FROM THE BIBLE: The Causes of Legal Impurity in Judaism

Por: diácono Orlando Fernández Guerra

An important clue to immerse yourself in Sacred Scripture and to understand the culture underlying the text is to know the traditions that shaped Israel’s uniqueness as a people, among the nations around it. Most of these traditions had their genesis in the Pentateuch, especially in the book of Leviticus from chapters eleven to fifteen. And then they became known as the law of legal purity, whose observance was strictly erected in the expression of God’s will for his people.
Around 220 AD.C, a rabbi named Yehudá collected in the Misná a set of these oral traditions of the Law, which were one of the sources from which one of the most important books of rabbinical Judaism was nurtured: the Talmud. It is claimed that most of these requirements were already in force in the 1st century.C, so we inferred that both Jesus and the early Christians would observe them daily, like any other Jew.
The law of purity was expressed in five different degrees. First, a Jew had to walk away from dead and/or sick animals or people. Thus, whoever had touched a corpse or bones or earth of some tomb would have lost its purity (No. 19.11,13,16; Lk 10.30-36). Among the polluting and legally impurity-causing diseases were leprosy, blindness and limping (Lev 13.8,20,25,51; 21.18). Preparing food with water where a mosquito or other insect had died made it useless to the vessel, which was to be destroyed immediately (Lev 11.33-34; 15.12).
Second, male sexual flows (Lev 15.17,32-33) or women’s menstruation (Lev 15.19,26) were causing impurity. Thus, after a sexual intercourse both will be impure until the afternoon (Lev 15.18). The woman who is menstruating will be unclean for seven days (Lev 15.19) and whoever touches her – whether her husband or children – will be equally impure. Also, sitting in a chair, lying on her bed, touching her dresses or any object she has used were cause of impurity (Lev 15.20-24). And if the blood flow was not removed, it would remain unclean for the duration of that process (Lev 15.25). Hence we understand the spiritual misery in which the woman who suffered blood flows for twelve years would live and that Jesus healed (Mt 9:20-22). When a woman conceived a male child, seven days was impure and after childbirth for thirty-three days, but if she was a child, she was unclean for two weeks and after childbirth sixty-six days after which she was to appear before a priest with a sacrifice (Lev 12.2-6).
Third, there is the pollution that comes from the pagan world. According to the treatise Aboda Zara de la Misná, you cannot even sell pineapples, figs, incense, a white rooster, no bears, no lions, or anything that could cause harm to people. They cannot be rented houses within the territory of Israel, nor helped in the birth of a gentle woman, because a child would be helped to be born for idolatry. A Jew is not allowed to enter a pagan’s house, let alone sit at his table for lunch. Hence how scandalous it must have seemed for Jesus to relate to Gentiles and best give them the grace of his miracles (Mt 8.8; 15.26).
Fourthly, it’s about sabbatical rest. This is not simply a ban on doing work on that day (Mt 12.2), but includes not walking more than necessary (Mk 2.24). And this affected machinery of habitual work such as mills and even animals, which should not move without some restrictions (Mt 12.11). If a donkey hadn’t had his blanket placed on his back before Saturday, it could no longer be done. Jewish casuistics had regulated almost any activity of daily life by expressing it in 365 negative precepts and 248 positive precepts.
Fifth, there were the Jewish dietary prescriptions that we will discuss in the next article, so complex and varied. In order to reintegrate into the cult community, it was necessary to submit to the rites of purification established by each case (Lev 12-15). And participate each year on the great Day of Atonement (Lev 16), in which the “scapegoat” he carried with all the impurities and sins of the people was sent into the wilderness to starve. These practices that served to keep alive in Israel the sense of holiness, often enclosed elementary principles of hygiene that are still the foundation of health in any society today. Ω

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