In Talmudic Times, Jews Shared Laws of Menstrual Purity with Their Gentile Neighbors

Nov. 12 2021

To outsiders, the complex system of laws concerning menstruation observed by Orthodox Jews can seem, as Leah Sarna puts it, “outdated, misogynistic, and extreme.” And even those raised in communities where these practices are standard sometimes find them outlandish:

When I teach soon-to-be-marrieds about these laws, I try to pass along my pride that God’s holy commands stretch even to the most private and intimate spaces in our lives; nothing is too messy for Jewish law, and we should not be embarrassed. That would be an easier sell if most of us didn’t have a voice in our heads that says, “This is even weirder and harder than waving palm fronds on Sukkot.” What we might call the goyish gaze pervades our ritual consciousness. But now imagine a world in which the goyish gaze was altogether different, say the world of the Babylonian Talmud.

In his book The Talmud’s Red Fence, Shai Secunda seeks to understand how menstrual purity was understood in that world—that is, Persian-ruled Mesopotamia during the 3rd through 6th centuries.

In one of the most eye-opening sections of the work, Secunda guides his readers through the different menstrual practices of various populations in the . . . Sasanian empire. He introduces the readers to Mandaean, Zoroastrian, and early Christian texts that compare their impurity observances with those of their neighbors.

Secunda sets [these] texts . . . next to talmudic passages in which rabbis compare Jewish menstrual practices to those of non-Jews. In one, we find Rabbi Ashi [ca. 352–427] suggesting that the Persians learned their menstrual laws from the matriarch Rachel because the Persian word for menstrual impurity, dastan (which the Talmud Aramaicizes as dashtana), supposedly derives from the excuse she gave her father Laban for not rising, “ki derekh nashim li” (“for the way of woman is upon me,” Genesis 31:35). An ordinary reader of the Talmud will read this as typical talmudic wordplay, but Secunda detects a game of playful cultural one-upmanship.

One imagines Jewish and Gentile women doing their laundry on the banks of the Tigris, sharing tricks for keeping their headscarves tied and their bedrooms pure, each feeling a sense of pride in her own religious tradition as seen in the eyes of the other.

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Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: ancient Judaism, Ancient Persia, Halakhah, Jewish-Christian relations, Niddah, Talmud

Why the Leader of Hamas Went to Russia

Sept. 30 2022

Earlier this month, the Hamas chairman Ismail Haniyeh and several of his colleagues visited Moscow, where they met with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and other Russian officials. According to Arabic-language media, Haniyeh came seeking “new ideas” about how to wage war against the Jewish state. The terrorist group has had good relations with the Kremlin for several years, and even maintains an office in Moscow. John Hardie and Ivana Stradner comment on the timing of the visit:

For Moscow, the visit likely reflects a continuation of its efforts to leverage the Palestinians and other issues to pressure Israel over its stance on Russia’s war in Ukraine. Russia and Israel built friendly relations in the decades following the Soviet Union’s dissolution. After Russia invaded Ukraine in February, Jerusalem condemned the war, but made sure to tread carefully in order to preserve working ties with Moscow, lest Russian military forces in Syria disrupt Israel’s strategically important air operations there.

Nevertheless, bilateral tensions spiked in April after Yair Lapid, then serving as Israel’s foreign minister, joined the chorus of voices worldwide accusing Russia of committing war crimes in Ukraine. Jerusalem later provided Kyiv with some non-lethal military aid and a field hospital. In response, Moscow hardened its rhetoric about Israeli actions in the Palestinian territories.

The Palestinian issue isn’t the only way that Russia has sought to pressure Israel. Moscow is also threatening, on seemingly spurious grounds, to shutter the Russian branch of the Jewish Agency.

Moscow likely has little appetite for outright conflict with Israel, particularly when the bulk of Russia’s military is floundering in Ukraine. But there are plenty of other ways that Russia, which maintains an active intelligence presence in the Jewish state, could damage Israel’s interests. As Moscow cozies up with Hamas, Iran, and other enemies of Israel, Jerusalem—and its American allies—would do well to keep a watchful eye.

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Read more at Algemeiner

More about: Hamas, Israeli Security, Russia