It was in those days that I still lived in Amsterdam that the Jewish Historical Museum, that factually was run by Reform Jews, was having the opening of an exposition on Purim afternoon. That is the time to eat the ritual bread meal! I liked that they preserved the past but I didn’t like that they seemed to have a monopoly on present-day Judaism. And that things I use almost every day (phylacteries) were there exhibited as relics from the past. What to do? I decided to eat it early and rush to the Museum.
I liked my Purim outfit for that year. It was a crème-colored caftan with a rope as a belt, sandals on sockless feet (It was so cold and raining!), and a big white yarmulka embroidered with gold and silver threads. As a fashion accessory, I carried a book under my arm which clearly showed on its cover the words “Am I Guilty?” (Is het mijn schuld?) (for fun bought for one guilder) over a crown of thorns from which red drops of blood dripped. My uncovered skin, from my toes and legs (to the knees) to my arms (from the elbows) and face, I had darkened with fake-tanning lotion.
For the second reading of the Scroll of Esther in the morning, I went to a small gathering close to my home where I also was Shabbat morning. The Saxton did not recognize me without my black suit and hat and with my new tan. “From where is your honor?” he inquired in English. From around the corner, I answered in Dutch. He did not understand my disguise.
The only one who got it was a guy from the Spanish-Portuguese community who shouted from afar: Jesus!
Interestingly, I found that my non-White friends and acquaintances were a lot warmer with me now I didn’t look so pale anymore! Makes you think.
In full regalia, I went to the Museum. It was packed. To my surprise, uninformed as I was about Reform, there were many women with yarmulkas but all the other men were bareheaded including the man who was saying the Blessing for festive new things (Shehhehchehyahnu). After the speeches were done, a radio reporter came up to me.
She introduced herself as from the Catholic Radio Broadcasting Organization (KRO) and said: Seeing your attire, I wonder in what function you are here. I replied, this is not an attire — I’m dressed up. Today is Jewish carnival. Dressed up as what? she wanted to know. As Jesus, I replied, respectfully. She almost fainted. She seemed a modern secular woman but she turned white as snow and her eyes seemed to spin. With her last breath, it seemed, she blurted out, “But why?” I answered that he’s not been in any Synagogue or Jewish celebration for so long that it seemed high time to me.
She regained her strength and asked what she really wanted to know. “In the Old Testament,” (O, those Jews) “it says that a woman is impure for 33 days after birthing a son and 66 days after a daughter — is that not sexism? Doesn’t that bother you?” (Leviticus 12:1-5 — MM) I had no clue what to answer her so I said: “You should ask a rabbi. They know these kinds of things.” “Oh,” she sighed frustrated, “that’s what everyone here tells me.”
Now I know that this impurity only is for entering the Temple and touching consecrated things. But that after five days that the bleeding has stopped, the woman can go to the ritual bath and the couple can touch each other again. Let’s say, in total 7+33= the holy 40 days and after a girl: twice.
The Rabbis tell us (Vahyikrah Rabbah 15:7) that if a woman is scrupulous about the seven days of separation, she will merit to count the eight days before circumcision, a son. We bless and pray for sons but not daughters?
Easily, most people focus on the negative. That’s OK but give the positive a place too.
During the 40 days (after a girl even 80 days) that the new mother sees blood from her private parts, the couple won’t become ritually impure for touch (Maimonides, Rashi — ask your rabbi). That is such a nice ‘leniency.’ So, when the baby is a girl, the couple gets a double amount of leniency.
And not being able to enter the Temple is like not being able to travel on Shabbat. Please recognize that you then also don’t have to. What a relief.
We pray for and bless people with sons because really, contrary to popular opinion, they are the weaker sex and need all the blessings they can get to make it into this world (and stay here).