as noted by Iain Lonie (1932-1988), an expert on classical medicine from Otago University, this belief about embryonic development was a general tenet of Greek medicine, widely accepted among Greek natural philosophers:
The belief that male embryos both develop and quicken more rapidly than female was general in antiquity. Galen says that “almost all physicians” were agreed in the opinion, and quotes the statement of Rufus that Diogenes of Apollonia was the sole exception. Extant evidence suggests that the belief, at least in its scientific form, goes back to Empedocles who, according to Oribasius, believed that the male is articulated earlier than the female…
Similarly, Shlomo Naeh, Professor of Rabbinics at Hebrew University, notes that the connection between the post-partum flow and the amount of time it takes for a fetus to form goes back to Hippocrates (5th cent. B.C.E.) On the Nature of the Child:
I brought all of these [details] in to demonstrate that the period when the limbs of the child are articulated occurs at the latest at day 42 for a female and 30 for a male. The proof for this is from the [period of] cleansing from the flow of blood after birth, which lasts for forty-two days after a female and thirty days after a male at the latest.
וידוע כי האשה היולדת אחר עבור עליה כל אלו המכאובות על חבלי יולדה, אם יולדת זכר הכל נשכח. ומיד מתחרטת בשמחת הזכר. והיתה רצונה להזדווג מיד עם בעלה להוליד זכר אחר. והשם יתברך היודע הלבבות. צוה בזכר וטמאה שבעת ימים. לפי שהיא מתחרטת מיד. אבל בנקבה שעברו עליה צירים וחבלים ביום ובלילה. ואחר כך ילדה בת. היא עצובת רוח בעצב כפול.... ולכן אינה מתחרטת משבועתה ומהעולה על לבה. אבל היא מקיימת הדבר. ובאותו זמן אומרת שלעד לעולם לא תזדווג לבעלה. ולכן התורה שירדה לסוף דעתה. צוותה עליה וטמאה שבועים כנדתה. בענין שבזה הזמן תתחרט.
It is known that after a woman gives birth, and all of the birthing pains have passed, if she gives birth to a boy everything is forgotten. She immediately regrets [the vow] in her happiness over having a boy, and wishes to be intimate with her husband and have another boy. Hence, God, who knows the souls of people, commanded that for a boy she be impure only for one week, since she immediately regrets [her vow]. However, for a girl [it is different]. After going through birthing pains day and night and afterwards giving birth to a girl, [the mother] becomes doubly depressed… Therefore, she does not [immediately] regret her vow and the thoughts that inspired it, rather, she remains with them. At that time, she believes that she will never be intimate with her husband again. Therefore, the Torah, which understands her mind, commanded that she be impure like a menstruant for two weeks, since it will take this long for her to regret [the vow].
Tzeror Ha-Mor of R. Abraham Saba (1440–1508) quoted by: Dr. Rabbi Zev Farber in Postpartum Impurity: Why Is the Duration Double for a Girl?
A similar notion appears in the commentary of Moses Alshekh (d. after 1593), who writes: “The impurity of the daughter is doubled, because by means of the woman impurity enters the world, and by bearing a daughter, she increases impurity through her.”
Moses Alshekh, Torat Moshe (5 vols.; Jerusalem: Vagshel, 1990) 3:75. On Alshekh, see Shimon Shalem, Rabbi Moshe Alsheikh (in Hebrew) (Studies and Texts; Jerusalem: Ben-Zvi Institute, 1966). cited in: A Medieval Jewish Version of Original Sin: Ephraim of Luntshits on Leviticus 12* Alan Cooper Jewish Theological Seminary and Union Theological Seminary
In view of the topic of this paper, the most interesting feature of the Keli yeqar on Leviticus 12 is Ephraim’s wholesale appropriation of Christian anthropology. One observes, for example, parallelsin John Calvin’s commentary. Calvin remarks that while cohabitation without offspring is obviously shameful, here, in Leviticus 12, “the procreation of children, which should remove this indecency, is accounted the cause of pollution, because the whole race of Adam is full of contagion.” Calvin goes on to suggest that the double period of purification for baby girls might be “because the woman was the beginning of the rebellion, when, being deceived by the serpent, she destroyed her husband with her, and drew her posterity into the same ruin.” [John Calvin, Commentaries on the Last Four Books of Moses Arranged in the Form of a Harmony (trans. Charles William Bingham; Calvin’s Commentaries 2; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 1979) 499.] Although that is not Calvin’s preferred interpretation, it does seem fair to suggest that the Keli yeqar exemplifi es a broad trend in the interpretation of Leviticus 12 in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. As I continue my research, in addition to discerning clearer lines of connection among Jewish commentators, I also hope to find better evidence of contact between Jewish and Christian commentary.
A Medieval Jewish Version of Original Sin: Ephraim of Luntshits on Leviticus 12* Alan Cooper Jewish Theological Seminary and Union Theological Seminary
The Importance of Gendering
On a simple level, gendering is about dividing people based on their physical sex, and the Hebrew terms used for male and female in this chapter highlight this. The term used here for the male child, זכר (zakhar), means “phallus” in some Semitic languages—in context, shorthand for “the one with the phallus.”
The term used here for female, נקבה (neqavah), comes from the root נ.ק.ב, meaning “to pierce” or “to bore through.” It is likely a reference to the woman’s perceived passive role in sex; literally, she is the one who will be pierced. Note the parallel term in Akkadian, naqābu, which means “to deflower” or “to rape.” Alternatively, the word could be referencing the shape of female genitalia, that she is one who has been pierced.
While it may seem vulgar to present females in this way, it highlights the connection between sex and gender as understood by ancient Semitic peoples. But in most societies, and certainly for ancient Israelites, gender not only concerns a person’s physical sex, but their social role.
I suggest that the ritual here, even though it is technically about the purity of the mother, is actually about ritually gendering the child. ... Leviticus 12 thus uses the seclusion laws to highlight, and perhaps even reinforce, a child’s gender. By systematically linking the mother’s impurity to the sex of the child, the family publicly announces a child’s gender: “My house has a newborn boy” or “My house has a newborn a girl.” Thus, the re-entry of the Israelite woman into society on day forty or eighty also functioned as an introduction to the newborn boy or girl respectively.
More than a 1,00 years before the published findings of The Kinsey Reports on Sexual Behavior in the Human Female (1953) and the findings of Masters and Johnson, the rabbis gave women the rights to sexual fulfillment.