Tahara (Purity) and Tumah (Impurity)

Insights into “Word Concepts” in Torah:
The Torah Portion of TAZRIAH Leviticus 12:1-13:59

Moshe Kempinski

Judaism The mikva unearthed in Vilna
The mikva unearthed in Vilna
צילום: PR

The Torah Portions of Tazria and Metzora continue the discussion of the laws of Tahara and Tumah , that is to say of “ritual purity and impurity” of the previous Torah portions.

These concepts of Tahara (Purity) and Tuma (Impurity) do not relate to what their English translations wrongly portray. These concepts have nothing to do with hygiene and personal cleanliness (Clean and Unclean). They also have nothing to do with powers of goodness as opposed to powers of evil (pure and impure). They also cannot be seen as some type of blot or physical manifestation that needs to be removed or cleansed.

They are concepts that can only be explained in picture form. Being Tahor is about being a potential vessel for the sacred and the holy, while being Tameh is about losing that potential. They represent a state of being.

We see that Tumah is connected with death and decay. Such death and decay represents the opposite of holiness and spiritual growth. The most extreme example of this and therefore the most potent source of Tumah is the human corpse. That is also why various types of animal carcasses and certain types of insects that are connected to death and decay can transmit such spiritual impurity. In a similar fashion, certain diseases of the reproductive tract that cause decay are also sources of this state.

Yet that connection to death and decay is in fact a symptom and not the cause. The Kotzker Rebbe explains that Tumah can actually only set in when holiness departs. That is to say that many things and people in our reality have great potential to be filed with holiness. When that potential is lost, the state of lost potential is called Tumah.

That is the reason that one will never find the concept of Tumah or spiritual un-cleanliness ever being applied to anything that does not also have the potential for Tahara spiritual cleanliness. If does not have the potential to be a vessel of the sacred and the holy, then one can never fall into the state of impurity and Tumah.

What then does all this have to do with the experience of childbirth?

Clearly a birth is a leaving of one state of being into another.

Leaving the womb in all its spiritual connotations is similar to leaving the Garden of Eden. Life and its expectation change dramatically. The possibilities of failing those expectations rise dramatically as well.

Our sages teach us that it is in the womb that a baby is taught all that he or she will need to know about the Divine nature of the world. Just before the baby is born the angel strikes the mouth of the baby right under the nose and leaves an imprint. The baby then forgets all that it has been taught.

 The rest of life is about recovery not discovery.

When one hears a deep spiritual truth , that truth resonates and the soul "leaps " at it.

Yet that loss of knowledge is a source of Tumah as well.

It is important to note that Judaism believes that women sense G-d from the inside out (Binah) . As opposed to men who sense it from the outside in (Chochmah). Clearly there are men with much Binah and women with muchChochmah. Yet that loss of that deep Binah in the child is a source of greater Tumah.

Confronting death and the curtailment of possibilities then  is always the source of Tumah.

Experiencing rebirth and renewal like in the Mikveh (ritual bath) or through other affirming experiences is the Life healing power of Tahara.


LeRefuat Yehudit Bat Golda Yocheved and Yehudit bat Chaya Esther