Daf Yomi Shabbos 86: Respectively entering the discussion

“The Mishna continues to cite a series of unrelated halakhot based upon biblical allusions.”

Today’s Daf Yomi breaks the barrier of the fourth wall once again and tells us upfront that the “Mishna continues to cite a series of unrelated halakhot based upon biblical allusions.”  We know from this direct statement that we are in for a ride today. We are offered another odd pairing of a woman who discharges semen after a defined three-day period and a baby who feels pain from a circumcision during this same period

An additional juxtaposition is made with the traditional tying of a scarlet strip to the head of a goat which will turn white once the poor animal is sacrificed for one’s sins. And yet another comparison is made with the prohibition against rubbing one’s body with oil on Yom Kippur because it is the equivalent of drinking. And later in the text there is mention of impurities that are contained within the womb of an animal that may not have as long of a passage as a woman does. It’s a very odd day in the world of Daf Yomi.

A passage from Exodus is quoted that requires a three-day separation period between husband and wife after sexual relations: “And he said to the people, prepare yourselves for three days, do not approach a woman.” According to today’s text this three-day period ensured that a woman would be pure before she was allowed to be present before her husband. (And for the record, it was the husband who made her impure.) This harkens back to the revelation in Sinai which requires separation of either two or three days depending on which Rabbi you listen to. One group of Rabbis say that Moses instituted separation between husbands and wives on the fifth day of the week, which means that couples are separated for two days, while another set of Rabbis believe in fact that the edict was issued on the fourth day of the week and they would be then separated for three days.

What was it like to be separated from one’s spouse for two or three days, depending on which Rabbi’s count you follow after the ultimate act of intimacy? Today’s Daf Yomi makes the entire act seem clinical and without the true marriage of body and soul that the romantic younger self within me still believes in. Would a young wife find herself isolated from her husband and family if she is placed in isolation for several days? Or would she welcome the time as a respite from a demanding husband who has a lot of needs that require attention?

If I could enter into the Talmudic discussion and add my voice to the notes in the margin (imagine the brazenness!), I would like to say that the Rabbis should consider another perspective. Women in all their variations and shapes and sizes are not impure in any sense of the word. They are pure regardless of the time of the month or time of life and are a force for stability in the world. It is not women who bring impurity through nation building and violence and war mongering. And so dear Rabbis, I am asking you to consider where we might be today if women were not so isolated and silenced and marginalized over the centuries and in your eyes, considered “impure” for being women.


About the Author
Penny Cagan was born in New Jersey and has lived in New York City since 1980. She has published two books of poems called “City Poems “ and “And Today I am Happy." She is employed as a risk manager and continues to write poetry. More information on Penny can be found at https://brokentabletsfrompennycagan.me
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