Why the Longer Purification Period for Girls Than Boys In Lev 12?


In Leviticus 12 a women must be purified for 8 days then 33 more days for the birth of a boy and then double those numbers if she gives birth to a girl…………why the difference?


This one has scholars a bit stumped. The first assumption of some scholars was that because the period of time was about purification for uncleanness, the longer waiting period indicated a greater uncleanness in the thing that defiled you. Thus this longer purification period meant that girls made you twice as “dirty” as boys. They assumed this was about women’s inferior status in Hebrew society.

However, this view has mostly been rejected today because of it’s inconsistencies with everything else in Mosaic law. For example, touching a dead human defiles you for 7 days more than touching a dead pig! (Lev 11:31 vs Num 19:11). So clearly, the length of purification had nothing to do with the inherent “worth” or lack of worth of what defiles you. And the fact that both women and men get to offer sacrifices, and were subject to exactly the same penalties for uncleanness as men (chp 15) shows a remarkable equality of worth and value in ancient Israel for men and women – far more than the surrounding nations, for sure.

So what is the answer? Some possibilities:

1. It’s a refection of Eve’s role in the fall. This view ties itself to 1 Tim 2:15-17 for support, but there’s no connection made to Eve in Leviticus at all. A similar view refers to apocryphal Jewish writings that had Adam entering in the Garden of Eden on week one and Eve after two weeks – and thus girls had to be quarantined longer… But both these views suffer from being too speculative and reading later material back into an older work…

2. It’s a reflection of medical views current at the time… For example, it might have been assumed that the birth of a girl was commonly believed to be accompanied by more complications than a boy, and/or that the vaginal discharge was greater or lasted longer for girls than boys. That would fit with the fact that usually uncleanness is related to the touching of blood (Lev 15:25). It`s not birth that makes you unclean, after all, it`s the blood involved in the birthing process.

3. It’s a refection of the anticipation of the baby girl`s future role as a mother. Meaning? Well, motherhood was so critical and valuable in those days that they would look at the birth of a daughter as involving TWO mothers – the one giving birth, and the one being born. Thus because two women (who are generators of uncleanness by their menstrual cycles AND their birthing role) are involved in the birth of a girl, the period of purification had to be twice as long.

4. Another view is that male children’s purification is shorter because of circumcision. They bleed only once in their life, on day eight, and are thus more formally included in the covenant community and come under God’s grace more explicitly, therefore, their purification is half as long as that of girls who are not circumcised.

No one knows for sure why the double waiting period for girls… but I think the 3rd view is the strongest or perhaps some combination with the 2nd and 4th. Without a reason stated in the text we are left to speculate. However, behind all of these purification laws, despite their confusing details, is something amazing: Here is God commanding fastidious washing for his people 3500 years before we found out how much disease is spread through micro organisms found in blood and unclean conditions… that’s pretty cool!