Women and TemplesBy: Mormon Heretic
It’s amazing what you can learn on the Bloggernacle. Layne at Feminist Mormon Housewives expressed concern about a policy at a temple she attended. As Young Women’s advisor, she took the young women in her ward to perform baptisms for the dead. Apparently the unnamed temple she attended had a policy that women currently experiencing their period would not be allowed to participate in baptisms, but would be allowed to participate in confirmations. Rebecca at By Common Consent noted that some temples have the policy, and some don’t. According to Rebecca,
(Sorry. Couldn’t resist.)
Being a guy, such an issue had never crossed my mind–apparently it hadn’t crossed some women’s minds either. They have started a Google Docs spreadsheet to track the issue and see if the issue can be resolved. I can understand that a young woman would be mortified to find she couldn’t participate if she hadn’t known the policy and was informed of the policy at the temple. If you read the comments, there are several stories of women driving hours to a temple and then being informed of the policy. (Don’t read the comments if you are squeamish–there are quite a few tales of the facts of life women deal with on a monthly basis.) Some have wondered if there was any sort of a basis scripturally.
Well, I’ve been watching a documentary from National Geographic called “The Real Mary Magdalene.” It’s a fantastic video, part of a 3 DVD set of Science of the Bible (it’s on disk 3). Ancient Judaism had some interesting practices relating to menstruation and the temple. Quoting from the DVD,
Jewish society in the first century forced a sharp division between men and women. The division began at the temple in Jerusalem. Women could not enter the Court of the Priests where the sacrifices took place. Instead, they had to stay in the court of the women. Ritual purity was vital in the temple. Priests had to immerse in a special pool called a mikvah every day in order to be holy.
Rabbi Lawrence Schiffman, New York University, “Men and women are segregated in the temple because the way access works to the temple. People gain closer and closer access based on the higher potentials of ritual purity.”
Menstrual blood made women impure every month. They had to bathe in the mikvah before they could have sexual contact with their husbands. These ritual differences between men and women in the temple were reflected in life.
A Mikvah is very similar to the more modern practice of baptism, and it appears that Christian baptism evolved from the practice of mikvah. I talked about Mikvah and baptism previously. Anyway, I am not here to promote or defend temple issues here (I’ll defer to the women that say there is no problem performing baptisms even if having a period), but I will say that menstrual bleeding was considered unclean in ancient Judaism. Without the modern feminine hygiene products we have now, I’d be surprised if ancient Christians would have allowed women to perform baptisms while menstruating. What do you make of this issue? Do you think the Church should make an official policy one way or the other?