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Halakhic sources*
Texts in Jewish law relating to this article:
Bible: Leviticus 15:19-30 18:19 20:18
Babylonian Talmud: Niddah
Mishneh Torah: Kedushah (Holiness): Issurei Biah (forbidden sexual relations): 4-11
Shulchan Aruch: Yoreh De'ah 183-202
* Not meant as a definitive ruling. Some observances may be rabbinical, or customs, or Torah based.

Niddah (or nidah, nidda, nida; Hebrew:נִדָּה) is a Hebrew term which literally means separation, generally considered to refer to separation from ritual impurity[1]; Ibn Ezra argues that it is related to the term menaddekem, meaning cast you out[2]. The term niddah appears in the biblical description of the red heifer ceremony[3], in the phrase waters of [niddah]; the septuagint renders this as waters of sprinkling.

However, the term niddah is overwhelmingly used in Judaism to refer specifically to the regulations and rituals concerning menstruation, and by extension a woman is said to be a niddah when she is menstruating, or has menstruated without yet completing the associated ritual requirements. Niddah is also the name of the Talmudic tractate (volume) which deals almost exclusively with this subject. Niddah is the main category of Jewish law concerning sexual matters - euphemistically referred to as family purity (Hebrew:Taharat haMishpacha).


Biblical regulations

The biblical regulations of Leviticus specify that a menstruating woman had to be separated from other people for seven days[4]; anything she sat on, or lay upon, would become ritually impure during this period, and anyone who came into contact with these things, or her, during this period would also become ritually impure, until the evening came and the person making contact had washed themselves and their clothes in water[5]. A man who had sexual intercourse with during this period would be rendered ritually impure for seven days, rather than just one[6]; Leviticus further contains a prohibition against sexual contact with a woman who is currently separated from the people due to menstruation[7], and imposes the punishment of both individuals being cut off from the people if the prohibition is ignored[8].

Classical and Mediaeval Rabbinic literature

Although there are different biblical regulations for normal menstruation - Niddah, and abnormal menstruation - Zavah, these became conflated during the classical era, and the Talmud relates that menstruating women always followed the requirements imposed by both; the reasons for this are the subject of a debate between some medieval Jewish commentators. As a result of the conflation, the practice was to wait seven days after menstruation ceases, and for the woman to then immerse herself in water[9]; the conflation also means that women were considered ritually impure as a result of any form of menstruation.

Start of Menstruation

According to rabbinical law, a woman becomes a niddah when she is aware that blood has come from her womb, whether it is due to menstruation, childbirth, sexually transmitted disease, or other reasons. Even if menstruation started before she sees evidence of the flow of blood, the rabbinical regulations regard her as not being niddah until she notices, and until this point the regulations do not come into force concerning the spread of ritual impurity arising from contact with her. It is not necessary for the woman to witness the flow of blood itself, and it is sufficient for her to notice a stain that has indications of coming from her womb; blood stains are inadequate without such evidence, for example, if she finds a stain just after cutting her finger, she does not become a niddah, as the blood is obviously not uterine. If there is a blood stain of uncertain origin, for example on her underclothing, there are a series of complicated criteria given by rabbinical law to determine whether she is niddah or not; the woman herself is not expected to know these criteria, and can seek the assistance of a rabbi who is sufficiently learned in them.

Duration of Menstruation

Since, according to the rules of Zavah, the seven days must be counted from the point that menstruation ceases, it has historically been considered important in Judaism to determine when this occurs. Due to the fact that the leaking of semen nullifies the counting of a "clean" day the Sages enacted that the counting of seven days not begin until a minimum of 72 hours has passed. Ahkenazi custom has lengthened this to 96 hours (effectively 5 days) and instituted it in all cases regardless of whether the woman had engaged in sexual intercourse recently or not. thus the Niddah state lasts at least 12 days in the Ashkenazic tradition - the 5 days minimum and the subsequent seven days. The count of days begins when the woman first sees her menstrual blood, and ends 12 days later, or 7 days after the menstruation ceases (whichever is further); (For non-ashkenazic Jewry there are a variety of customs and a rabbi proficient in these areas should be consulted) although this count could start in the middle of the day, it is always considered to end on the evening of the final day. Sephardic Judaism uses a slightly more lenient calculation resulting in a minimum of at least 11 days.

There is a ritual method of testing whether menstruation has genuinely ceased, known as the hefsek tahara. To perform this, the woman takes a bath or shower near sunset, cleaning herself everywhere, and after a few minutes wraps a special cloth around her fingers, and swipes the vaginal circumference to the greatest depth she can manage; if the cloth only contains discharges that are white, yellow, or clear, then the menstruation is considered to have ceased, but if it is bright red it indicates that menstruation continues, and if it is any other colour it is subject to further inquiry, often involving the consultation of a rabbi. The ritual requires that the cloth used to perform this test is first checked carefully to ensure that it is clean of any marks, colored threads, or specks; the cloth itself can be any clean white cloth, although there are small cloths designed for this ritual, known as bedikah (meaning checking).

There are further rituals for giving assurance about the ceasing of menstruation. After the hefsek tahara, some women insert a cloth (or, in modern times, a tampon), consequently known as a moch dachuk, for between 18 minutes and an hour, to ensure that there is no uterine blood; this must be done carefully, as it could otherwise irritate the mucous membrane, causing bleeding unrelated to menstruation. If there is any fear of irritation causing bleeding the "moch dachuk" should be eliminated. Some women also repeat the "bedikah" on each morning and evening of the seven days subsequent to the end of menstruation. Another tradition is the wearing of white underwear and use of white bed sheets during this period; conversely, some women who suffer from spotting deliberately use coloured underwear and coloured toilet paper, since it is only when blood is seen on white material that it has any legal status in Jewish law. When not during her 7 "clean" days all women are advised to wear coloured undergarments.

Sexual contact during Niddah

As with most of the arayot (biblicly forbidden sexual relationships) all touching of an affectionate nature is rabbinically forbidden in niddah (there are additional restrictions because of the Biblical concept of Tumah). In the case of Niddah however the sages added on extra restrictions to the normal interaction between husband and wife; including forbidding the passing of objects even without touching and sleeping in the same bed to avoid the risk of it leading to sexual contact [10]; these laws are termed harchakot, meaning spacers, and result in a need for relationships to be able to develop in non-physical ways, such as emotional and spiritual connnections.

The classical regulations also forbid sexual relations on the day that a woman expects to start menstruating[citation needed]; there are three, generally co-inciding, days which fall under this regulation, known as the veset, namely the same day of the month as her previous menstruation started, the day exactly 30 days after the previous menstruation started, and the day that is the usual interval from the end of her previous menstruation[citation needed]. If the woman is not actually menstruating during a veset day, then there are certain circumstances in which sexual activity is permitted during it; for example, if a women's husband is about to travel, and will return after menstruation begins, then sexual activity is permitted during the veset days[citation needed].

Immersion in water

A special type of bath, designed to be in direct contact with naturally gathered water, known as a mikvah, was created by the classical rabbis to simplify ritual washing, although certain forms of immersion in natural streams, lakes, and even the sea, if cleared by a rabbi, are still considered sufficient. (See Ritual washing in Judaism for additional details). According to tradition, there must be nothing between the woman and the water at any point of her body, and therefore before bathing, the woman is traditionally required to remove all jewellery, makeup, and any other obstructions (defined in such a way that in modern times this would include contact lenses); the rabbinical tradition requires full immersion, including the whole of the hair.

It is also customary for a specific Hebrew blessing to be recited during immersion:

(Hebrew) Baruch atah Ha-Shem, Elokainu Melech Ha'Olam, asher kidshanu b'mitzvotav v'tzivanu al ha-tevila
(translation) Blessed are you, the Name, our God, King of the Universe, who has sanctified us with his commandments, and has commanded us regarding immersion.

Modern Judaism

The extent to which the rabbinical and biblical laws of niddah are followed differ. Sephardic women, even apparently secular ones, are reputed to follow them strictly; on the other hand, the laws tend to be ignored by secular Ashkenazi women. These laws are strictly followed in the more traditional Orthodox Judaism, who view them as serving to elevate the physical to the highest spiritual level; while movements such as Reform Judaism often interpret them as a mechanism of rediscovering female spirituality. These movements had previously abandoned practice of the niddah laws, but some groups are now re-adopting them to varying extents. Knowledge of the regulations concerning niddah is essential for rabbis in Orthodox Judaism, and without it they cannot attain ordination; in addition to the Talmudic regulations, Orthodox Judaism views the Shulchan Aruch as authoritative on these matters.[citation needed]

The official stance of Conservative Judaism is that niddah regulations are obligatory for all Conservative Jews, including the requirement to refrain from sexual relations during niddah, but there is a difference of opinions over how much other strictures need to be observed, such as whether there should be complete prohibition on any touching during niddah. In December 2006, the Conservative Movement's Committee on Jewish Law and Standards passed 3 responsa discussing the extent of Biblical requirements and continuing applicability Rabbinic prohibitions concerning Niddah for Conservative Jews, each responsum advocating different standards of observance[11]; two responsa were the majority opinions, one by Rabbi Susan Grossman[12] and one by Rabbi Avram Reisner[13], the other responsum was the minority opinion, written by Rabbi Miriam Berkowitz[14]. Despite the official stance, the practices related to family purity are often not widely followed among the Conservative laity. Isaac Klein's A Guide to Jewish Religious Practice, which predates recent changes to the official Conservative position, is still one of the most common references used by ordinary Conservative Jews. It explains niddah in detail, and the obligations and rituals of niddah it describes are essentially the same as Orthodox practice.

Sexual contact during Niddah

The avoidance of sexual contact with a woman in niddah is considered by Orthodox Judaism as a benchmark characteristic of being an observant Jew (the other two are Kashrut, and the observance of Shabbat and other Jewish Holidays).

As the night that the woman ritually traditionally washes is about 12 days after menstruation started, it often coincides with a woman's ovulation, and thus improves the chances of successful conception if sexual relations occur on that night. However, there is the rare occurrence that for certain women this period extends far past the moment of ovulation, and in combination with the ban on sexual relations during the niddah state, will effectively result in the women being unable to conceive; in the case of this effective infertility Rabbis will try on a case by case basis to find halachic (legal) leniencies to remove this barrier. There have been some calls within Orthodox Judaism for the custom to be modified so that the gap between the end of menstruation and the end of niddah isn't as long for these women.[15]

In Conservative Judaism, the three official response on the subject of niddah differ in regard to how much sexual contact needs to be probibited. Rabbis Grossman and Berkowitz regard the biblical concept of Tumah (ritual impurity) as only being relevant when the Temple in Jerusalem existed and hence irrelevant to modern times, and believe that the focus should be on what makes a relationship holy[12][14]; consequently Rabbi Grossman views continued prohibitions against any contact during niddah as being anachronistic, and argues that some physical closeness between spouses, limited to the kind of affection that would shared between non-incestuous siblings, should be allowed[12]. Unlike these opinions, Rabbi Reisner regards ritual purity as applicable in ordinary life and in modern times, and therefore upholds the traditional restrictions on physical contact between spouses during niddah[13].

Although Rabbis Berkowitz and Reisner believe that the concept of zavah should still be retained, in regards to abnormal menstruation[14][13], Rabbi Grossman argues that it can be narrowed to the point of irrelevance, in a similar manner to how the regulations concerning irregular penile discharges (zav) were narrowed in the Talmud by the rulings of Rabbi Akiva[12]. Therefore, in the event that a woman has menstrual blood stains during the middle of her menstrual cycle, which might arise as a result of modern fertility treatment, Rabbi Grossman would permit the woman to have sexual intercourse[12], but Rabbis Berkowitz and Reisner would not[14][13].

Duration of Niddah

The Biblical requirement of niddah is 7 days from the beginning of the menstrual period. In the days of the Amoraim, because of difficulties in determining when menstruation began and ended and hence whether blood was normal menstrual (niddah) or abnormal (zavah) blood which would require marking 7 days from the end, a stringency of marking 7 days from the end of menstruation was followed. Orthodox Judaism continues to follow this rule, taking the position that a stringency was and remains necessary because of the rabbinic rule of being stringent in matters of Biblical obligation.

Conservative Judaism followed this rule as well until two of the three Conservative responsa on niddah adopted December 6, 2006 held that observing niddah for 7 days total was permissible for Conservative Jews. According to Rabbi Grossman, the requirement to wait after the end of menstruation for 7 days was originally just an optional custom for the especially pious, and only came to be incorporated into Jewish law due to the classical rabbis being unsure how long menstrual cycles lasted, and only became mandatory due to contradictions between the Talmud, Nachmanides, and Maimonides, on this matter[12]. The Grossman and Reisner responsa concluded that it is permissable in Conservative Judaism to relax the stringency and observe niddah for 7 days from the start of menstruation, or until menstruation ceases, whichever is longer[12]. [13]. Earlier analyses by Joel Roth, Michael Gold, Daniel Kohn and JTS Talmud Professor David C. Kraemer had reached a similar result. Rabbi Berkowitz's opinion disagreed, saying that the inclusion of seven blood-free days is entrenched in the rabbinic laws for niddah[14]; however, Rabbi Berkowitz argued that the seven blood-free days should be counted from the genuine end of menstruation, even if this is earlier than the traditional minimum of five days from the start of menstruation[14].

Immersion in water

Some women in Orthodox Judaism look forward to the immersion itself, and comment that they feel very close to God at this time. The Orthodox practice is for immersion at the mikvah to be preceded by an ordinary bath or shower, involving the cleaning of every body cavity, of the ears, and of the nails, as well cutting all of the nails (toenails as well as fingernails), removal of food from between the teeth, and combing of the hair. There is usually a female attendant at mikvahs to help women to ensure that they are prepared for immersion.

There are different customs about how many immersions are carried out at each visit to a mikvah.

See also

  • Role of women in Judaism
  • Halacha (Jewish law)
  • Jewish view of marriage
  • Negiah (guidelines for physical contact)
  • Tzeniut (modest behavior)
  • Yichud (prohibitions of secluding oneself with a stranger)

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Niddah". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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