Leviticus 20:18 says:

If a man lies with a woman during her menstrual period and uncovers her nakedness, he has made naked her fountain, and she has uncovered the fountain of her blood. Both of them shall be cut off from among their people.

The last sentence is translated in German as "shall be outcast and die". It does not specify that this is adultery, as those two might be married. https://hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/a/45166/38106 also views it this way and explains

If they continued sexual relationship whilst she was menstruating ,thus showing contempt for God's Law, the penalty of death was imposed on both, husband and wife.

This sounds bizarre by any standards, not just contemporary. What is the background of this harsh sentence for something seemingly unspectacular? My understanding is that if something "unclean", like a sick person, was touched by someone then that person becomes unclean as well.

In other words, I would simply expect the husband to become unclean as well, both wait their seven days (Leviticus 15:24) and then everything is fine.

  • Many cultures historically have had strong taboos around menstruating women, and harsh punishments when the taboos are violated; some continue today, e.g. Chhaupadi (enforced seclusion during menstruation) in Nepal. Commented Jun 18 at 12:20

1 Answer 1


The question is predicated on a simple misconception about the meaning of "cut off". In fact, to be "cut from the people" simply means to be excluded from the congregation, ie, excommunicated, at least temporarily and in some cases permanently. Numerous hygiene laws required this as listed in places like: Ex 30:33, 38, 31:14, Lev 7:20, 21, 25, 27, 17:4, 9, 10, 18:29, 19:8, 20:3, 20:6, 17, 18, 22:3, 23:29, Num 4:18, etc, etc.

In almost all cases, including Lev 20:18, there is no suggestion of death or capital punishment.

The hygiene laws of Israel were part of what kept them relatively disease free-

Ex 15:26 - saying, “If you will diligently listen to the voice of the LORD your God, and do that which is right in his eyes, and give ear to his commandments and keep all his statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you that I put on the Egyptians, for I am the LORD, your healer.”

Now, part of the hygiene laws was what we now call "Quarantine" - isolation for a period of time to allow any infection to either show up or be destroyed, etc. It is also now known that blood is one of the most powerful vectors of diseases and rapidly spreads contagion. When this simple fact was realized in the late 19th century, the mortality rate among birthing mothers was drastically reduced after doctors washed after any blood contamination, especially uterine blood contamination.

Further, the foundational principles of Levitical law among the ancient Israelites were these:

  • Prohibition of blood in the diet, Gen 9:4, Lev 3:17, 7:26, 27, 17:10-14, 19:26, Deut 12:16, 23, 24, 15:23. (see also Ps 50:13, Eze 33:25, Acts 15:20, 29, 21:25). The stated reason for this was the "life (literally "soul") was in the blood". Gen 9:4, Lev 17:11, 14, Deut 12:23, etc.
  • Various hygiene regulations such as childbirth, bleeding, contamination and defecation, Lev 11:31-40, 12:1-5, Deut 23:12-14
  • Regulations amounting to quarantine laws about contagious skin disease, Lev 13:1-46, 14:1-32, Num 5:1-4
  • Regulations about molds and mildew, Lev 13:47-59, 14:33-57
  • Quarantine laws concerning diseases of body discharges, Lev 15, Deut 23:9-11
  • Care laws about handing dead bodies and carcasses, Lev 17:15, 16
  • Prohibition of eating old (more than 2 days) meat, Lev 19:5-7

[There were also dietary laws but these were not part of the hygiene code.]

In modern times we recognize most of these regulations as simple hygiene cleanliness.

  • 2
    +1 .. I would add that there is no evidence that this law was ever enforced, either as expulsion from the community or as a crime meriting the death penalty. Commented Jun 17 at 13:36
  • @DanFefferman Biblically there's no evidence that virtually any of the Abrahamic laws were enforced though. Even enforcement of the Commandments is arbitrary depending on who you are, and the Bible contains many instances of people coveting, killing and so on without retribution; the hygiene laws, even more so.
    – Graham
    Commented Jun 18 at 10:13
  • "The hygiene laws of Israel were part of what kept them relatively disease free". Sounds great, but I want evidence. Because honestly... how diseased is a menstruating woman?
    – RonJohn
    Commented Jun 18 at 21:40
  • @RonJohn Some of them, very. Most of them, not at all. Hygiene laws exist today. They worked similarly 1000's of years ago as they do today. Your question contains the same logic as asking an EMT why they glove up before treating patients. I mean, how diseased are car crash victims?
    – David S
    Commented Jun 18 at 22:33
  • @DavidS not the same logic at all. The typical menstrual blood loss is 40 ml (1 1/3 fl oz). Stick a rag inside the Hebrew version of the subligaculum, and go about your ("you" being a she) business. (Also, EMTs didn't need to glove up until the AIDS and hepatitis crises of the 1980s.)
    – RonJohn
    Commented Jun 19 at 4:06

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