Tuesday, May 22, 2007

TurtleDoves Revised

In my previous blog, I talked about sacrifices of doves required of women who menstruate. In the comment section, I was accused of misrepresenting (or misinterpreting) the passage. Apparently, the reading of the relevant parts of the Torah are supposed to be that only women with unusual ‘discharges’ above and beyond their menstrual discharge were required to bring sacrifices of doves. Rather than responding in the comment section, I thought it would be good to answer in a blog:

Lest I be accused of misrepresenting the Torah, here, I have provided all the verses of the Torah verbatim:
15:19 When a woman has a discharge, it can consist of any blood that emerges from her body. For seven days she is then ritually unclean because of her menstruation, and anyone touching her shall be unclean until evening.
15:20 As long as she is in her menstrual state, anything upon which she lies shall be unclean, and anyone sitting on it is likewise unclean.
15:21 Whoever touches her bed must immerse his clothing and his body in a mikvah, and then remain unclean until evening.
15:22 [Similarly], anyone who sits on any article upon which she has sat must immerse his clothing and his body in a mikvah and [then] remain unclean until evening.
15:23 Thus, if he is on the bed or any other article upon which she sat, whether he touches it [or not], he is unclean until evening.
15:24 If a man has intercourse with her, her menstrual impurity is transferred to him, and he shall be unclean for seven days. Any bed upon which he lies shall be unclean.
15:25 If a woman has a discharge of blood for a number of days when it is not time for her menstrual period, or if she has such a discharge right after her period, then as long as she has this discharge she is unclean, just as she is when she has her period.
15:26 As long as she has the discharge, any bed upon which she lies shall have the same status as it has while she is menstruating. Similarly, any article upon which she sits shall be unclean, just as it is unclean when she is menstruating.
15:27 Anyone touching them must immerse his clothing and his body in a mikvah, and [then] remain unclean until evening.
15:28 When she is rid of her discharge, she must count seven days for herself, and only then can she undergo purification.
15:29 On the eighth day, she shall take for herself two turtle doves or two young common doves, and bring them to the priest, to the Communion Tent entrance.
15:30 The priest shall prepare one as a sin offering and one as a burnt offering, and the priest shall thus make atonement for her before God, from her unclean discharge.
15:31 You must warn the Israelites about their impurity, so that their impurity not cause them to die if they defile the tabernacle that I have placed among them.
15:32 This then is the law concerning the man who is unclean because of a discharge or seminal emission,
15:33 as well as the woman who has her monthly period, the man or woman who has a discharge, and the man who lies with a ritually unclean woman.

OK, so what have I missed? Is it really true that 15:28 refers only to women who have a ‘discharge’ beyond their menstruation? Well, OK, but I submit that this is a reach and a tortured explanation.

But let’s go with that for a moment. What exactly is ‘discharge’ beyond menstruation? If a woman has a period lasting, say, 10 days – is that considered a ‘discharge’ beyond menstruation? What about 5 days? When is a discharge considered 'unusual'?

But OK, let’s even grant that ‘discharges’ of women are well defined and are distinct from menstruation. Let’s say that what we are talking about is unusual discharges. This ‘unusual’ discharge, in medical language, is called dysmenorrhea. According to medical authorities (will provide references if needed), the incidence of primary dysmenorrhea is greater than 50% in healthy women. This incidence, with some notable exceptions, is relatively stable amongst diverse population.

So, let’s say that the critiques of the previous blog are right, and the Torah passage refers to dysmenorrhea. The number would thus be revised as follows:

Let’s assume that 50% of women will have at least 1 episode of dysmenorrhea per year.
Since there were 500,000 adult women in the Sinai desert, then there would have been
500,000 X 50% = 250,000 episodes of ‘discharges’ among women per year. We will ignore men’s discharges for this purpose.

For the duration of the 40 years, then, there would have been 250,000 X 40 = 10 million ‘discharges’. Since there are 2 doves required per discharge, we have to find 20 million doves. This is just for women! I have not even considered the men, as I do not know how to calculate the incidence of discharges amongst males!

So there you have it. Perhaps not 480 million doves, but, depending on how you interpret the Torah, there may be as little as 20 million doves needed.

Did the Sinai desert have 20 million doves for the purposes of sacrifice? How did the Jews, who wandered the desert, often engaging in brutal wars, occasionally enduring plagues as a consequence of the wrath of God, manage to come up with 20 million doves?

Is it possible, that perhaps there were not 3 million people in the desert?Is it possible that the Jews, even if they were that numerous, did not in fact engage in this practice of mass animal sacrifice?


BrooklynWolf said...

The verse that you're looking for is 25... that's the verse that begins to describe the zavah.

I don't know exactly which discharges would render a woman a zavah (nor, I suspect, do you, for that matter).

Therefore, as an answer to your question, I'll give you two possible answers:

1. Not every case of dysmenorrhea renders a woman a zavah. More than likely, it's a specific type of discharge.

2. Even if you're right and *every* case of dysmenorrhea renders a woman a zavah, there is still no problem. Simply state that they didn't have the birds and that, therefore, they were not brought.

For example, there are sins that a person can commit today that require them to bring a sacrifice. The fact of the matter, however, is that in order to bring a sacrifice, certain elements need to be in place: you need to have a place to bring the sacrifice (the Temple, for example); you need to have kohanim, you need to have the animals, etc. If (and this is highly unlikely) every example of dysmenorrhea would render a woman a zavah then I grant you that they would have used all their birds for this and then run out and stopped bringing them, simply for lack of birds.

In any event, I don't know why you're getting so hung up on this 3 million number -- I certainly think that it's a very high estimate and that the actual number of people in the Exodus was far smaller.

The Wolf

BrooklynWolf said...

And, lastly, I don't think I'd describe my previous post as an "accusation." I simply pointed out that you missed the division between the two texts.

The Wolf

badrabbi said...

I want to thank you for a good analysis of my writings. Your comments are fair and logical. Let me begin to reply to some of what you have said:

1. I am not sure that I am getting hung up on the ‘3 million’ number. This is the number the rabbis tell us were at Sinai. They say that since there were 600 thousand adult males, than there must have been 3 million Jews in the desert of Sinai. One of my reasons for posting this entry in the blog is to show that this number is indeed at best grossly exaggerated.

2. Regarding the definition of ‘zavah’ I would readily admit that I am not an authority on its meaning. But stop and think about it for a moment: There is a halacha that requires the slaughter of possibly millions of birds. Is it not incumbent on a diety who wrote this halacha to make absolutely clear his wishes so that his devoted minions can follow the letter of the law? Does not the mere vagaries of such a halacha hint that the writing enjoys a less than holy status?

3. Regarding the acceptance of the fact that there were not enough birds to fulfil God’s requirement, does it not sound strange to you that God would ask his people to fulfil a requirement where this requirement is physically unrealistic?

Suppose there was a Halacha that said that all Jew from the age of 3 months must perform back flips twice daily! Your comment about such a halacha would be that we should admit that infants can not do back flips – that we should ignore this halacha for children. My question, on the other hand, would be: why would an all knowing God require us to do unrealistic rituals, knowing fully well that it could never fully be done?

Your example of the animal slaughter is a perfect one. Every where you look in the Torah, there is mention that we should slaughter this or that animal for this and that reason. Yet, we are required to do it only in a place that no longer exists! Effectively some 30-50% of the halachas in the Torah are impossible to perform simply because there is no way to perform them! God says, regarding a particular sacrifice ‘do it as an everlasting command, for yourself and your children forever’, and yet removes all means of satisfying his decree? To me it sounds like either God did not pronounce these kinds of decrees, or that if he did, he has abandoned us! Of course, the possibility that He does not exist has crossed my mind as well!

BrooklynWolf said...


Thank you for the compliment.

As to your issues: I personally think that the "3 million" number is a bit high. Even if one accepts the 600K males from 20-60, I still think that 3M is high. 1.2 - 1.8M sounds far more realistic than 3M.

In your second point, you are again making the assumption that most or every case of dysmenorrhea renders a woman a zavah. Perhaps that's simply not the case and that only a specific discharge does so.

As to your third point, I don't have an answer. I don't know why God does what He does, and, in all probability, neither do you. All you can posit is that if He made it impossible to fulfill the commandment, then you simply cannot fulfill it. For example, I don't have a brother, so I cannot perform the mitzvah of yibum. I suppose you could ask why God didn't provide all Jews with brothers so that this mitzvah could be fulfilled (indeed, with brothers who will die childless!). For whatever reason, He decided that I didn't need to fulfill this mitzvah.

In short, God doesn't expect us to do the miraculous. He gives us instructions and we carry them out to the best of our abilities. In the even that it's not possible to carry them out, then you are exempt -- end of story.

The Wolf

badrabbi said...

Thanks again for your comments.

First, regarding your estimates, placing the Jews in the Sinai at “1.2 – 1.8 million”, let us think about it for a minute; when attempting to corroborate a claim such as the number of people at a given place in a given time, we should like to see some evidence. We can find this evidence from external sources, such as archeological evidence of artifacts found in the desert. One can perhaps looks for sources of literature speaking about the migration of millions of people across a desert. Or, given the availability of food and material resources for a given time period, one can predict the number of people likely to reside at a given area. Unfortunately, none of this ‘external’ evidence supports the notion that millions of Jews migrated from Egypt across the desert to the banks of the Jordan River.

Alternatively, one can test the notion of millions of Jews in the Sinai desert ‘internally’. By that I mean that we can explore the writings of the Torah to see whether the numbers spoken about make sense. Thus, for example, my blog mentioned the need for millions of doves that would be needed just to comply with one Halacha. In another Halacha, for example, there is a requirement to slaughter a goat one the eve of Passover. Well, if it is true that there were about 3 million people in the desert of Sinai, and if we assume that an average family consisted of 5 people, then there would be some 700,000 goats needed to comply with the Paschal lamb slaughter!

One would wonder how a wandering nation, harried and stressed, can manage to procure over ½ million lambs for slaughter in one day. These ‘internal’ analyses suggest that there could not have been anywhere near the 3 million figure in the Sinai. Your estimate of 1- 2 million people is an equally grossly elevated estimate.

Regarding my second point, once again, I am admitting to you that I do not know the precise meaning of zavah. You have admitted that you do not know the precise meaning of it either. Again, as I wrote previously, it seems to me that the burden is on a deity to make absolutely clear the meaning of halachas that He is expecting us to comply with.

Regarding my third point, I do believe that you essentially agree with the thrust of my argument. However, you make a curious analogy of saying that since you do not have a brother then you are deprived of the mitzvah of yiddum! This analogy, while very clever, is essentially nonsensical. Let me see if I can expose the logical fallacy:
Both Halachas of dove killing for zavah and yibum can be generalized into the following: When X occurs, you must do Y

Now, I am saying that if doing Y is impossible, then it is impossible to comply with this law. Thus, for example, if there is a ‘no standing’ ordinance on a street, and if there is so much traffic on that street that your car, in a standstill, violates the ‘no standing’ ordinance, then it would be impossible to comply with this ordinance.

On the other hand, you are saying ‘Since X has not occurred, then there is no opportunity to do Y!’ You must understand though that there is no requirement to perform Y when X has not occurred! Thus yibum is not necessary when you do not have a brother! To continue the analogy, you need not worry about a ‘no standing’ sign if you are not driving!

Do you see that the two examples are not similar?

badrabbi said...

I meant 600 thousand, not 700,000 in the previous comment.