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In Torah terminology, zav (lit. "flow") is a state of ritual impurity arising from abnormal seminal discharge from the male sexual organ. Purification requirements for the zav include counting seven days without seminal discharge, immersion in a spring, and bringing certain korbanot (sacrifices).

In the realm of tumah and taharah law, the zav has the ability to create a midras and is required to abstain from entering specific areas of the Temple Mount.


The Hebrew verb stem zuv (Hebrew זוּב) in the Qal zava (זָבָה) simply means to flow, as in "a land flowing with milk and honey".

Hebrew Bible[edit]

The initial commandments regarding the zav were given to the Israelites during the second year after the Exodus from Egypt;

Command the children of Israel, that they put out of the camp .. every one that hath an issue (זָב):

— Numbers 5:2, KJV 1611

The specific law governing zav status is written in the book of Leviticus;

And if a woman have an issue (זָבָה), and her issue (זֹבָהּ) in her flesh be blood, she shall be put apart seven days: and whosoever toucheth her shall be unclean until the evening.

— Leviticus 15:19, KJV 1611

Rabbinical interpretation[edit]

Maimonides describes the zav state as the weakening of the male reproductive system while the general health of the man is normal... The semen of the otherwise healthy man oozes out without stimulation, erection, or pleasure. The color of the discharge has a reddish hue and has a thin consistency.[1]

Based on the biblical Hebrew word החתים (lit. “sealed”) Abraham ibn Ezra mentions that zav status can also mean complete loss of ejaculation ability.[2] Maimonides understands the same word as meaning even a minute amount of ‘Zav’ discharge that passes the exiting boundary of the male urinary tract [3].


The above-mentioned laws of zav are applicable if the discharge in question had happened at least three times, whether thrice in one day, or over consecutive days, although certain laws of tumah are applicable after the first and second discharges (Mishnah, Zavim, 1). The zav is quantified as an Av HaTumah, something able to transfer uncleanliness. In addition, his actual zav discharge, saliva, semen, and urine are also deemed to have Av HaTumah status.

Only after the week's wait and the immersion, would the person become ritually clean once more (Leviticus 15:25) although he would not be permitted to eat terumah until nightfall nor to eat the flesh of a sacrifice until after bringing his sacrifice (Mishnah Nega'im 14:3 and Obadiah ben Abraham's commentary).

Biblical scholars see these regulations as having originally derived from taboos against contact with semen, because it is considered to house life itself, and was consequently considered sacred;[4] the seven-day period is thought to exist to ensure that the abnormality has genuinely ceased, the sin offering is considered to have originally been made as an apology for violating the taboo,[5] and the whole offering is regarded as a later addition (before the Priestly Code was written).[6]

In regard to the transportability of tumah from the zav, the Mishnah records that if a ritually clean person and a zav both sat on an animal, or in a small boat, then the ritually clean person would become ritually unclean by doing so, regardless of how far apart they might sit. This is known as hesset ("minor movement") (Zavim, 3-4).

Regular ejaculation is treated as being distinct from zav, and is known as keri (Leviticus 15:16-18).

As divine consequence[edit]

Ibn Ezra notes that the Torah requirement of bringing a sin-offering upon the completion of seven clean days is an indication that the zav committed a sinful act that incurred his zav status.[7] Similarly, Hezekiah ben Manoah writes that the textual order of the zav laws near those of tzaraath and embezzlement (me'ilah), and demonstrate that zav status is incurred by lack of earnestness (to God) and sin.[8]

Rabbi Shabbatai HaKohen ("the Shach") comments that zav status is a divine consequence for excessive indulgence in physical relations that take place in the laying position. Thus, as consequence, items the zav will lay upon (i.e. midras objects) will become tamei (impure) for the duration of his zav state.[9]

In modern Judaism[edit]

Orthodox Judaism regards regulations concerning ritual purity as being in abeyance since the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, since impurity can no longer be cleansed, there being no Red Heifer. Conversely, Reform Judaism regards such regulations as anachronistic; adherents of Conservative Judaism take a view somewhere between these views.[specify]

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]


  1. ^ Maimonides on Mishna Zavim 2:2
  2. ^ Ibn Ezra on Leviticus 15:13
  3. ^ Maimonides, commentary to mishna Zavim 1,4 Mossad HaRav Kook edition, with Rabbi Yosef Qaffih commentary, note 19
  4. ^ Peake's commentary on the Bible[page needed]
  5. ^ Jewish Encyclopedia article Sin Offering
  6. ^ Jewish Encyclopedia article Burnt Offering
  7. ^ Ibn Ezra on Leviticus 15:13
  8. ^ Chizkuni" on Numbers 4:6
  9. ^ Sifsei Kohen to the Chumash vol. 2 p. 245