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the complex system of laws concerning menstruation observed by Orthodox Jews can seem, as Leah Sarna puts it, “outdated, misogynistic, and extreme.”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.

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

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

Russia’s Alliance with Hizballah Is Growing Stronger

Tehran’s ongoing cooperation with Moscow has recently garnered public attention because of the Kremlin’s use of Iranian arms against Ukraine, but it extends much further, including to the Islamic Republic’s Lebanese proxy, Hizballah. Aurora Ortega and Matthew Levitt explain:

Over the last few years, Russia has quietly extended its reach into Lebanon, seeking to cultivate cultural, economic, and military ties in Beirut as part of a strategy to expand Russian influence in the Middle East, while sidelining the U.S. and elevating Moscow’s role as a peacemaker.

Russia’s alliance with Hizballah was born out of the conflict in Syria, where Russian and Hizballah forces fought side-by-side in an alliance with the Assad regime. For years, this alliance appeared strictly limited to military activity in Syria, but in 2018, Hizballah and Russia began to engage in unprecedented joint sanctions-evasion activities. . . . In November 2018, the U.S. Department of the Treasury exposed a convoluted trade-based oil-smuggling sanctions-evasion scheme directed by Hizballah and [Iran].

The enhanced level of collaboration between Russia and Hizballah is not limited to sanctions evasion. In March 2021, Hizballah sent a delegation to Moscow, on its second-ever “diplomatic” visit to the country. Unlike its first visit a decade prior, which was enveloped in secrecy with no media exposure, this visit was well publicized. During their three days in Moscow, Hizballah representatives met with various Russian officials, including the Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov. . . . Just three months after this visit to Moscow, Hizballah received the Russian ambassador to Lebanon Alexander Rudakov in Beirut to discuss further collaboration on joint projects.

Read more at Royal United Services Institute

More about: Hizballah, Iran, Lebanon, Russia