The shame of an "unclean" woman


I watched a scene of yet another Jesus film, where the woman with the issue of blood was depicted. I don’t understand the hostility toward her from the other women in the village. For one thing, how did the whole village know she was even bleeding? For another thing, I know a woman was considered “unclean” if she was menstruating, but why the hostility toward her? The other women (in the scene in the film I watched) were outright glaring at her, as though she had done something wrong. I just don’t understand this.
Thankfully, Jesus was coming along, she touched the hem of His garment, and He healed her.


As indicated in Leviticus 15:19-30, if I understand it correctly, if you touched an “unclean” person or she touched you, you yourself became “unclean,” at least until evening, and that was something you would rather like to avoid if you could.


This may help Jesus and the Unclean Woman


As far as I am concerned, what you read on this page more than amply explains any expressions that might have been on the other women’s faces, but if you need more, then read all the rest at the link below.

Niddah: A woman in the period of her menstruation.
— Soncino Talmud Glossary for the Babylonian Talmud

[The Niddah ordinances] concern the very being of the soul of the Jew. They safeguard the purity of the Jewish soul, without which no true religious moral and spiritual life — individual or corporate — as Judaism conceives it, is attainable.
— Rabbi Epstein, Introduction to Seder Tohoroth (2)

Niddah in a Nutshell
The Old Testament stipulates a woman is unclean during menstruation, but the Talmud stipulates her period of uncleanness lasts for an additional week after menstruation has ended. Niddah is the word used to denote the menstruating woman and her period of uncleanness. The niddah defiles everyone and everything she touches. She may not have sexual intercourse with her husband. If she does, he is subject to arrest and perhaps the death penalty. Some niddah laws apply to Gentile women, too. In his Introduction to Tractate Niddah, Rev. Dr. Israel W. Slotki states:

The Jewish Encyclopedia gives an overview of the law of Niddah. It states that those laws are based on Leviticus 15:19, et seq.
The Pentateuchal code (Lev. xv. 19 et seq.) ordains that a menstruous woman shall be unclean for seven days from the beginning of the period, whether it lasts only one day or all seven.

Let’s look at the Bible verses cited by the Jewish Encyclopedia. Leviticus 15:19 reads:
19. And if a woman have an issue, and her issue in her flesh be blood, she shall be put apart seven days: and whosoever toucheth her shall be unclean until the even.
— Leviticus 15:19 (KJV

So then, according to the Old Testament, a woman has to be isolated during her monthly period and she contaminates all who touch her. They also become “unclean.”

  1. And every thing that she lieth upon in her separation shall be unclean: every thing also that she sitteth upon shall be unclean.

  2. And whosoever toucheth her bed shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the even.

  3. And whosoever toucheth any thing that she sat upon shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the even.
    — Leviticus 15:20-22 (KJV)

  4. Now the objects she touches become sources of uncleanness, and the contagion spreads. What happens if an “unclean” man touches other people or objects? Do they also become unclean? Leviticus does not tell us. But let us continue to read:

  5. And if it be on her bed, or on any thing whereon she sitteth, when he toucheth it, he shall be unclean until the even.

  6. And if any man lie with her at all, and her flowers be upon him, he shall be unclean seven days; and all the bed whereon he lieth shall be unclean.

  7. And if a woman have an issue of her blood many days out of the time of her separation, or if it run beyond the time of her separation; all the days of the issue of her uncleanness shall be as the days of her separation: she shall be unclean.

  8. Every bed whereon she lieth all the days of her issue shall be unto her as the bed of her separation: and whatsoever she sitteth upon shall be unclean, as the uncleanness of her separation.

  9. And whosoever toucheth those things shall be unclean, and shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the even.
    But if she be cleansed of her issue, then she shall number to herself seven days, and after that she shall be clean.
    — Leviticus 15:23-28 (KJV)

At the end of her period, the woman must give two pigeons and two turtles to the priest so he can slaughter them.

  1. And on the eighth day she shall take unto her two turtles, or two young pigeons, and bring them unto the priest, to the door of the tabernacle of the congregation.
  2. And the priest shall offer the one for a sin offering, and the other for a burnt offering; and the priest shall make an atonement for her before the LORD for the issue of her uncleanness.
    — Leviticus 15:29-30 (KJV)

Talmud Laws “More Onerous”
As if all of this were not sobering enough, the Jewish Encyclopedia informs us that the Talmud laws are even more onerous:

In either case she is unclean for seven days only, but during this time her defilement is communicated to every object with which she comes in contact. These laws, however, have been extended in many ways and made more onerous, both by rabbinical traditions and interpretations and by customs which have been adopted by Jewish women themselves. According to these more rigid requirements, the woman must reckon seven days after the termination of the period. If, then, this lasts seven days, she can not become pure until the fifteenth day. Purification, furthermore, can be gained only by a ritual bath (“mitweh”); and until the woman has taken this she remains unclean according to the interpretation of R. Akiba (Shabbath 64b), which was accepted by the Rabbis generally. In addition to all this, a woman who does not menstruate regularly is unclean for a certain time before she becomes aware that the period has begun, and objects which she touches are defiled, since there is danger that the menses may have begun a short time before and that she may not have perceived the fact.
— Jewish Encyclopedia (5)



Nonsense. The idea that everybody in the village would be disgusted by a woman who was, in effect, menstruating all the time, was ridiculous. Niddah laws are a lot less restrictive than, say, the laws about menstruation among the Rom/Gypsies, and it’s a lot less fraught. If I’d seen that movie, I would have been throwing things at the screen at that point.

Also, fistulas are far from the only reason that a woman would hemorrhage blood for years and years.

But yes, of course all the women in the village would know! How many different places could you possibly be doing laundry? How could you possibly get all your laundry done without anyone else being at the same place? How could bloody laundry every week possibly go unnoticed? In a village, everybody knows everybody else’s business.

Furthermore, of course the woman would have received some kind of medical care, probably from the midwife, and of course everybody would want to know if other women might possibly fall sick with the same thing. Again, in a village, your business would be my business, and vice versa.

Every woman in the village who was still menstruating would live a week or two a month with the same lifestyle as the woman with the hemorrhage. The difference is that they would cycle back to being able to live normally, while she would stay living the life of someone with a perpetual period.

So yeah, a sort of living legal problem, and probably embarrassing to have as one of the notorious features of your village.

Now, if you see this woman running up to the visiting rabbi and touching him, thereby making him unclean, that would seem rude to you and inhospitable, as well as creepily forward. But that’s about it.


Also, under Judaism, boys could marry or make religious vows at 14-years-old and girls at 12-years-old, both only with parental permission,(McClintock and Strong Encyclopaedia)

Married as Children, Women With Obstetric Fistulas Have No Future

(March 2004) Wobete Falaga, who is from a village in the northern Gojam province in Ethiopia’s Amhara region, was only 13 when she became pregnant. Married at 11, just before her first menstrual period, her small underdeveloped body was not ready for the stress of childbirth. After five days of grueling labor at home, her child was finally born, but it was dead.

As a result of the long, strenuous labor, Wobete suffered crippling injuries. There was a hole, or fistula, between her bladder and vagina and another between her vagina and rectum. The damage left her body unable to control its normal excretory functions, and urine and feces were constantly dripping down her legs. Her husband quickly rejected her, sending her home to her family.

Wobete’s mother took her to the government health clinic in the province’s main town, Bahir Dar, but the nurses there said they were unable to treat the girl. They advised Wobete’s mother to take the girl to the capital Addis Ababa as soon as possible and said if her condition remained untreated, she would face death from infection and kidney failure. The family sold a cow to pay for the three-day bus journey and arrived penniless at the gates of the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital with Wobete.

These are common tales for the hospital’s founder, Dr. Catherine Hamlin, an Australian gynecologist who has spent the last 44 years in Addis Ababa and is a pioneer in performing surgery for women with obstetric fistula.

“All the women who reach the gates of the hospital feel that their lives have been ruined” says Hamlin. “They have no self-worth and have become social outcasts from their community at a very young age through no fault of their own. They’ve suffered all this injury unnecessarily because they haven’t got enough obstetric care in the provinces.”

Defining the Problem
Reliable data on obstetric fistula are hard to come by because of the stigma associated with the condition. Describing it as the most devastating of all pregnancy-related disabilities, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) says obstetric fistula affects an estimated 50,000 to 100,000 women around the world every year and is particularly common in sub-Saharan Africa, where populations face challenges to obtaining quality health care. The World Health Organization estimates that at least 8,000 Ethiopian women develop new fistulas every year.

The condition occurs when a woman — usually one who is young and poor — has an obstructed labor and, lacking a skilled birth attendant and emergency obstetric care, does not get a Caesarean section when she needs it. The obstruction may occur because her pelvis is too small, the baby is badly positioned, or its head is too big. Underlying causes include childbearing at too early an age, poverty, malnutrition, and lack of education.

In an effort to prevent and treat the condition worldwide, UNFPA is spearheading a global campaign whose partners include governments, health care providers, and organizations such as the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital, EngenderHealth, Columbia University’s Averting Maternal Death and Disability Program, the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics, and the World Health Organization (WHO).

Getting Help
“The success rate of surgery to mend a woman’s fistula injuries is actually quite high,” says Hamlin. “In about 92 percent of the cases, we can close the hole in the bladder and in the rectum.” However, about 10 percent of the women who have been operated on come back for further surgery to correct a condition known as stress incontinence.

“After we have closed the fistula, although there is no urine leaking from the hole, it is still leaking from the normal channel because their muscles have all been damaged due to the stress of labor. If they cough or laugh, the urine runs out,” notes Hamlin.

Before you say that this doesn’t happen to Jewish women, keep in mind that the laws were very similar to other developing nations when the Bible was written.
The story of the woman with the hemorrage was included in all three synoptic gospels, which includes the Gospel of Mark.

When was Gospel of Mark written?
Dating and Origins of Mark’s Gospel. When Was the Gospel According to Mark Written? Because of the reference to the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 CE (Mark 13:2), most scholars believe that Mark was written some time during the war between Rome and the Jews (66-74).

I think we can agree that this probably happened a great deal back in the year 70 CE and that the woman mentioned was probably living as an outcast as there was no medical intervention back then.

Thank all of you who contributed to this thread. In looking all this up I have a much better picture of what could have happened to that poor woman, all those years ago! :tada:


I thought that the main issue was her faith bringing about her healing. Should we read too much into this?


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