Being too holy

“The key to understanding and coming to terms with these attitudes lies in the fact that Jewish tradition made little distinction between things that were unclean because there were dirty or soiled and things that were unclean because they were too holy to touch. Texts of Holy Scripture and dead bodies were both capable of imparting this sense of impurity, but the most significant substance in this regard is almost certainly blood. Even a quick perusal of some of the sections of the Old Testament regarding ritual purity reveals that blood not only has a very interesting symbolism of its own (which for Orthodox Christians finds its highest expression in the words of Jesus at the Mystical Supper), but also connects some major themes that run through Jewish and Christian tradition: life and death, marriage and birth, sacrifice and redemption, sin and forgiveness.

“The notion of impurity in the Jewish sense, which means that something or someone is barred from participation in temple worship, carries no automatic sense of being morally or physically impure. It has context and meaning in terms of temple worship which has been lost in the modern world.

“The state of a woman after childbirth is that she is impure in a ritual sense, not through being dirty or unclean, but becasue she is too holy. She has participated in the co-creation of a human life and has thus worked closely with God during the process of childbirth, from early pregnancy until well after the child is born. This places her in a unique and significant spiritual condition.”

Archimandrite Meletios Webber
Bread & Water, Wine & Oil

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2 thoughts on “Being too holy

  1. ‘The key to understanding and coming to terms with these attitudes lies in the fact that Jewish tradition made little distinction between things that were unclean because there were dirty or soiled and things that were unclean because they were too holy to touch.’

    The region where this concept has come into the greatest confusion is in sexual matters.

    Yes, it may seem that the effects of menstruation would be considered unclean, though not because of the blood (the fluid of the soul) but rather because of the failure of conception that causes the discharge of the wasted ovum. But to my mind, this is akin to the unclean state of the dead, both being unclean not because they are filth, but because they are too holy to touch.

    The other state of being unclean that seems to be related to what is too holy to touch rather than being filthy, is the discharge of semen. This has been considered unclean because of being filthy, but to my mind, this also is another instance of unclean because too holy.

    Through human sin, sexual activity has become a source of shame and degradation, when it was created to be the opposite: the sharing of God’s creative energies in the physical realm with His creatures. Even the organs themselves are reflections of the triadic Divine Nature and the receptive and fruitful Human Nature. It was no accident that ancient religions included sex in their worship, recognizing everything connected with reproduction as sacred. Only sin blinded them to its proper veneration.

    I wonder where, when and how the original significance of the state of being unclean in its two aspects, too profane and too profound (or holy) became muddled and confused. But I am glad to see that someone else has put this concept into print, something I’ve thought about and believed for a long time, without ever actually trying to express it.

    Thanks for bringing our attention to this book.

  2. A while back I started to attempt a study of ritual impurity, trying to investige the biblical categories and then relate them to current approaches to ritual impurity for women regarding childbirth and menstration. Unfortunately I didn’t get very far. Does anyone know of any good resources that I should look into?

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