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The Concept of Impurity In Judaism

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Judaism traces its roots and origin back to the period of mankind creation, but the Jewish history is traced to Hebrews and Abraham. With regard to the Torah, Mesopotamian town of Harran was the home town of Abraham. Following God's command, Abraham was ordered to migrate to the Canaan region, which is estimated to be equivalent to the modern Lebanon and Israel. At this time the Hebrew sufferer in Egypt though they later returned to Canaan. The ancient Hebrew natives were known to be semi nomadic herdsman though they also practiced farming. They were organized into tribes that lived and carried out activities in Mesopotamia.

They interacted with neighboring communities and exchanged cultures from groups like the Semites in the west from which they adopted concept of divine messengers, law from the old Babylon and Hurro-Semite, Canaanite language and literature as well as hymns and literature of wisdom from the Egyptians. It emerged that most of these cultures showed believed in one  creator and ethics systems and preserver gods and also developed rituals that were religious. According to the Canaanite, a powerful god who they depicted as both compassionate and judgmental was the head.

This study tries to establish the origin and the meaning of the concept of impurity by the Judaism culture. Beliefs on purity in ancient societies depict unacceptable, dangerous or anomalous activities or substances which must be purified ritually. For instance, according to the ancient Hebrews semen was considered a source of impurity despite itself being impure even when discharged in acceptable means such as in marital sex. An explanation had been postulated that Semen impurity was a sign of anxiety by Hebrew over their vulnerable boundaries, due to demands of the monotheism’s that were conflicting concerning the body being recognized as sacred though dangerous power of a life-fluid (Jonathan, 1995, p285).

According to a Judaism model by Jungian , Yahweh is symbolised as the mental ego archetype. Due to this Hebrew belief, their culture grew the mental which distinguished between the logos of masculine and those of the feminine that were seen to be recessive. The building ego had to be suppressed and this could only be achieved through their beliefs. These were modalities that enabled them dissolve the ego that was developing. According to different theories it appeared that semen was one of the dangerous energies that required suppression on the chthonic masculine.

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Most of world’s religions are characterized by purity and impurity concepts. With regard to the Hebrews, mere hygiene could result to religious impurity and only through cleansing one could be accepted back to the society. Normally, physical hygiene does not explain pollution of a religion and no cleansing is required. According to this ancient religion, it was possible for one to be religiously unclean which could arise from social contacts, bodily functions or even in situations where sacred space had been violated. Some activities as well as substances could cause pollution which sometimes could be due to intentional misbehaviors and sometimes unavoidable. Impurity could lead to consequences that are varying according to the nature of the impurity (Jonathan, 1995, p285).

Once they recognized an impure individual or act, the ancient Judaism allowed the disqualification of an impure person. Impure object or person were excluded and required to avoid contact with the cult or even the temple. Impurity was not recognized as a sin, it was mostly unavoidable, but once impure; the pursuit of purity to avoid defying the sacred beliefs was a religious ideal. There were many sources of impurity according to the religion that ranged from corpses, diseases or moulds on items among others. Impurity was easily communicated in different ways such as physical contact or when people shared a house or were under one roof. Once identified as impure, purification rituals were necessary and had to be conducted which usually pertained bathing and a waiting for some time. Of primary importance was purity to priests who once in that state of impurity had to avoid touching any holy object or even eating some types of food that belonged to him. An act of sexual intercourse among people caused impurity also (Susan, 2005).

Forms of impurity

Different forms of impurity required different procedures in purification which entailed the waiting period before one is considered pure and accepted back. For instance, semen impurity required a day of waiting while menstruation, in contrast, required one to wait for seven days before being considered pure and the impurity to lift. During the war, areas like the soldiers camps had to be maintained holy and treated like the temples. A soldier having a seminal emission was required to leave the camp, cleanse himself through washing, and stay away until sundown.  Special precautions had to be taken before the holy days like the day of the atonement to preserve the High Priest from contamination from semen impurity; hence he would perform the rites as required by their beliefs. This meant separating the priest from his wife for a period of not less than a week ahead of the atonement time. The priest was also not allowed to sleep the previous night and had to keep away from certain types of foodstuffs that were considered aphrodisiacs (Wenham, 1983, p 432).

Mikhev in Judaism

According to Judaism, a Mikhev was a structure that looked like a miniature swimming pool and was used as the cleansing point where one had to deep beneath the water and on reappearing above the water was considered pure. In a religion highly characterized with detail, ornamentation and beauty against the extinction of the ancient Temple, the Mikveh is nondescript and a structure that was humble. It had an ordinary appearance which symbolized the Jewish law and life. This structure offered the community, individuals, and Israel nation an important gift in their belief, that of holiness and purity. There were no religious establishments, rites or even structures that affected the Jews the way the Mikhev did. It was regarded as the one with divine power over all structures and establishments (Susan, 2005).

In relation to emersion as a form of purification, traditions relates the sitting of Adam in a flowing river after he was banished from the garden of Eden as a part the attempt he made to regain his original perfection. Also at the Sinai, all the Jews were ordered to immerse themselves as a way to prepare them for the meeting with God face to face before the revelation. While in the desert, there was the well of Miriam  served the role of a Mikveh. As a form of induction into the priesthood, Aaron and his sons were immersed into a Mikhev to purify them for their role according to Judaism. During the Temple times, all priests and Jews who wished to enter the House of God had to undergo immersion in the Mikhev for purity. On the day of Yom Kippur, the holiest day in Judaism, the high priest was permitted to enter into the holiest places and the innermost chamber in the Temple where no other mortal was allowed to enter. As this procedure occurred, each had to be proceeded by an immersion in the Mikhev to purify him further ahead of the following entrance (Wenham, 1983, p 433).

Currently the primary uses of a Mikveh are entrenched in the Jewish law and can be traced back to the origin of the Jewish history. This covers a broad segment of the Jewish life. A Mikveh is a distinct part applied in conversion to Judaism from other religions. It is in a Mikveh where immersion of new items that include dishes, pots and utensils before any Jew can use them occurs. It is through the Mikveh concept that provides the epicenter of purification rites conducted to symbolize purification. According to their customs, a Jew’s grooms had to be immersed on his wedding day for a new beginning and purification in marriage. Among the most important uses of a Mikhev, was the purification of a menstruate woman in framework referred to as the family purity (Susan, 2005).

The family purity event was highly observed as well as the immersion of women in the Mikveh according to Judaism signified an injunction that is biblical and one of the highest order acts. Though majority of the Jews observe the synagogue as the main and central institution of Jews, Jewish law clearly states that the construction of a Mikveh should takes precedence and regarded highly than any other structure (Milgrom,1993, p 109). According to their belief, it is possible to dispose both a Torah scroll and a synagogue, treasures most venerated to raise funds for the construction of a Mikhev. With regard to Judaism and Jewish culture, for a group of families that are Jewish and living together to be regarded as a community, they must have access to a Mikhev otherwise they could not attain the required status of a community. Married life in Jewish laws, and birth of new family members to make the next generations is only possible where there is an accessible Mikhev that acts as a symbol of purification.

The Mikveh concept in Judaism

The life of the Jews is characterized by the “havdalah’s” notion of distinction and separation. According to their beliefs, the Shabbat departs on Saturday night, and a new week begins. Jews are always reminded of the borders delineating all aspect of life (Susan, 2005). They had such beliefs and slogans as, “over a cup of wine, we bless God, Who separates between the holy and the mundane, between light and darkness, between Israel and the nations, between the seventh day and the six days of labor...” from such beliefs they believed and literal meanings of Hebrew words like “kodesh” that was oftenly translation for holy and that which is separated.

They simply believed that immersing something in a Mikveh signaled more correctly a change in status or an upgrade. According to their believes, utensils that previously could not be used could, after immersion, be used in the holy act of eating with regard to the Jewish law.

Water

A woman undergoing the menstruation period was seen as unclean and could only be reunited with his husband after being immersed to signify the ultimate holiness and intimacy of marriage. Also anyone who in temple had been excluded could reunite and use the temple, the god’s house, only after being immersed (Susan, 2005). Some cases appeared dramatic in their beliefs such as that of the convent. According to the Jewish any individual descending into the Mikveh mostly the gentiles emerged as a Jew from beneath its waters. In Judaism, water is a compound that is miraculous, despite being the primary source and major factor of sustaining all life as it is known by humanity. To them, water is attributed to be the source of energy and still the sustaining factors which are reflected to be spiritual. The same element, water, posses the power of purifying, replenishing and restoring life to a humans required spiritual selves. Through the Mikveh, both grave and the womb are personified where in both a human being is stripped of all capabilities and prowess.

Immersion

The act Immersion into a Mikveh symbolizes self-abnegation and complete suspension of ones conscious as a force that is autonomous. In this act, the one who is immersing signifies the desire to gain oneness with God. It indicates leaving the current form of existence and acquiring the one that is infinitely above. This explains why it is hence described as a rebirth process. Normally in most primitive societies, menstruation is seen as a source of fear and consternation. They believed that peace could be created with menstruation and by associating it with demonic and evil spirits and also through adaptation structure that helped in avoiding it socially. Most people see Jewish marriages as an archaic taboo that is rooted in attitudes and misogyny. Judaism teachings shows that purity is the source life itself. Conversely, they see death as a harbinger of impurity which they referred to as tumah(Wenham, 1983, p 434).

Woman's menses

A woman's menses symbolizes death or disappearance of a potential life when stripped fully to its essence according to Judaism. Every month the body of a woman prepares for conception where the uterine lining builds up ready to conceive. During menses, this lining is shed off if fertilization does not occur and the possibility for conception disappears. They view this as the end of a possible life hence regarded impure and needs the cleansing through immersion into a Mikhev. Impurity is neither dangerous nor evil, and it is not tangible. It is a spiritual state characterized by absence of purity. It is only the act of immersing an impure person or item into a Mikveh that can reverse the status to a pure one. The purity and impurity concept as described by the Torah and it’s application within life of Jews is different; it has no equivalent in the current world. Perhaps this explains why difficulties are encountered when contemporary mind try to compare and relate the notion to relevance in the current world. In ancient Jewish times, however, “tumah and taharah” were the main determining factors. This referred to the pure or impure status of a Jew ritually and was the core of Jewish living. , whether he or she was ritually pure or impure, was at the very core of Jewish living. A person’s involvement in any Jewish activities was controlled by his or her purity (Susan, 2005).

Human sexuality

Most notably, impurity made it impossible to enter the Holy Temple. Numerous types of impurities occurred in Jewish dictated the Jewish life with regard to both the temple and life and came in hand with the commensurate purifications that followed. Mikveh immersion was taken to be the ultimate purification rite one would undergo in every case. This saw even those who were ritually pure, undergo immersion in the Mikhev to elevate to levels that were higher in regard to spirituals involvement. This made the institution of Mikhev to take the centre stage in Judaism. The current generations have neglected the power of rituals and their status hence causing them to vanish with emergence of new generations. Relating impurity and purity and the new generations, there are instances where immersion into a mikhev is necessated. This refers to the human sexuality. In homosexuality, the essence of sexuality is defied and requires immersion into mikhev. Homosexuality does not reflect or signify the potential formation of life and descending of a new soul from heaven as it is between a man and a woman. In fact, even after menstruation, the sacred union of a man and a woman remains clean.

Human sexuality provides the primary force that sustains lives in married couples; it is a unique language used to express the love the two shares. When a strong relationship occurs between husband and wife, it forms a potential and stable primary unit of a society and also a backbone to a happy family. They share blessings of continuity, trust and stability which originate from the commitment to each other. This explains why marriages are referred to as holy temples for human to endeavor and is subject to purification. The Mikveh cycle which is also referred as the family purity laws, should be regarded as Divine ordinance. This is the best way and the most legitimate reason to observe them as such.

It also provides the bases for the knowledge sourced in things that are larger than oneself and not based on the feelings or any subjective decision. Initially, at a glance, the mikveh system appeared to recommend constraints and limitations accompanied by loss of freedom. In the actual and deeper meaning, emancipation occurs as a result of restriction. Confident, Secure and well brought up persons understand how to restrain and they enhance self- control (Robert, 2005). The stable and safe countries refer to those pieces of land that are surrounded by borders that are well-guarded and definite. The drawing of the parameters comprising a stable country entails a firm relationship at the lowest level, family, amid chaos and confusion which allows one to traverse life with confident.

Too much and open-ended availability of human sexual mostly leads to a reduced excitement and interest over it. Mikveh's monthly cleansings teaches couples to value and treasure the time shared together. This entails counting of days until they can meet and each time a new quality to the reunion is added. In regard to purity and added value to the reunions, the Talmud states that a woman will be loved as much as on the day of her marriage. This way, the husband and wife are always involved in a continuous process of gaining oneness and become one flesh. After being immersed in the mikveh, each woman is capable of linking herself with a continuing tradition that has spanned the generations. Through mikveh she introduces herself in an immediate contact with God (Cambray,1991, p 39).

The period of purification

For most women, this period of purification also offers them introspection and solitude. They acquire an autonomous empowering feeling over their physic and more so in their sexual relationship as they relate with their husbands. They are further strengthened by the knowledge that human beings will be purified after the impure or unwanted period. According to Judaism sexuality was viewed as the vehicle of bringing new life into the world which was considered a sacred act. Also it was Holy since the ecstasy that came in hand with it was an almost equivalent experience to that state of bliss associated with the goddesses and gods divine existence. Due to this reason, sexual intercourse in ancient cultures was a ritual of participation and also a magical act of fertility. It signified the divine because, in their complete abandonment to sexuality instinct that was inspired by the goddess, both men and women gave themselves as vehicle of her generative power (Cambray, 1991, p.37). The benefits that are brought to the married by exercising family purity have been recognized by many experts with both Jews and gentiles appearing similar in this belief. Ultimately, however, the mikveh's strong hold on the Jewish people together with its promise of redemption and hope is traced back to the Torah and flows from the belief in God perfect wisdom. Judaism recommends for the consecration of human sexuality as well as I being sacred.

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