"Dashtana -- 'ki derekh nashim li'": A study of the Babylonian rabbinic laws of menstruation in relation to corresponding Zoroastrian texts
Secunda, Samuel Israel
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For over half a century, academic scholarship of the Babylonian Talmud (Bavli) has focused primarily on the dynamics of this work's internal textual (lower and higher criticism) and hermeneutical phenomena. This dissertation participates in a recent scholarly endeavor to consciously incorporate the Bavli's external, Sasanian Iranian context into talmudic research. By closely examaning the development of the Babylonian rabbinic laws of menstrual purity (hilkhot niddah) against corresponding Zoroastrian texts, I argue that rabbis and Zoroastrian priests were engaged in similar, sustained legal discussions that reconsidered (a) the role of religious authorities in determining the legal onset of menstrual impurity, (b) whether to delay purification rituals beyond the cessation of the menstrual flow, and (c) the place of menstruants in the home and society. In each of these cases, rabbinic and Zoroastrian sources share analogous legal trajectories that testify to a broader conversation that was taking place in Sasanian Iran. In addition, analysis of seven talmudic aggadic (non-legal) sources reveals a dynamic in which the rabbis were aware of the importance of menstrual purity amongst Persians and anxious about the legitimacy of certain rabbinic menstrual purity practices in light of Zoroastrian stringency. Consequently, the rabbis sought to assert the authoritativeness of the rabbinic system by imagining the Sasanian queen-mother consulting (and subsequently praising) a prominent fourth century talmudic sage in order consulting (and subsequently praising) a prominent fourth century talmudic sage in order to diagnose her bloodstains. In a different passage, the Bavli depicts an important talmudic sage verbally sparring with an anonymous "Zoroastrianized" heretic. The rabbinic sage claims that even spiritually weak Jews are uniquely equipped to withstand the temptations of violating the menstrual prohibitions. Finally, another Babylonian rabbinic sage claims that the Zoroastrian menstrual purity system is actually derived from the Jewish one since the Persian word for menstruation, dastan, can be traced to the biblical matriarch, Rachel. The parallel legal trajectories and the dynamic of rabbinic defensiveness in the face of Zoroastrian stringency all contribute to our understanding of the Bavli and its relationship with Sasanian Zoroastrianism.