Why were women considered unclean during their menstrual period in the Old Testament?
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Concerning women during their menstrual period, the Lord instructed the Israelites, “When a woman has her regular flow of blood, the impurity of her monthly period will last seven days, and anyone who touches her will be unclean till evening” (Leviticus 15:19). To fully appreciate the compassionate provisions of the laws here given, we need to understand the reasons behind it.
Mainly, the instruction was given for sanitary, health, and physical-rest purposes. It was given to contain the blood flow by restraining the women’s activities, especially sexually. And also to relieve women of many of their normal duties until they regained their usual strength. The seven days were a time of rest.
These laws were also given to protect women against the heathen superstitions that were prevalent at the time. These superstitions subjected the women to cruel treatment, discrimination, and inhumane acts. The following historical passage shows some of these superstitions:
“Contact with the monthly flux of women turns new wine sour, makes crops wither, kills grafts, dries seeds in gardens, causes the fruit of trees to fall off, dims the bright surface of mirrors, dulls the edge of steel and the gleam of ivory, kills bees, rusts iron and bronze, and causes a horrible smell to fill the air. Dogs who taste the blood become mad, and their bite becomes poisonous as in rabies. The Dead Sea, thick with salt, cannot be drawn asunder except by a thread soaked in the poisonous fluid of the menstruous blood. A thread from an infected dress is sufficient. Linen, touched by the woman while boiling and washing it in water, turns black. So magical is the power of women during their monthly periods that they say that hailstorms and whirlwinds are driven away if menstrual fluid is exposed to the flashes of lightning.” from Pliny the Elder, Natural History, book 28, ch. 23, 78-80; book 7, ch. 65.
So, to detain the Jews from having these superstitions as well as for sanitary and health purposes, the Lord gave specific instructions regarding this issue. This way the menstruating women will not be pressured and will be treated with kindness and understanding during their delicate often painful time.
In His service,