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In addition to the dietary laws, which are partly hygienic in nature, there are ceremonies which have to do with ritual purity. The Jewish religion literally believed that “cleanliness is next to godliness.” The Bible carefully defines types of personal and ritual uncleanliness and provides for exacting rituals of purification. These include the quarantining of persons with such diseases as leprosy and of those considered impure because of some contamination. Persons in a state of impurity had to leave the “camp” or community, and all objects with which they came into contact required cleansing or burning. After their recovery, “unclean” individuals had to bathe in clean, “living” (running) water. Further, the Talmud lists the mikveh, or ritual bath, as one of ten institutions which must be provided for wherever Jews live. Before private baths became common, regular visits to such public baths were the only assurance of personal cleanliness. Besides the visits to the mikveh, the washing of the hands before meals and of the feet before retiring was prescribed by Talmudic sages.

Judaism directly associates purity of body with purity of soul. The prophet Isaiah predicts that the sins of Israel, which have been red as crimson, shall be “washed” white as snow. Similarly, the granting of the Torah at Mount Sinai was preceded by three days of “purification.” The white gowns, or kittels, worn in synagogue on the New Year and the Day of Atonement are associated with this idea. Also associated with it are the white tablecloths and clothing with which the Sabbath is received, and the white shrouds in which the dead are buried.

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