Updated: Oct 21
Permission granted. See Footnote 1 for the link to the original site.
In Matthew 9:20-22, we read about the woman with the issue of blood who was healed when she touched the hem of Jesus' garment. This story highlights the power of faith and the compassion of Jesus towards those who were outcasts in society. But why was this woman considered an outcast? Why were her actions taboo? What was it that she touched? Why did Jesus say, "Power went out" from him? Why did Jesus call her "daughter?" The connection between this woman's healing is surprisingly connected to the Jewish Tallit or prayer shawl.
This will be my humble attempt to step outside my comfort zone of interpreting the Tanach. I've tried to present an unbiased examination of the cultural and historical context of the gospel narrative using the same methods I employ when preparing lessons on the Tabernacle.
Feel free to comment and improve upon my understanding of this story in the Gospels.
Social and Religious Taboos Violated
It is important to understand that in Jewish society during the time of Jesus, menstruation was considered a state of impurity. Leviticus 15:19-30 outlines the laws of menstruation and states that anyone who touches a woman during her menstrual period or anything that she sits on will become unclean. This was taken very seriously, and women who were menstruating were often isolated from the rest of society until they were considered clean again. This period of isolation could last for several days, during which women were not allowed to participate in any social or religious activities. Only the priests could declare her change of status from "unclean to clean."
Her Status: Unclean and Outcast
In the case of the woman with the issue of blood, her condition was not simply menstrual bleeding, but rather a chronic bleeding disorder that had persisted for twelve years. According to Jewish law, anyone who had a continuous discharge of blood was considered unclean, and anyone who touched them would also become unclean. This meant that the woman was not only experiencing physical suffering but social isolation from her community.
As a result, the woman with the issue of blood was likely an outcast in society. She would have been excluded from social gatherings, religious events, and even family gatherings. She would have been forced to live a life of loneliness and isolation, cut off from the support and comfort of those around her. Then she meets Jesus in the streets of Jerusalem.
Permission granted. See Footnote 1 for the link to the original site.
But as He went, the multitudes thronged Him. Now a woman, having a flow of blood for twelve years, who had spent all her livelihood on physicians and could not be healed by any, (Luke 8:42-43 NKJV). For she said to herself, “If only I may touch His garment, I shall be made well.” (Matthew 9:21 NKJV) and came from behind and touched the border of His garment.
And immediately her flow of blood stopped. And Jesus said, “Who touched Me?” When all denied it, Peter and those with him said, “Master, the multitudes throng and press You, and You say, ‘Who touched Me?’" But Jesus said, “Somebody touched Me, for I perceived power going out from Me.”
Now when the woman saw that she was not hidden, she came trembling; and falling before Him, she declared to Him in the presence of all the people the reason she had touched Him and how she was healed immediately. And He said to her, “Daughter, be of good cheer; your faith has made you well. Go in peace" (Luke 8:44-48 NKJV).
Why Did She Touch His Garment?
In this context, the woman's decision to touch the hem of Jesus' garment is all the more remarkable. In actuality, it was not a "hem" in the modern sense of the word that she touched. She touched the Tzitzit! She had heard of his healing power (Matthew 14:34-36) and believed that if she could just touch his clothes (hem in some English translation), she would be healed. Her faith was so strong that she was willing to break social and religious taboos to seek healing. Luke reminds us that this unnamed woman revealed to Jesus, in the presence of the crowd, the reason she touched him. What was her reason? Why did she believe Jesus' "hem" or "tassel" would heal her blood disorder?
"But for you who fear My name, the Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in its wings; and you will go out and grow fat like calves released from the stall." Malachi 4:2
What Did She Touch on His Garment?
In Jewish tradition, the phrase "healing in his wings" is typically understood to refer to the tzitzit, the fringes or tassels that were worn on the corners of a Jewish prayer shawl or tallit. The tzitzit were a reminder of God's commandments. This verse is often interpreted as a Messianic prophecy, referring to the coming of the Messiah (Mashiach) who would bring healing and restoration to God's people.
Photo by Adam Hershman, Take 2 Productions, 2007
The Hebrew word for "wings" in this verse is kanaf, which can also be translated as "corner" or "edge." This is likely a reference to the corners of the prayer shawl, where the tzitzit were attached. The idea is that the tzitzit, which are located at the corners of the tallit, symbolizes God's protective presence and His commandments. Therefore, the phrase "healing in his wings" suggests that the Messiah would be like a tallit with tzitzit, providing healing and protection to those who revere His name and follow His commandments. This unnamed woman who could only say the words in her heart believed Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah or Mashiach. Luke and Matthew both record, upon this confession in her heart, she was healed instantaneously.
Why Did Jewish Men Wear Tzitzit?
“Speak to the children of Israel: Tell them to make tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and to put a blue thread in the tassels of the corners. And you shall have the tassel, that you may look upon it and remember all the commandments of the Lord and do them, and that you may not follow the harlotry to which your own heart and your own eyes are inclined, and that you may remember and do all My commandments, and be holy for your God." Numbers 15:38-40 NKJV
The tzitzit serve as a reminder to Jews to observe God’s commandments and live a holy life. When a person wears a tallit with tzitzit, they are enveloped in a sacred garment that reminds them of their obligations as Jews. The fringes are also a tangible reminder of the unity of the Jewish people. No matter where a Jew may be, they are connected to their community and their God through the wearing of the tzitzit. The tzitzit serve as a physical representation of the Jewish people’s commitment to living a life of holiness and following God’s commandments.
"Power" Flowed from Jesus?
For Christian understanding, the symbolism of the Tallit is significant not only because this unnamed woman reached out to touch Jesus but also in what he said to his disciples and t the woman. Jesus asked his disciples "Who touched me?" They replay, why do you ask us such a question? The crowd is all around you. How can we know who touched you? To their response, Jesus clarified, “Somebody touched Me, for I perceived power going out from Me.”
The Greek word used for power in Luke 8:46 is dunamis. It means "power," "miraculous activity" or "strength." Dunamis is the source of our English words "dynamic" and "dynamite." Dunamis is used to describe accomplishments beyond human capacity - the miraculous. As Jesus is preparing to ascend to heaven he says to his disciples, "But you shall receive power (dunamis) when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8 NKJV)
The mystery of a "power" flowing from Jesus is revealed when we look at the deeper symbolism of the Tallit and Tzitzit. The knots and windings of the tzitzit also have symbolic meanings. The knots represent the 613 commandments in the Torah, while the windings represent the concept of wrapping oneself in God’s commandments.
The symbolism of the Tzitzit
Photo by Adam Hershman, Take 2 Productions, 2007
Power or Authority - As we observed above, the Tzitzit might be used as a family's signature seal. When a prophet had a word to give to the king, he would inscribe that prophecy upon a scroll and then present it to the king with a portion of his tassel. By this action, he was saying by the authority God has given me as a prophet I give this word unto you. I’m standing by this word because a piece of my tassel represents the power or authority behind this word. I am not going to back off of this word. (2)
Jesus signaled to his disciples and the crowd that she connected with his authority.
Notice that Jesus did not say, "Who touched my garment?" He said, "Who touched me?" Often, Jesus had crowds of people pressing in around him to hear his words or watch his miracles. She was not included in these gatherings for the last twelve years because of her uncleanness. She understood who he was and she touched the authority or power of Jesus.
Purity - The white cords of the Tzitzit represented the sanctity or purity of the garment that represented the commandments. As the person gazed down at the Tzitzit it was a visual reminder of personal holiness and to "be holy as He is holy. "Jewish sages tell us that white strings in the tzitzit symbolize aseh tov—doing good, running toward a mitzvah, attraction to goodness. A blue string, tehelet, on the other hand, symbolizes sur merah—running away from sin, repulsion from evil." (3)
Jesus signaled to his disciples and the crowd that her uncleanness changed to purity.
Status - the higher your status in life, the social structure of the day, the longer and more elaborate your tassels might be. Remember, it has that costly blue thread in each tassel, so a poor man out of necessity, might have a short stubby tassel and those of great means and status would have long tassels with a great amount of blue thread in the fringe. Jesus may have been speaking to this issue to this issue when he described teachers of the law parading in the marketplaces (Mark 12:38).
Jesus signaled to his disciples and the crowd that her status had changed.
She was no longer helplessly sick. There was evidence that she was well, no longer sick because "immediately her flow of blood stopped." She was no longer known as a social outcast to be ostracized by society. Her new status would render her "clean" and fit to enter the Temple courts and interact with family and friends.
Identity - In biblical times families and tribes had a unique way of weaving and tying and braiding the
knot. Each male or his wife might weave his own Tallit, and each had their own special tassel or unique tie, weave, and knots. By looking at the Tzitzit a person could identify what family a person belonged to. Today, Ashkenazi, Sephardic, Yemenite, Chabad, and Karite Jews have unique ways of tying and braiding their Tzitzits. (4) It would be taboo for a female, unless a wife or daughter, to touch the Tallit of a non-relative male. It would be the modern-day version of invading someone's personal space.
Since the Tzitzit was unique, and a means of identification of a family, if you were entering into a contract, you might seal the contract by taking your tassel and pressing it into a wax seal (bishop ring today). Since family tassels were unique it was like a family's signature seal. She believed he was the Messiah. Now, she was no longer a nameless woman with an issue. She was part of the family. A child, a daughter of God. See Footnote 1 for the link to the original site.
Jesus signaled to his disciples and the crowd that her identity changed to daughter.
Conclusion: We Know Her Name!
If this woman were you, would you forget about Jesus and go on with your life of health and wholeness? Most of us would say, "If I were to experience any kind of miracle of healing, I will never forget the day and the medical team that pulled me through it."
Although the Gospels do not tell us the name of the woman with the issue of blood, there is a legend or tradition that her name was Veronica (Latin) or Bernice (Greek). According to the Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches, she did not forget how Jesus changed her life. As he carried the cross to his death he fell. Veronica, the woman with the former issue of blood, knelt down and compassionately wiped the face of Jesus. (5) In Jerusalem on the Via Dolorosa he is commemorated at the sixth station of the cross during Holy Week throughout the world.
(1) I was fortunate to visit the site where the video was filmed. I visited the Jerusalem movie set in September of 2022. My friend Dr. Donald Parry of Brigham Young University was the guide. The permanent set is located in Goshen, Utah. Portions of the series, "The Chosen" were filmed at this location.
Here is a link to this video and picture. https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/media/video/2011-10-0031-jesus-heals-a-woman-of-faith? The picture and video are used for non-commercial purposes and are not monetized.
(2) Hebrew in Israel, "Hebrew in Israel: Seal of Tzitzit," Hebrew in Israel (italicized), accessed April 23, 2023, https://www.hebrewinisrael.net/blog/hebrew-in-israel-seal-of-tzitzit-learn-torah/
(3) Gottlieb, Natan. "String Theory: The Physics of Tzitzit." Quantum Torah (italicized), accessed April 23, 2023, https://quantumtorah.com/string-theory
(4) Tallit Shop, "Tzitzit Tying Customs," Tallit Shop (italicized), June 22, 2011, https://www.tallit-shop.com/2011/tzitzit-tying-customs/.
(5) Orthodox Church in America. "Saint Veronica (Bernice) the woman with the issue of blood." accessed April 1, 2023, Orthodox Church in America (italicized), July 12, 2013, https://www.oca.org/saints/lives/2013/07/12/102006-saint-veronica-bernice-the-woman-with-the-issue-of-blood.