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May 3, 2015 / conservadox

Dvar Torah- Emor

This coming week’s Torah portion says that priests generally may not make themselves ritually impure for the dead except for certain relatives; including the mother and father (Lev. 21:2).  The mother is listed first. Why?

Ibn Ezra says that generally men live longer than women, and that the mother is thus named first because the mother dies first.

What’s interesting about this observation is that it is inconsistent with current reality.  I looked through the World Almanac and found only three nations where men live longer- Swaziland, South Africa, and Botswana, all in the “AIDS belt” of southern Africa (which I am guessing has something to do with this).  Everywhere else, women live longer.   In the poorest nations, women tend to live only slightly longer.  Everywhere else, women live about 4-8 years longer.

One might think that the biggest gap is in the most advanced nations- not so!  In Russia and in some former Soviet bloc nations, women live over a decade longer.  I would guess that this is because women are less likely to drink themselves to death, and alcoholism is a major problem in these nations.

So back to Ibn Ezra- was he just wrong?  I find that easy to imagine since deaths in childbirth were probably very common and very noticeable, and he might have focused on that instead of on higher female life expectancies among women.  Or perhaps women really did have shorter life spans in the Middle Ages for some reason- but I can’t imagine any reason for this that wouldn’t be equally applicable to poorer nations today.  So I suspect Ibn Ezra just guessed wrong.

Either way, the whole problem is an interesting example of the Torah being relevant to something beyond the ritual and ethical realms that it normally addresses.

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