most prudent approach. No requirement to wash these items is mentioned.
Any person (man or woman) who touches the woman during her time of separation must wash their entire body with water and be unclean until the following sunset. (Leviticus 15:19)
Any person who touches anything on which the woman sits or lies, must also wash their entire body and wash their clothes. They then will be unclean until the following sunset. (Leviticus 15:21-23)
Having intimate relations with a woman during her menstrual cycle is strictly forbidden. (Leviticus 18:19; Leviticus 20:18)
Should a man have sexual relations with a woman during this time, he becomes unclean for 7 days. Any bed on which he lies shall become unclean. (Leviticus 15:24)
Uncleanness from semen
If a man has an emission of semen, he must wash his entire body with water and be unclean until the following sunset. (Leviticus 15:16)
Should the semen get on any article of clothing or cover the item must be washed with water and be unclean until sunset. (Leviticus 15:17)
If the man has sexual intercourse so that there is an emission of semen, then both the man and woman shall wash their entire bodies in water and be unclean until sunset. (Leviticus 15:18)
Uncleanness after childbirth
If a woman gives birth to a male child, she shall be unclean for 7 days. (Leviticus 12:2)
All of the same guidelines and prohibitions as her usual 7-day menstrual cycle apply during this time. (Leviticus 12:2)
At the end of the 7 days, a woman was considered clean in every way except she was not allowed to touch anything holy or approach the temple for an additional 33 days, a total of 40 days altogether. (Leviticus 12:4)
With no temple or priests, my understanding is that the extra 33 days have no practical application today.
If a woman gives birth to a female child, she shall be unclean for 14 days. (Leviticus 12:5)
All of the same guidelines and prohibitions as her usual 7-day menstrual cycle apply during this time. (Leviticus 12:5)
At the end of the 14 days, a woman was considered clean in every way except she was not allowed to touch anything holy or approach the temple for an additional 66 days, a total of 80 days altogether. (Leviticus 12:5)
With no temple or priests, my understanding is that the extra 66 days have no practical application today.
Additional notes on washing
Regarding the instructions above for those instances when washing ourselves is required:
- No soap is required for washing our bodies but of course, it can be used if desired.
- The Hebrew word here (rachats) which translates to “wash self” or “bathe” indicates something more than simple immersion in water (as with a mikvah). Instead, some degree of scrubbing (with hands, washrag or bath sponge for example) better fits this translation.
Regarding the instructions above for those instances when washing our clothes is required:
- No soap is required for washing our clothes but of course, it can be used if desired.
- The Hebrew word here (kabas) which translates to “wash”, also indicates some degree of scrubbing.
- This can of course be done in a washing machine or even in a sink using some degree of agitation with your hands.
As for whether we need to wash immediately after becoming unclean or if we can wait until later, we are given a clue in Deuteronomy:
If there is among you any man who is unclean because of a nocturnal emission, then he must go outside the camp; he may not reenter the camp. But when evening approaches, he shall bathe himself with water, and at sundown, he may reenter the camp.
From this verse, we can see that the expectation is to bathe “as evening approaches”. So obviously it’s not an urgent matter and probably can be completed anytime before sundown.
With the temple no longer standing, one may be wondering if these commands from the Torah regarding these issues still apply today.
The fact is, temple or not, we are still commanded to follow certain instructions when these circumstances arise.
And I believe if we want to walk in obedience to Elohim, then we must do all of this as He instructed.
If you have questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me here.