UNCLEAN AFTER CHILDBIRTH / PURIFICATION
According to the law of Moses, there was a period of ceremonial uncleanliness for women who gave birth to children. “When a woman has a child, giving birth to a boy, she shall be unclean for seven days, with the same uncleanness as during her menstrual period” (Lev 12:2). Even after completing the seven days of uncleanliness, the mother had to “spend thirty-three days more in a state of blood purity; she shall not touch anything sacred nor enter the sanctuary till the days of her purification are fulfilled” (Lev 12:4). If the child was female, the duration of uncleanliness was 14 days, and the state of blood purity was an additional 66 days. Thus, the period of purification for the mother who gave birth to a male child was 40 days and a female child was 80 days.
According to the Biblical numerology, forty is symbolic of a period of purification, preparation, or testing. Biologically, after giving birth a woman has a discharge known as lochia that might last for four to six weeks. The term lochia derives from the Greek word lokheíos, that means “of childbirth.” Lochia is a combination of blood, mucus and uterine tissue coming from the wound that occurred when the placenta tore away from the uterine wall. It is a post-delivery healing process. During this time, she could touch nothing sacred nor enter the sanctuary.
On the 40th day after childbirth, the sacrifice for cleansing was offered at the Nicanor Gate on the east of the Court of Women in the Temple. Women who lived far from the Temple had no obligation to be present in the Temple for the purification ceremony. Since Bethlehem was only six miles south of Jerusalem, Joseph and Mary went to the Temple to offer the sacrifice for the purification of Mary and to present Jesus.
The Jews were meticulous about external purity and similar rituals. However, Jesus gave importance to spiritual purity. He summarized the Law and Prophets, saying, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments” (Mt 22:37-40).