Q. Why is it that a woman is unclean for 7 days when she gives birth to a son, but 14 days for a girl? Gender bias?
A. This is a puzzling passage in Lev 12:
• Lev 12:2 “Speak to the sons of Israel, saying: ‘When a woman gives birth and bears a male child, then she shall be unclean for seven days, as in the days of her menstruation she shall be unclean.
• Lev 12:5 But if she bears a female child, then she shall be unclean for two weeks, as in her menstruation; and she shall remain in the blood of her purification for sixty-six days.
The uncleanness is not due to the birth itself, but the discharge of blood during childbirth, similar to menstruation. The purification period is actually 40 days (7+33) for boys, 80 days (14+66) for girls. Why double for girls? Commentators have suggested various explanations, none quite satisfactory:
• Physiology of boys – Some suggested the “normal” duration for uncleanness for all babies is 14 days, but cut short to 7 days for boys, in order that they can be circumcised on the eighth day. This is so because the coagulation agent in the blood is at its peak on the eighth day, and the boy would heal faster. But if that is so, why isn’t the purification period 40 or 80 days for both when circumcision is not a factor?
• Physiology of girls – Others believed that the babies carry the mothers’ hormones in their system, which may lead to bloody mucous discharge for girls for up to two weeks, but not for boys. This could explain the difference in the unclean duration, but still not the purification period.
• Health for mothers – some commentators turn the negative connotation around by seeing the purification period as giving the mother a maternity leave, allowing her to rest after delivering her child. So the double duration for girls is actually a blessing compared to only half the time for boys.
• Spiritual – Still others suggested that Eve was deceived by the serpent and led Adam to fall, so the duration is double for girls. 1 Tim 2:14 And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression. While 1 Tim 2:14 is certainly true, the Bible never made a direct connection between this and the double duration.
• Social – Some felt baby girls grow up to be women who in turn give birth to their own babies, whereas baby boys grow up to be men who do not give bear children directly. So the duration is doubled for girls.
As you can see, none of the proposals provide a fully satisfactory explanation. The pagan nations may have a gender bias in favoring boys, but I don’t think God has that prejudice:
• Ga 3:28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.