Weekly Parashah Articles

Tazria

Is it sin to give birth to a child?

The question which titles this article might sound weird, however some readers of the Bible believe that it is the case because Lev 12:6 reads,

‘When the days of her purification are completed, for a son or for a daughter, she shall bring to the priest at the doorway of the tent of meeting a one year old lamb for a burnt offering and a young pigeon or a turtledove for a sin offering.[1]

Since the text unambiguously prescribes to make “a sin offering” people very often conclude that a sin was committed in this situation. And as the childbirth is the only event described in Lev 12, one may assume that the childbirth equals sin. Can it be true?

English Bibles are translated from Hebrew and it is not always possible to transmit the meaning of the original text, especially when it contains a lot of technical terms. Some scholars call these terms “Levitical jargon” which is pretty correct.

Using this special language Moses describes five rituals:

  • ola (עֹלָ֤ה) – Lev 1 – a burnt offering
  • minkha (מִנְחָה֙) – Lev 2 - an offering of meal
  • zevakh shlomim (זֶ֥בַח שְׁלָמִ֖ים) – Lev 3 – a sacrifice of peace offerings
  • khattat (חַטָּ֖את) – Lev 4 a sin offering
  • asham (אֲשָׁמֹ֣) – Lev 5 – a guilt offering

All these names signify different types of the offerings and what is important, one should never understand these titles literally. And particularly when one reads Lev 12, a literal approach with result a misinterpretation. When a woman who recently gave birth would bring her animal for the sin offering, it did not mean that she committed a transgression.

The fundamental difference between a sinner and a woman who gave birth is the absence of repentance in the second case. The woman did not have to repent at all. But why then she was required to sacrifice an animal? Rabbis suggested that when a woman would kneel in bearing of a child feeling a strong pain, she would swear not to have relations with her husband in order to avoid to feel this pain again (Tractate Naddah 31b). This explanation is probably insufficient although innovative.

A comparison between Lev 4:31 and Lev 12:7 may shed some light to our problem.

Lev 4:31 He shall remove all its fat, just as the fat is removed from the sacrifice of well-being; and the priest shall turn it into smoke on the altar, for a pleasing odor to the LORD. Thus the priest shall make expiation for him, and he shall be forgiven.  

Lev 12:7 ‘Then he shall offer it before the LORD and make atonement for her, and she shall be cleansed from the flow of her blood. This is the law for her who bears a child, whether a male or a female.

The first quotation explains what happened with a sinner. It reads, “Thus the priest shall make expiation for him, and he shall be forgiven.”

The second quotation says, “make atonement for her, and she shall be cleansed from the flow of her blood.”

The woman was not forgiven, but she was cleansed. The ritual khattat or a sin offering was required because thanks to that the priest was able to transfer something to the sanctuary. In case of sin, the sin was transferred, and in case of a ritual impurity, the ritual impurity was transferred to the sanctuary which in its turn was cleansed once a year during Yom Kippur.

Thus, a priest who officiated woman’s sacrifice in fact transferred her ritual impurity from her to the sanctuary, but not her sin.

 

Alexander Bolotnikov, Phd

Daniel Gordan

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[1] Scripture quotations taken from the New American Standard Bible® (NASB), Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation Used by permission. www.Lockman.org.