Early on in my first season of Talmud classes, we come upon the passage where the reputation of Rabbi Eleazar, son of R. Simeon is impugned by the carelessness with which he performs one of his many halachic or legal duties. This particular duty has to do with the authorization of sexual intercourse between married couples after the obligatory period of abstinence during and following a woman’s menstrual flow. According to Orthodox Jewish law, marital relations are strictly forbidden during menstruation and for seven days afterwards. At the conclusion of the seven days, specimens of vaginal discharge must be presented for the OK of the community rabbi. (Or more commonly, as practiced, couples await the green light of the rabbi’s hapless wife.) In this case, Rabbi Eleazar who takes charge of the delicate matter himself, is suspected of having too hastily approved specimens that were of questionable purity. He counters with proof of his rigor: After all, in each and every case (60 in all) the couple resumed relations and nine months later they were all the proud parents of a new baby boy. (And all 60, he adds, were named after him!)
There is some murmured confusion among Rabbi Roly’s lunchtime students. As is so often the case when it comes to decoding Talmudic reasoning, connections are not always clear. But in this case they are crystal-clear to me. I speak up loudly and for the first time. Had the post-menstrual discharge been ritually unclean, the result would be a dire consequence of such carelessness – the birth of a baby girl rather than the coveted boy. Roly (himself the father of two daughters and no sons) ruefully confirms the accuracy of my contribution.
It is true- if surely lamentable- that according to Talmudic tradition females are the living result of haste and transgression. We arise from impurity; our essence is the issue of a bloodstain.