5756 - #14

Childbirth and Circumcision

The laws pertaining to a yoledet, a woman after childbirth, are among the most perplexing in the Torah. As with such laws as kashruth and shatnez (the mixing of wool and linen), a chok always bewilders us as we, on one hand, strive to comprehend yet, on the other hand, recognize that the nature of the law inherently challenges the human mind. The chok of yoledet clearly presents similar problems -the entire procedure, the distinction between the birth of a boy and a girl. That yoledet, though, is such a command, whose purpose the human being can never truly understand, is not its distinctive difficulty; there are many mitzvot which are chukkim. The profound difficulty of yoledet is that it challenges our very perception of many Torah concepts. Why does the yoledet have to bring a sin offering - what did she do wrong?[1] Why should the yoledet, having fulfilled the important mission of bringing a child into the world, become tameh, ritually unpure, a status that is usually connected with a negative occurrence?[2] The very nature of this tumah, specifically in its second stage, itself is noteworthy -- why is this blood in its first stage tameh and then in its latter stage tahor, it is the same blood?[3] and if the blood, in the latter stage, is, in fact, tahor, as evidenced by the fact that husband-wife relations are permitted, why is she still barred from entering the Beit Hamikdash? [4] Yoledet, as with all chukkim, tests the human mind but this mitzvah presents an even greater challenge for it also forces us to confront our axioms of Torah understanding.

Yet, within this arena of questions the one that draws my attention is the connection between yoledet and mila, circumcision. Why does the Torah interrupt its description of the laws of yoledet to inform us that on the eighth day, the male child is circumcised? What does yoledet have to do with mila? As Rabbi Shimshom Raphael Hirsch, Vayikra 12:4,5 clearly points out, this interjection cannot be deemed a simple description of events as they happen but must represent "some deeper connection between these two institutions." And so, such commentators as Rabbi Hirsch, the Kli Yakar, the Ohr HaChaim, present solutions to explain this bond. Yet, while the gemara does not specifically ask why the law of circumcision is inserted in the text of yoledet, it is the Talmud's description of the connection between the two mitzvot that I find most interesting. T.B. Niddah 31b informs us that mila is on the eighth day for prior to this day, the father and mother would not be able to fully join in the celebration. Rashi explains that since, prior to this day, relations between the father and mother are prohibited (because of her status as a yoledet), there is a sadness between the parents; only when that sadness is removed, do we continue with the celebration of mila.[5] The first stage of yoledet separates a husband and wife causing sadness between them. Mila, though, should not occur during a time of this sadness, and so the first stage of yoledet forces us to postpone mila.

The fact that the laws of yoledet separate a husband and wife is most powerful. Childbirth is specifically a time of union; this is even more pronounced in our modern world which encourages the father to be involved in the birth process. Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik,[6] building upon Rashi, Bereishit 2:24, in fact, points to the child as the reflection of the union of the husband and wife. Yet, at childbirth, when the personification of the union enters the world, the Torah declares that husband and wife must be separated!?

Rabbi Soloveitchik,[7] in a fuller discussion which he also ties to the general laws of niddah, explains that Man must continuously fluctuate between triumph and defeat. Each human strives to bond withhis/her spouse, only, as union is within grasp, to face defeat and withdrawal upon the onset of the niddah period. While Rabbi Soloveitchik did not apply these words to yoledet, the same concept may apply. As Man approaches the greatest triumph, the ultimate bonding, in the birth of a child, he must withdraw. But why?

T.B. Eruvin 100b informs us that dam niddah, the blood of menstruation (and, by association, all the laws connected to this state), arose from the sin of Adam and Chava. As yoledet is compared to niddah, the connection to Adam and Chava can also be suggested for this status as well. The union of husband and wife, so necessary to the human being, has a purpose - that purpose is the one initiated by the actions of Adam and Chava. We cannot be content in achieving the triumph of union. We must step back at this most important point in time - to recognize that our goal, the goal of the important bond of husband and wife is to bring this world to shlaimut, perfection. Thus, specifically at the point of childbirth, the Torah decrees the separation of yoledet.

But once that recognition is cemented in our consciousness, the goal of life needs the love of husband and wife in order to achieve success. That is why, at the point of milah when the child is dedicated to the service of Hashem, the union of the parents should be whole. The child must be brought up within this atmosphere of love.

And, after the initial step of defeat that marks the beginning of yoledet, we also find the remarkable law that during the second stage, nothing (no blood) may separate the husband and wife, for their union is whole - through the birth of a child and a period of withdrawal so that the purpose of union may itself be discerned.[8]

Rabbi Benjamin Hecht e-mail




[1] See, further, T.B. Niddah 31b.

[2] See, further, Nechama Leibowitz, Studies in Vayikra, Tazria I.

[3] See T.B. Niddah 35b.

[4] See, further, Abarbanel, Vayikra 12:1 which presents even more problems.[

[5] See Spark of the Week 5754 - #26 for an inquiry into the connection between this Talmudic dicta and the modern halachic practice between husband and wife which necessarily results in mila, specifically when performed on time, occurring when relations are prohibited.

[6] See Shiurei HaRav, A Conspectus of the Public Lectures of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, "Adam and Eve".

[7] See Shiurei HaRav, "The Dual Aspects of Jewish Morality".

[8] See also Maharam Shick al haTorah, Parshat Tazria. It may be interesting for the reader to consider the ideas presented in developing answers to the many other questions regarding yoledet that were presented.

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