Leviticus 12:5 – A Daughter is Born

Leviticus 12 is about a woman’s status after giving birth. For some reason, her status depends upon whether her child is a boy or a girl.

Let’s start by reading the relevant verses, then try to understand the underlying concepts.

Leviticus 12:1-5

Leviticus 12

1. And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying,
2. Speak to the people of Israel, saying, If a woman conceives, and bears a male; then she shall be unclean seven days, as in the days of her menstrual flow shall she be unclean.
3. And in the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised.
4. And for thirty three days she shall abide in the blood of cleanliness; she shall touch no consecrated thing, nor come into the sanctuary, until the days of her cleanliness be fulfilled.
5. And if she gives birth to a female, she shall be unclean for two weeks like her menstrual flow, and for sixty six days she shall abide in the blood of cleanliness.

After the birth of a boy, the mother’s special status is for 7 days plus an additional 33 for a total of 40 days.

The contrast is with when she gives birth to a girl. Then her special status is for 14 days plus 66 for a total of 80 days. All the numbers are doubled. Why?

Click here to grab your copy of my free ebook How to Learn Chumash with Rashi.

Clean and Unclean

A frequent theme in the Book of Leviticus is the contrast between tumah and tahara.

Tumah is often translated as unclean or impure. Tahara can be translated as clean or pure.

Here’s how Kuzari explains tumah, in this passage translated as spiritual impurity:

Kuzari 3:49.1

Spiritual impurity and holiness are diametrically opposite each other. You will not find one without the other – where these is no holiness, there is no possibility for spiritual impurity. ‘Spiritual impurity’ is simply that thing which restricts one from coming in contact with anything which is holy and sanctified for God.

The Concept of Niddah

The phrase “menstrual flow” appears in verses 12:2 and 12:5 as the translation of the Hebrew niddah.

The concept of niddah is found in Leviticus 15:

Leviticus 15

19. And if a woman has a discharge, and the discharge of her flesh is blood, she shall be separate [Hebrew: niddah] seven days …

The Hebrew concept of niddah is broader than just the idea of a woman experiencing her monthly cycle.

Rashbam (on verse 12:2) explains that niddah means being removed and separated from her husband. A woman seeing her menstrual flow is not permitted to have relations with her husband. This status continues until her flow stops and she immerses in a mikvah.

Rabbi Hirsch points out that niddah (Hebrew nun-dalet-hey) is from the 3-letter root nun-dalet-dalet which is the idea of moving away from a place or person.

“Niddah, then, is an appropriate expression for the condition that causes a temporary dissociation in marital life.”

Now let’s look at verse 12:5 in more detail.

Leviticus 12:5 Meaning

unclean for two weeks – even if she does not see blood during those 2 weeks. [Rashbam from verse 2]

like her menstrual flow – though the mother is unclean, the child is not.

she shall abide – The Hebrew word in both verse 12:4 and 5 is “teisheiv”. The usual meaning is “sit” or “dwell.” In this context it means “remain” or “abide.” [Ramban and others]

in the blood of cleanliness – any blood she sees during these 33 or 66 days is not given the status of her menstrual flow. [Rashbam from verse 4]

Even if the blood comes from the uterus which normally would give the status of being a niddah. [Daat Mikra]

she shall abide in the blood of cleanliness – There are 2 ideas in this phrase.

1. Even if she sees no blood during these 33 or 66 days, she still may not touch holy things nor may she go into the Temple.

2. However, even if she sees blood during these days, she may still have relations with her husband.

Parshat Tazria

Summary of the Mother’s Status

A woman who gives birth becomes unclean for either 7 or 14 days. During these days her status is the same as if she were experiencing her normal monthly period.

After these days she enters an intermediate status. She is now permitted to have relations with her husband. But she is not fully clean and is still restricted from handling holy objects and from entering the Temple.

After an additional 33 or 66 days she regains her full status of being clean and can now do anything that any other clean person can do.

Why Twice as Long for a Daughter?

Many commentators have made suggestions about why the mother of a daughter is unclean for a longer time.

Here are the ideas that I’ve come across in chronological order.

Gemara – Rabbi Ishmael

Gemara Niddah 30b

It was taught: R. Ishmael stated, Scripture prescribed uncleanness and cleanness in respect of a male and it also prescribed uncleanness and cleanness in respect of a female, as in the case of the former his fashioning period corresponds to his unclean and clean periods so also in the case of the latter her fashioning period corresponds to her unclean and clean periods.

According to R. Ishmael, a male embryo takes 40 days to form but a female takes 80 days. He claims that this time difference determines the length of time for the mother to be unclean after giving birth.

This idea is in the Gemara! So doesn’t that settle things?

No.

Rabbi Ishmael’s contemporaries don’t agree with him. They contend that both male and female embryos only take 40 days to form.

Ramban

A woman gives birth to a daughter when her body is “cold and moist.” Hence, she requires longer to recover physically and her times are doubled.

Other commentators make a similar claim that a woman requires more time to recover after the birth of a daughter.

I did a little of research on this topic. It seems that these days there is evidence that giving birth to a son is harder on the mother. Here’s the conclusion of a study published in 2020.

“This meta-analysis suggests that the occurrence of pregnancy complications differ according to fetal sex with a higher cardiovascular and metabolic load for the mother in the presence of a male fetus.”

It’s possible that this research is flawed or that in some ways mothers and babies have changed during the past 3000 years.

Also, it’s possible that this decree of the Torah is not based on the physical burdens of pregnancy.

Tzror Hamor (R. Avraham Saba 1440-1508)

He connects our verses with Genesis and the sin of Adam and Eve.

Genesis Chapter 3
17. And to Adam He said, Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten of the tree, of which I commanded you, saying, You shall not eat of it; cursed is the ground for your sake; in toil shall you eat of it all the days of your life;

When God pronounced judgment on Adam, He used the phrase “in toil” from the Hebrew root ayin-tzade-bet.

Genesis Chapter 3

16. To the woman He said, I will greatly multiply your toil and your child bearing; in toil you shall bring forth children; and your desire shall be to your husband, and he shall rule over you.

When God pronounced judgment on Eve, He used the Hebrew root ayin-tzade-bet two times.

There is additional emphasis with the words “greatly multiply.” This phrase is from the Hebrew “harba arbe.” Both words are forms of the root reish-bet-hey. That root means “increase” and the repetition adds emphasis to that increase.

Rabbi Saba concludes from the use of the root ayin-tzade-bet that part of the fulfillment of God’s judgment is that the mother becomes unclean after giving birth.

This root (used once in relation to Adam and twice with Eve) indicates that her uncleanness will be twice as long after the birth of a daughter.

Based on this approach, some say say the woman who gives birth to a daughter is unclean for 14 days: 7 for herself and 7 for her daughter. But when she gives birth to a son, she is only unclean for herself.

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch

The circumcision of the baby boy by the father, as it were, takes the place of 7 days and 33 days and so the times after the birth of a son are half that after the birth of a daughter.

“In the case of a daughter the period of uncleanness and cleanness is doubled; and the words ‘two weeks like her menstrual flow’ imply that this cycle is to be conceived of as a double* cycle: one cycle in respect to the mother – similar to the cycle that is applicable following the birth of a male; and a second cycle in respect to the daughter, as the second cycle of seven and thirty-three days takes the place of what would have been circumcision had the infant been a boy.”

* His idea is more clear in the Hebrew. In the case of a male, verse 12:2 says the mother is unclean for seven days (Hebrew: shivat yamim).

In the case of a female, verse 12:5 says the mother is unclean for two weeks. The Hebrew is “sh’vuayim” which is the dual or double form of the word shiva (seven).

Rabbi Sorotzkin

He relates these laws about clean and unclean to the creation of man and woman.

The man was created from a combination of the ground and the “breath” of God.

Genesis Chapter 2

7. And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.

According to R. Sorotzkin, as part of the creation process, God’s breath became man’s blood and the ground became his body.

The woman was formed from the man’s body along with God’s breath.

This implies that the woman was created with more blood since there was already blood with Adam’s rib plus the blood from God’s breath.

Since the woman has “twice” as much blood as the man, the birth of a daughter means that the mother’s days of uncleanness are doubled.

Rabbi Isaac Samuel Reggio (1784-1855)

Rabbi Reggio was a 19th Century Italian scholar and rabbi.

He writes a very short but clear sentence about these verses: The reason for the number of these days is a decree of the King.

In other words, this is a law handed down from God to Moses that we cannot fathom the reason for it.

We are permitted to try to understand difficult concepts and the reasons for them. However, we must always keep in mind that we may be wrong.

Further Reading

I’ve written a little bit more about tumah and tahara here.


A Note on the Translations
The translation of Bible verses is based on the Judaica Press Tanach.
The translation of Gemara is based on the Soncino Talmud.
Click here to grab your copy of my free ebook How to Learn Chumash with Rashi.