Why are women considered unclean after childbirth in Leviticus?

As I was reading Leviticus, the uncleanness of women was something that particularly stood out to me. From a literary point of view, I wondered why they thought a woman had to go to such great measures to be considered “clean” and why giving birth to a baby made them unclean to begin with? Why was the cleanliness period longer for baby girls than baby boys?





The Lord spoke to Moses, saying,  “Speak to the people of Israel, saying, If a woman conceives and bears a male child, then she shall be unclean seven days. As at the time of her menstruation, she shall be unclean.  And on the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised. Then she shall continue for thirty-three days in the blood of her purifying. She shall not touch anything holy, nor come into the sanctuary, until the days of her purifying are completed.  But if she bears a female child, then she shall be unclean two weeks, as in her menstruation. And she shall continue in the blood of her purifying for sixty-six days. “And when the days of her purifying are completed, whether for a son or for a daughter, she shall bring to the priest at the entrance of the tent of meeting a lamb a year old for a burnt offering, and a pigeon or a turtledove for a sin offering,  and he shall offer it before the Lord and make atonement for her. Then she shall be clean from the flow of her blood. This is the law for her who bears a child, either male or female. And if she cannot afford a lamb, then she shall take two turtledoves or two pigeons, one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering. And the priest shall make atonement for her, and she shall be clean.” Leviticus 12:1-8, ESV Literary Study Bible 


There are many reasons someone could think up to why a woman has to endure this in the Old Testament. One site I found, by Ed Hensly, stated

“There is no logic or reason behind either of these laws.”  http://rarebible.wordpress.com/2010/02/08/women-defiled-by-childbirth-baby-girls-twice-as-dirty-as-baby-boys/

I disagree, I think there is a reason the author of Leviticus mentions this and also goes into great detail about this subject. At the time, the people were very unsure why things happened. This could simply be the author giving the ancient Hebrews a reason for a woman’s menstruation cycle, a reason to make sense of it. Because even after the period of uncleanness was over, the woman who gave birth had to sacrifice a lamb that was a year old.


But, why is a woman considered unclean? It could be not as serious as you think. I began to brainstorm all the “logical” reasons I could think of to what this verse was saying. I came up with the idea that it was merely like a pregnancy leave, in today’s terms. Perhaps a woman was considered unclean for seven days so she could rest. The amount of pain an un-sedated childbirth gave them was probably unbearable. Even the sanitary conditions they had to give birth in probably had the women and the child prone to infection.


In the laws God gave the Hebrew people, each clan had their own job they had to for fill daily. If a woman just gave childbirth, she would need nonpunishable rest. So, it was kinda like she was receiving a seven day grace period. According to: http://www.evidenceunseen.com/bible-difficulties-2/ot-difficulties/genesis-deuteronomy/lev-121-8-why-was-a-mother-unclean-for-7-days-for-giving-birth-to-a-boy-but-she-was-unclean-for-14-days-for-giving-birth-to-a-girl/ , whose author is unknown, my theory is relevant.

“By being called unclean, this provided rest for the mother. If she was unclean, she would not be required to work around the home or travel to the sanctuary to make an offering. Travel would have been very strenuous for a young mother. Moreover, by being called unclean, this would prevent the spread of childbed fever, which took many lives back then.


This proves my personal theory, but what about other theories? Could she be unclean because she had sex? I found the answer in an article by, Joe M. Sprinkle, http://www.kneillfoster.com/aar/2000/AAR2000-2Laws.php

“Designating sexual activity as “unclean” does not mean that sex is inherently evil.”

However, he did state that:

“Bodily discharge refers primarily to natural and unnatural genital flows, but not, for example, to open wounds from accidents.2 Childbirth, via its association with the discharge of the bloody placenta from the vagina, rendered a woman unclean for forty days for a male child and eighty days for a female child (Leviticus 12:1-8). Onset of menstruation rendered a woman unclean for seven days (15:19-24) and any unnatural genital flow of blood rendered her unclean until seven days after that flow of blood ceases (15:25-30). Ordinary marital intercourse rendered the couple unclean till evening (15:18; cf. the command for the Israelites not to go near a woman before meeting God at Sinai in Exodus 19:15), while inadvertent intercourse with a menstruating woman rendered the man unclean for seven days (Leviticus 15:24) and deliberate intercourse with such a woman made both subject to divine “cutting off” (Leviticus 20:18).”

So, this goes back to to bodily fluids and how they make a person unclean. After reading this article, it made sense why a man was forbidden to have intercourse with a woman during her ministration. If that was her “resting” time granted by God, the man defiled what God had given her. The author of Leviticus is not directly degrading women and neither is God, in today’s terms.


The other big question is why different unclean time periods for males and females? Is there really a need for that big of a time difference?

“The Lord said to Moses,  “Say to the Israelites: ‘A woman who becomes pregnant and gives birth to a son will be ceremonially unclean for seven days, just as she is unclean during her monthly period. On the eighth day the boy is to be circumcised.  Then the woman must wait thirty-three days to be purified from her bleeding. She must not touch anything sacred or go to the sanctuary until the days of her purification are over.  If she gives birth to a daughter, for two weeks the woman will be unclean, as during her period. Then she must wait sixty-six days to be purified from her bleeding.” Leviticus 12:1-5, ESV Literary Study Bible

In the Hebrew culture, females were watched over and protected more than boys. According to, http://www.evidenceunseen.com/bible-difficulties-2/ot-difficulties/genesis-deuteronomy/lev-121-8-why-was-a-mother-unclean-for-7-days-for-giving-birth-to-a-boy-but-she-was-unclean-for-14-days-for-giving-birth-to-a-girl/ , again,

“The mother may have rested longer, because they protected girls more in their culture.”


This could very well be the case. We see from reading Exodus and Leviticus that the Hebrew people are creatures of habit and tradition. According to Rick http://ac3.org/content/QandA_with_Rick/action/viewqna/qnadent/118 ,

“It`s a refection of Eve`s role in the fall. This view ties itself to 1 Tim 2:15-17 for support, but there`s no connection made to Eve in Leviticus at all. A similar view refers to apocryphal Jewish writings that had Adam entering in the Garden of Eden on week one and Eve after two weeks – and thus girls had to be quarantined longer… But both these views suffer from being too speculative and reading later material back into an older work… 

It`s a reflection of medical views current at the time… For example, it might have been assumed that the birth of a girl was commonly believed to be accompanied by more complications than a boy, and/or that the vaginal discharge was greater or lasted longer for girls than boys. That would fit with the fact that usually uncleanness is related to the touching of blood (Lev 15:25). It`s not birth that makes you unclean, after all, it`s the blood involved in the birthing process.”

This would make sense to why the Hebrew people thought this way. The story of the Garden Of Eden was one that has been passed down hundreds of years to them, so that theory adds up to why women and baby girls are also considered unclean longer. They have the “curse” of Eve upon them. However, the medical analysis makes more sense in today’s time. Since the females had more blood than the males and they were bloody longer, the double time of uncleanness for infant girls is scientifically accurate.

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According to an article by  Chana Weisberg, http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/510244/jewish/Ritual-purity-after-birth-of-males-and-females.htm ,

“Since the female child inherently carries a higher degree of holiness, due to her own biological, life creating capability, a greater void, or tumah, remains after her birth. Thus, the greater tumah after a baby girl’s birth reflects her greater capacity for holiness (due to her creative powers) and necessitates the longer wait to remove this ritual impurity.”

This also goes back to the beliefs and rituals of the Hebrew people. So it could be that women are not to blame for the Garden of Eden, but instead considered holy because they help deliver one of God’s commands. The command to multiply the earth.


Referring to, http://www.evidenceunseen.com/bible-difficulties-2/ot-difficulties/genesis-deuteronomy/lev-121-8-why-was-a-mother-unclean-for-7-days-for-giving-birth-to-a-boy-but-she-was-unclean-for-14-days-for-giving-birth-to-a-girl/ , again, the author states that a boy’s time of un-purity is seven days because he gets circumcised of the eighth day.

So what it all boils down too is, the Hebrew people took all of these things as laws from God, but could they really have been doing it for health reasons? I think that they were. After looking into the science behind this, the Hebrew people were very advanced for their time.



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