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In Jewish ritual law zavah (Hebrew זבה) is a state of ritual impurity applicable to females arising from vaginal blood discharges not during the usually anticipated menstrual cycle.

In the realm of tumah and taharah, the zavah has the ability to create a midras, (Leviticus 15:4, Leviticus 15:9, Leviticus 15:26 and to make unclean for a seven-day period - a man who conducts sexual intercourse with her. Additionally, the zavah woman and her partner are liable to kareth for willfully engaging in forbidden sexual intercourse.

Hebrew Bible[edit]

Torah sources for the zavah are sourced in the book of Leviticus (Leviticus 15:1-15, Leviticus 15:25-33). According to textual scholars, the regulations concerning childbirth,(Leviticus 12) which have a similar seven-day waiting period before washing, and the sin and whole offerings, were originally suffixed to those concerning menstruation, but were later moved.[1]

Shulchan Aruch[edit]

Further specification of these rules exist in the Oral Law; Orthodox Judaism views the Shulchan Aruch as being particularly authoritative on these matters, and it has extensive discussion about the subject.


The zavah state is described as initiating itself post the cessation of the usual blood flow of the menstrual cycle. The woman is described as having already immersed in a mikveh and currently in a tahor (pure) state.

Zavah ktanah[edit]

The woman, within an eleven-day window of the completion of her base seven-day niddah period,[2] notices an abnormal blood discharge. This one time discharge deems her a zavah ktanah (minor zavah) and brings the requirement for her to verify that the next day will show no discharge. Provided the next day is clean, her immersion in the mikveh prior to sunset makes her tahor (pure) after sunset.

Zavah gedolah[edit]

In the zavah gedolah (major zavah) scenario, the woman, within an eleven-day window of the completion of her base seven-day niddah period,[2] notices an abnormal blood discharge.[3] If the next day another discharge is noticed, followed by yet another discharge on the third consecutive day, she is deemed a zavah gedolah. She is then required to count seven clean days, immerse in a mikveh on the seventh day and bring a korban on the eighth.


Chazal stipulate - although uncommon - that a female must be at least ten days old to be eligible for zavah status.[4] According to the Talmud, the law of zavah is applicable if the discharge in question had happened (at least) three times over three consecutive days.[5]

Purification process[edit]

The Sifra stipulates that the zavah is required to immerse in a spring (as opposed to the standard mikveh bath) to obtain taharah (purification).

Korban requirement[edit]

The zavah is commonly known as one of four types of tumah that are required to bring a korban (sacrifice) post the purification process (Rashi on Makkoth 8b) The korban consists of both a sin offering and a whole offering, each involving a dove.[citation needed]

As consequence[edit]

Obadiah ben Jacob Sforno reasons that the zavah gedolah state is a divine consequence to alert the woman from acting in a manner comparative to Chava (Eve). This unpleasant consequence is implied by God's message to Chava in the verse "I will increase and multiply your discomfort" (Genesis 3:16), with the seven-day waiting period intended to allow a spirit of repentance and purity to enter her will. Her bringing of a dual sacrifice, the Chatat and Olah, are to rectify her negative action and thought, respectively.[6]

Targum Yonathan describes the zavah state as a divine consequence to a woman who neglects the requirement to take adequate precautions involving the laws and nuances of menstrual impurity.[7]

Although the zavah regulations clearly have a sanitary benefit in the light of modern medical knowledge, Biblical scholars see these regulations as having originally derived from taboos against contact with blood and semen, because they were considered to house life and were consequently considered sacred;[8] 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,[9] and the whole offering is regarded as a later addition (before the Priestly Code was written).[10]

In modern Judaism[edit]

Due to the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, Judaism regards the sacrificial regulations as being in abeyance; rabbinical tradition subsequently differentiated less between the regulations of zavah and those for niddah.

In modern Orthodox Judaism, zavah (a potential illness or injury) and niddah (healthy menstruation) are no longer distinguished. A menstruating woman (niddah) is required to wait the seven additional clean days that she would if she had an illness or injury (zavah), and there is no separate medical treatment sought in cases of possible zavah.

Conversely, Reform Judaism regards such regulations as anachronistic; adherents of Conservative Judaism take a view somewhere between these views, with opinions in favor of returning to the Biblical distinction between niddah (ending seven days from the beginning of a normal menstrual period) and zavah (ending seven days after the end of an abnormal discharge; with awareness that medical attention may be necessary).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Jewish Encyclopedia, Leviticus
  2. ^ a b and her typical immersion in the mikveh
  3. ^ This one time discharge deems her a zavah ztanah (minor zavah) and brings the requirement for her to verify that the next day will show no discharge
  4. ^ Sifra to Leviticus 15:19)
  5. ^ Bava Kamma 24a
  6. ^ Sforno to Vayikra 15:19
  7. ^ Targum Jonathan on Ecclesiastes 10:18
  8. ^ Peake's commentary on the Bible[page needed]
  9. ^ Jewish Encyclopedia, Sin Offering
  10. ^ Jewish Encyclopedia, Burnt Offering