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Uncleanness

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(chiefly טֻמְאָה, used in the almost technical sense of Levitical defilement) is the term by which, in the law of Moses, is indicated that condition which caused the temporary suspension of a Hebrew man or woman from religious and social privileges as a subject of the Theocracy.

1. About seventy specific cases of possible uncleanness are described, and others implied. Various modes of classifying them have been resorted to. The old Jewish writers made two classes, according to the length of the ceremonial suspension. The lighter class embraced the instances of uncleanness for the day; the heavier class, those of a longer period (Pesictha, in Ugol. 15:1148; Maimonides, Constitutiones, in Ugol. 8:58; where the contaminated of the lighter class is called טבול יו, de die lavandus; comp. Lightfoot, altarm. of O.T. [Works by Pitman, 2, 122]; although he gives four classes, according to time). Other writers (see Cornelius a Lapide on Leviticus 15:22) make also two classes, but on a different principle: "Duplex fuit immundities Hebr. Una erat peccatum, quia prsecepto Dei vetita, talis erat comedere carnes immundas. Talis etiam erat pati lepram, etc. Altera non erat vetita, sed solum indicata et statuta, talis erat tangere leprosum, etc. Haec non erant peccata, sed tantum inducebant irregularitatem quandam." Modern Jews profess to be bound only by the former of these classes. The threefold classification, however, which is indicated in the law of Moses itself seems to be most convenient, and is most commonly adopted (a) "Every leper;" (b) "Every one that hath an issue;" (c) "Whosoever is defiled by the dead" (see Numbers 5:2). The lawgiver, no doubt, here refers to his own enactments in Leviticus and under the three generic phrases includes all the instances of uncleanness.

(1.) He begins with leprosy, the gravest of all instances. A minute diagnosis of this terrible malady in its ceremonial character, and the purification which the law prescribed, are given in Leviticus 13. (See LEPROSY).

(2.) Under the second head, of uncleanness from "issues," are included all those physical emanations or bodily discharges to which either sex is liable. They are described in their several details in the following passages:

[1.] The woman's periodical issues in Leviticus 15:19-24, and irregular issues in Leviticus 15:25-27. These were alike unclean in themselves (the former for seven days, the latter during the irregularity), and communicated uncleanness during the day alike to "whosoever touched her," "her bed," or "anything that she sat on;" from which uncleanness they escaped "at even" by washing their clothes and bathing. Any man who so far forgot decency as to lie with her and be stained with her menstrual taint incurred an equally long defilement as the woman herself, and like her communicated uncleanness to the bed whereon he lay. On the day after the cessation of her issue (the eighth) the woman, for her purification, was to bring two turtledoves or two young pigeons, one for a sin-offering and the other for a burnt-offering, to the priest, who was to make atonement for her before the Lord.

[2.] The issues of males, two sorts of which are mentioned in Leviticus 15:3, produced uncleanness with effects precisely similar to those of women (see Leviticus 15:4-12). This is not the place to discuss the nature of these male fluxes; Michaelis adduces strong reasons for disputing the general opinion, which denies that the Gonorrhea virulenta is referred to in the passage before us (Laws of Moses [Smith's transl.], art. 212). (See ISSUE). The purification prescribed for men under this defilement is identical with that for women (Leviticus 15:13-15).

[3.] Sexual copulation, including conjugal intercourse, caused to both man and woman uncleanness "until the even," from which they were to cleanse themselves and their garments by bathing and washing (Leviticus 15:16-18).

[4.] The final result of the sexual act in childbirth produced a still more marked defilement (see Leviticus 12). The mother's uncleanness in this her puerperal state, on the birth of a boy, was identical in duration with that of her menstrual issues. Seven days was she unclean (Leviticus 12:2); on the eighth the child was circumcised (Leviticus 12:3); after which the other remained in private, excluded from the sanctuary, during thirty-three days more (Leviticus 12:4). This period of forty days defilement was doubled in the case of the birth of a maid child (Leviticus 12:5). The purification rites of the mother, however, were the same, whether observed at the end of the forty or of the eighty days. She brought a yearling lamb for a burnt-offering, and a young pigeon or turtle-dove for a sin-offering, unto the priest, that he might make atonement for her before the Lord, and she might be cleansed. In case of inability to bring the lamb, the substitution of another young pigeon or turtle-dove by the mother was allowed (Leviticus 12:6-8; comp. the Virgin Mary's humbler offering in her "low estate," Luke 2, 22-24). Ins our general article on the LAW OF MOSES, we had occasion to remark on the probable substratum' of moral and religious mystery which underlies much of the ceremonial enactments. The havoc made by sin on our human race seems most strongly indicated by the fact that the normal and inevitable conditions of our natural life are affected with uncleanness. The gradations of pollution from conception to parturition, and their remarkable culmination in the birth of the female child, are wonderfully significant of the original transgression," and of woman's first and heavier share in it (1 Timothy 2:14; comp. with Genesis 3:6; Genesis 3:16-17).

The two periods in the mother's purification are; however, different in character. "For seven days immediately after she is brought to bed, she lies טומאתה בדמי, in the blood of her uncleanness;' but the three-and-thirty following, בדמי טהרה, in the blood of her purifying.' Although the privacy continued to the mother, she was after the seven days released from the ban of uncleanness and did not communicate defilement to others, as in the previous period of her perfect isolation and disability. The old Jewish authorities are as usual very dogmatic on the point: In Pesictha, Colossians 4, it is written, בדמי טהרה "in the blood of her purifying:" אפילו שופעת דם כנהר טהורה, though she issue blood like a flood, yet is she clean." Nor doth she defile anything by touching it but what is holy" (Lightfoot, Exercit. on St. Luke Led. Pitmaun], 12:37).

(3.) Equally noticeable, as might be expected, are the traces of this havoc as displayed in the various uncleannesses of death the third and last of our chapters of classification; and herein we recognize the deeper implication of our human race in the ruin, above all other living beings. "By the law of Moses," says Lightfoot, "nothing was unclean to be touched while it was alive, but only man; a man in leprosy was unclean to be touched, and a woman in her separation) but dogs, swine, worms, etc., were not unclean to be touched till they were dead; and there were also different degrees herein; while touching a dead beast brought uncleanness for a day, touching a dead man produced the uncleanness of a week," etc. (Harm. of O.T. as above). This gradation of defilement from contact with death is described (a) In Leviticus 11:8; Leviticus 11:11; Leviticus 11:24; Leviticus 11:26-27; Leviticus 11:31-35; Leviticus 11:39-40; Leviticus 17:15. (b) In Leviticus 22:4-8. (c) In Numbers 19:11; Numbers 19:14; Numbers 19:16. (d) In Numbers 6:9. In the first of these four sections, the uncleanness arises from the dead bodies of animals, fishes, birds, and reptiles. It was the shortest in duration, lasting in every case only "until even;" and it was to be terminated uniformly by the washing of the clothes. The last statute, Leviticus 17:15, prescribed ablution of the person also for "every soul that eateth that which died of itself, or that which was torn with beasts." In the second section, the same defilement is described as incidental to the priests, no less than to the laity, from which they must free themselves by ablution. So much for the minor uncleannesses from the dead. Our third and fourth sections contain the instances where the major disability of seven days is occasioned by contact with human dead. "Whosoever toucheth one that is slain with a sword in the open fields, or a dead body, or a bone of a man. or a grave, shall be unclean seven days." As the defilement was deeper, so was the mode of purification more elaborate and solemn. For the details of the ceremony the sacrifice of the red heifer without the camp; the sevenfold sprinkling of her blood before the tabernacle; the utter consumption by fire of the slain animal; the cedar- wood, hyssop, and scarlet cast into the burning mass; the gathering-up of the ashes; their mixture in running water for "the water of separation;" the sprinkling of this water over the unclean person, on the third and the last of the seven days; his own washing of his clothes and bathing of his person, and his final cleansing on the evening of the seventh day-the reader will consult the 19th chapter of Numbers. Our fourth section describes the interruption of the Nazarite's vow by any sudden death happening in his presence. This mortality "lost him" all the days of his vow which had transpired, and required for its own expiation also the usual hebdomad, on the last day of which he was to shave his head, and on the morrow bring two young pigeons or two turtles to the priest, that he might present them as a sin-offering and a burnt-offering as an atonement for the polluted. (See PURIFICATION).

2. A few stray instances remain of a peculiar kind, which we proceed to class in a supplementary notice.

(1.) We have then under this head, first, the cases of what may be called official uncleanness.

[a.] The priest who superintended the holocaust of the red heifer was rendered unclean until evening by the part he took in the sacred rite; from this defilement he purified himself by the washing of his clothes and the ablution of his person (Numbers 19:7). This uncleanness was the more remarkable from the precautionary character of the law, which in other cases seemed strongly to aim at preserving the priests, as far as might be, from the incidence. of ceremonial pollution (see Leviticus 21:1-4).

[b.] The man that burned the heifer was involved in the same defilement as. the priest, from which he was also extricated by a similar purification (Numbers 19:8).

[c.] So, again, the man who gathered the ashes of the consumed heifer was unclean until evening; but from this disability he was released by the lesser ceremony of simply washing his clothes (Numbers 19:10). Similar instances of uncleanness, arising out of official routine, occur in the ordinances of the Day of Atonement.

[d.] The man who dismissed the scape-goat was: to wash his clothes and bathe himself before returning to the camp (Leviticus 16:26), and a like purification was required of him who burned the bullock and the goat of the sin-offering (Leviticus 16:28). [e.] Under this head of official uncleanness, we may perhaps place the abnormal case of the Israelitish soldiers who slew the Midianites at the command of Moses (Numbers 31:17). They were to remain outside the camp seven days; purify themselves on the third and on the seventh day; cleanse their raiment, etc., with either fire or the water of separation, as the case might require, and on the last day wash their clothes (Numbers 31:19-20; Numbers 31:23-24).

(2.) Besides these cases of official uncleanness, we find one instance sui generis occurring in Deuteronomy 23:10-11, which, with its purification, is thus described: "If there be among you any man that is not clean by reason of uncleanness that chanceth him by night, then shall he go abroad out of the camp but when evening cometh he shall wash himself with water, and when the sun is down, he shall come into the camp again." It may be observed that this case is not designated by the usual term טֻמְאִה ; the phrase merely denotes its accidental character, לאֹאּטָהוֹר מַקְּרֵהאּלָיְלָה .

(3.) Our enumeration, to be complete, should include the aggregate uncleanness of the priest and his household, and the nation (Leviticus 16); this was expiated by the grand ritual of the great Day of Atonement, for the imposing details of which ceremony we must refer the reader to our article on that subject.

3. Some few historical instances of uncleanness, and more of purification, are mentioned both in the Old Test. and the New Test. As being, however, applications only of some of the statutes which we have given above, we shall refrain from adducing them here, except one case, which is important because it led to the enactment of a proviso in the law. "There were certain men, who were defiled by the dead body of a man, that they could not keep the Passover on that day." They stated their difficulty to Moses and Aaron, the former of whom referred it to the Lord, and obtained from him a statute allowing a supplemental celebration. of the Passover for' such as were incapacitated in the manner in question or on a distant journey (Numbers 9:6-12). (See PASSOVER).

In contrast with this relief was the inflexible penalty threatened against all willful neglect of the various rites of purification prescribed in the law. The fullest formula of this penalty occurs in Numbers 19:20 : "The man that shall be unclean and shall not purify himself, that soul shall be cut off from among the congregation [or, as it runs in Numbers 19:13, from Israel'], because he hath defiled the sanctuary of the Lord." That this excision meant death is evident from Leviticus 15:31; Leviticus 20:9 (see Michaelis, Laws of Moses [Smith's transl.], 4:43, and Keil on Genesis 17:14). Jehovah, the theocratic king and holy God, who had his own ways of "cutting off" the disobedient, is pleased to include in his sentence of excision the reason for its infliction "because he hath defiled the sanctuary of the Lord." This is in direct accordance with the principle by which the Divine Legislator repeatedly sanctions his laws: "Ye shall be holy; for I the Lord your God am holy" (Leviticus 19:2, and frequently elsewhere), and it was the recognition of these saintly duties which always characterized the pious Israelite. "God" (says the psalmist, Psalms 89:7) "is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints [קְדשַים, which is likewise the word used in the formula of Leviticus; the phrase בַּקְהִל קְדשַים also, which occurs in Psalms 89:5 of this psalm, is the frequent designation of the political organization of the Israelites], and to be had in reverence of all them that are about him."

The Mosaic ritual on uncleanness illustrates much of the phraseology of the Psalms and the prophets, and (what is more) many statements in the New Test., not only in obvious comparisons, as in the Epistle to the Hebrews, but in oblique phrases, such as in Ephesians 5:26-27, where the apostle, "speaking of Christ's washing the Church, that he might present it to himself without spot or wrinkle, etc., seemeth to allude to the Jews exceeding great curiousness in their washings for purification" (Lightfoot, who quotes Maimonides in Mikvaoth, III, 3, 297).

In conclusion, we must refer to the notices of purification which occur in the New Test. These are of three kinds (a) the legitimate instances, such as that of the virgin Mary (Luke 2, 22), the leper (Mark 1:44), the Nazarite (Acts 21:23-24), all of which make express reference to the law; (b) the unauthorized cases, such as the traditional and Pharisaical washings of the hands (Matthew 15:2), and of tables, cups, and platters (Mark 7:4), all which the Lord condemned in strong terms as superstitious encroachments on the divine law; (c) the doubtful cases, such as the case of those who came to Jerusalem to purify themselves before the Passover (John 11:55), and the discussion mentioned in John 3:25. "Their controversy," says Lightfoot "was partly about the pre-eminence of the Judaical washings and the evangelical baptism-and here the Jews and John's disciples were at opposition, and partly about the preeminence of John's baptism and Christ's and here the Jews would hiss them on in the contestation" (Works [ed. Pitman, 5, 67).

4. Our object in this article has been to collect the scriptural laws on unclealiness and purification, we have avoided the Jewish traditional doctrines. These may be discovered by the curious on such subjects )y a careful use of the indexes to the works of Lightfoot, Schö ttgen (Horae Hob, et Talmud. ), and Surelhusius (Mishna). Dr. Wotton, in his work on the Mishna (i, 160-170), has analyzed the Seder Taharoth, or Order of Purifications, which contains the authorized tradition on the subject of our article." In this order," says Wotton, "more than in any of the rest, the true Pharisaical spirit which our blessed Lord so severely reprehends in Matthew 15 and Mark 7 is plainly and fully seen." We subjoin the names of the chief "titles" or sections of this order:

1. Kelim, vessels;

2. Ohaloth, tents treating of pollutions from the dead;

3. Aefaimi plagues of leprosy;

4. Parah, the red heifer;

5. Taharoth, purifications relating to lesser uncleannesses which last but a day;

6. Mikvaoth, collections of water for the cleansing baths, etc.;

7. Niddah, menstrual pollutions;

9. Zabim, men that have seminal uncleannesses;

10. Tibbul Yom, washed by day (see above); and

11. Yadaim, hands the constitutions in which title have no foundation in the written law. (See TALMUD).


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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Uncleanness'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/tce/u/uncleanness.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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