Menstruation and "Family Purity" (Taharat Ha-Mishpacha)

An act of will is required to turn our thoughts back to the sacred after a bodily event has focused our attention on the very physical here-and-now.

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Niddah and Tohorat Ha-mishpacha Today

The Torah requires a minimum seven days of sexual abstinence for women and their husbands, from the onset of blood flow. The rabbis in the Talmud (BT Niddah 66a) claim that women took upon themselves to extend the time during which couples are to refrain from sexual relations from the biblical minimum of seven days to at least twelve by waiting until the end of her flow, as described above--five or more days--and then waiting an additional seven days in which there is no flow or spotting.

In practice, then, a woman needs to anticipate the beginning of menstruation to avoid accidents, and if she has an irregular cycle, to check regularly. The woman then checks herself toward the end of her flow to ascertain when the blood flow stops. On the last day of spotting, she begins to count seven additional days. At the end of that time period, the woman visits the mikveh.

At the mikveh the woman prepares herself by bathing, brushing her teeth, cleaning under her nails, removing all jewelry, and so forth, to make sure that her body is perfectly clean before entering the waters. She then goes into the water and immerses, and recites a prescribed blessing. The procedure is similar for a woman who has given birth. Until the woman returns from the mikveh, Jewish law bans all sexual contact, and mandates that the couple should refrain from any contact that might stir sexual feelings.

Today, observance of the traditional strictures and the post-menstrual immersion in a mikveh are common among Orthodox Jews, much less common (but growing) among Conservative Jews, and quite unusual in the more liberal religious communities.

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Rabbi Alana Suskin

Alana Suskin received her Rabbinic Ordination and Master of Rabbinic Studies from the University of Judaism's Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies.