Tazria and Arizona, perfect together.

Over the decades, when we reach the Torah portion of Tazria, I prepare myself for the inevitable expressions of outrage.  Childbirth renders women ritually impure?  New mothers are sequestered?  How barbaric!  How primitive!  Women are required to offer a sacrifice as an atonement for childbirth!?  Scholars point out that the ritual impurity that occurs after childbirth may be due to the woman’s proximity to the life/death boundary, the primary source of tum-ah, ritual uncleanness.  But how to explain the clear requirement for women to offer a hatat, a sin offering to “atone” for the act of childbirth?  (Leviticus 12:6-8).

The Sages are puzzled as well, and offer a variety of explanations, including the idea that she is atoning for cursing G-d or her husband during the pangs of childbirth, or for vowing to abstain from future sexual activity.  (See BT Niddah 31b).  This last explanation is most relevant.  Her “sin” was nothing more than deciding to own her own sexuality, and that necessitated a sin offering.  Here in the United States, in the states of the former Confederacy, more and more male (and some female) lawmakers and judges are deciding that women have little to no control over their bodies when it comes to sex.

Abortion is banned in an increasing number of states, including now Arizona which is imposing criminal penalties both for the woman and her doctor, and plans are in the works to ban contraception as well.  The desire to control bodies of women is so great that these jurists are reaching back to the 19th century to find archaic  laws to justify their control of women.   We moderns may look askance at Torah portions such as Tazria and wonder how our ancestors could have held such views, but the truth is that now, in 2024, those same views are held by many, and worse still, are being imposed on millions of women.

About the Author
Rabbi Douglas Sagal is currently Rabbi of Congregation B'nai Israel, Rumson NJ. He has served congregations in Connecticut, Chicago, and New Jersey. He is a past president of the New Jersey Association of Reform Rabbis. Rabbi Sagal is a graduate of Wesleyan University, Hebrew Union College Jewish Institute of Religion, Yale Divinity School, and is a Fellow of the Shalom Hartman Institute.