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Frequently Asked Questions and Answers

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Question 11.9.8:
Symbols: What is the significance of the number 40?


Forty days after a child is conceived, the Talmud tells us, the soul enters the body. Forty, therefore, is a symbol of birth, rebirth and change. It is interesting to note that it was recently found that neural activity does begin at 40 days after conception. This also means that abortion is permitted in more instances within the first 40 days of pregnancy than during the rest of pregnancy.

For the same reason, ritual immersion is done in a minimum of 40 seah (a unit of volume) of water. Note that the letter mem, whose name is from mayim (meaning water or fluid in general), is 40 in gematria. When God wanted to rebirth the world, it rained for 40 days causing a flood. Similarly, the Jewish People were born during 40 years in the desert.

The FAQ is a collection of documents that is an attempt to answer questions that are continually asked on the soc.culture.jewish family of newsgroups. It was written by cooperating laypeople from the various Judaic movements. You should not make any assumption as to accuracy and/or authoritativeness of the answers provided herein. In all cases, it is always best to consult a competent authority--your local rabbi is a good place to start.

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