The Biblical Hebrew word טהורה (tehora) (or טהור (tahor), in masculine form), is generally translated into English as “clean” or “pure”. As is often the case with translations from Ancient Hebrew to contemporary languages, this translation is not completely accurate, nor does it capture the true meaning of the term and all that it signifies. To understand this concept, we need look no further than how the word is used in its Biblical Hebrew context, often as an adjective for animals, objects, or even people. Surely the modern English meaning of the words “clean” and “pure” do not truly make sense as modifiers for all of these different things, so we must look into the Hebrew Bible in its original language and context in order to better understand.
We see our Biblical Hebrew vocabulary word used in a number of contexts with regard to animals, in stories from Noah to the Israelites’ wondering in the wilderness. Noah is instructed to take two of each normal kind of animal onto his ark, but seven of those animals which are defined as טהורה, or fit for eating. As the Israelites wander in the desert, they are instructed which animals are טהורה for them to eat and which are not. Clearly there is no mention of physical cleanliness or purity in either of these cases and we must then understand a deeper, more spiritual meaning for the word.
This Ancient Hebrew word is also used in the Hebrew Bible to refer to people and objects in a specific state. After coming in close proximity to a dead body, for example, a person is no longer considered, in some ways, to be טהור or טהורה. This status may then exclude them from bringing certain sacrifices to the Temple. We again see that this word has little, if anything, to do with physical cleanliness and everything to do with spiritual cleanliness. As we often find, these nuances which are crucial to properly understanding the Holy Scriptures in their original Biblical Hebrew language, is not possible by only reading the translation!