|Texts in Jewish law relating to this article:|
|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, customs or Torah based.|
Niddah (or nidah, nidda, nida; Hebrew: נִדָּה) is a Hebrew term which literally means separation, and generally refers to separation from ritual impurity; The term niddah is overwhelmingly used in Judaism to refer to the rules of Jewish law concerning menstruation. In common usage, a woman is said to be a niddah when she is menstruating, or has menstruated without yet completing the associated ritual requirements.
Meaning and use of the term
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 - also referred to as family purity (Hebrew:Taharat haMishpacha).
Related terms and definitions
- Veset HaChodesh
- Veset HaFlagah, the days (or half-days, per Chabad minhag) between flows
- Onah Benonis
- Ben niddah (male) or bat niddah (female), a person conceived when their mother was a niddah.
The biblical regulations of Leviticus specify that a menstruating woman had to be separated from other people for seven days; 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.
A man who shares the same bed with her and thereby comes into contact with her menstrual blood during this period would be rendered ritually impure for seven days, rather than just one; Leviticus further contains a prohibition against sexual contact with a woman who is currently separated from the people due to menstruation, and imposes the punishment of both individuals being cut off from the people if the prohibition is ignored.
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. See the section, below, on Historical study of the seven extra days.
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. This 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. Until this point the regulations do not come into force.
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 not obviously 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 and niddah status
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. The non-Orthodox groups have greatly varying degrees of observance on this and all legal matters within Judaism.
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. Because 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.
Orthodox Ashkenazi Jewish custom has lengthened this to 96 hours (effectively 5 days); it has been instituted 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. Although this count could start in the middle of the day, it is always considered to end on the evening of the final day.
Most Sephardic Jews use a slightly more lenient calculation resulting in a minimum of 11 days.
These rules are understood and practiced somewhat differently in Conservative Judaism; see the section below on Conservative Jewish views.
In the Orthodox Jewish community, women may test whether menstruation has ceased; this ritual is known as the hefsek tahara. The woman takes a bath or shower near sunset, wraps a special cloth around her fingers, and swipes the vaginal circumference. If the cloth only contains discharges that are white, yellow, or clear, then the menstruation is considered to have ceased. If discharge is bright red then it indicates that menstruation continues. 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).
In the Orthodox Jewish community 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" a rabbi may allow this aspect of the ritual to 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, the rest of the time, when not counting the "seven clean days", 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.
Physical contact during niddah status
As with most of the Arayot (biblically forbidden sexual relationships), all physical contact "Derech Chiba v'Taavah" (in an affectionate or lustful manner) is forbidden when a woman is in Niddah status Such contact is forbidden whether or not the man and woman are husband and wife.
In the case of husband and wife, however, the sages added on extra restrictions, including touch that is not Derech Chiba v'Taavah, passing of objects even without touching, and sleeping in the same bed; these restrictions are to avoid the risk of it leading to sexual contact. 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 connections. One contemporary book makes the case that observing the laws of Niddah, including avoiding all physical contact, significantly enhances the marital relationship.
Gerrer Chassidim keep the harchokot of niddah even when the wife is not a niddah. They are concerned that not keeping the laws of niddah at all times will lead to ejaculation that cannot lead to conception.
The classical regulations also forbid sexual relations on the day that a woman expects to start menstruating; there are three 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. If the woman is not actually menstruating during a veset day, then there are certain circumstances in which sexual activity is permitted according to most authorities; for example, if a woman's husband is about to travel, and will return after menstruation begins.
Forbidden sexual contact during niddah status
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 Jewish Holidays).
As the night that the woman ritually traditionally immerses 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, for certain women this period extends far past the date of ovulation, and in combination with the ban on sexual relations during the niddah state, effectively results 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.
Checking by bedikah
The bedikah cloth or a "checking cloth," called an eid in Hebrew, is a clean piece of white cloth used in the process of purifying a niddah. It is used by a Jewish woman to determine whether she has finished menstruation. The cloth is inserted into the vagina, and if no blood is found, she may start counting the 7 blood-free days. On each of these days she performs this examination in the morning and in the later afternoon before sunset. If no blood is found, she may go to the mikveh on the eighth evening after nightfall, and then engage in relations with her husband.
It is also used sometimes by a Jewish man to check if he has gotten blood on himself from his wife after relations to determine whether she menstruates during relations.
Such cloths are about two by four inches, and are available at local Judaica stores, the local mikvah, most retail stores in Israel, or may be cut from clean all-white soft cotton cloth or linen cloth.
Immersion in water
There are different customs about how many immersions are carried out at each visit to a mikvah. It is the custom of many orthodox (but not all) to immerse at least twice. Accordingly, they would immerse, recite the blessing, then immerse again. This order is in deference to two opinions in the codes. One compares this immersion to that of a convert, who can not recite the blessing before immersing as s/he is not yet Jewish. The other opinion states that like other commandments, here too the blessing should be recited before performing the commandment. 
Immersion at the mikvah is 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.
A special type of bath, designed to be in direct contact with naturally gathered water, known as a mikvah, was created by the 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 jewelry, make-up, 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.
The first time a virgin has sexual relations, she also becomes niddah as a result of her hyminal blood flow. This is observed even if in fact there was no blood present. However, she only counts four days before performing a hefsek tahara, instead of the usual five.
Privacy of the niddah process
Out of modesty, or tzniut, Orthodox Jews follow a custom of keeping their times of niddah secret from the general public. As a result, they avoid all physical contact in the presence of others. Orthodox couples follow this custom to varying degrees, some refraining from all public physical contact, some refraining from contact in the presence of other Orthodox Jews who would be aware of the niddah practice but touching in the presence of gentiles, some making contact in front of their own children but not those outside their family, and some disregarding the custom altogether.
However, the laws of tzniut go far beyond keeping Niddah times secret, as is evidenced by the fact that many traditional Torah Jews don't touch publicly long after menopause, at which point everyone agrees there is no longer any laws of niddah.
Non-Orthodox historical study of the seven extra days
Jewish historians of the subject have tried to trace how the time for separation between men and women increased over time. For many people, the existence of waiting for seven clean days is controversial.
According to Professor David Kraemer its incorporation into Jewish law codes stems from the confusion of rabbis over the duration of menstrual cycles. He writes that contradictory statements in rabbinic literature led to a situation whereby the extra seven days became mandatory. However, this longer period is in contradiction to early Mishnaic and Talmudic statements.
On a related point, the origin of the original custom to wait extra days, Kraemer concludes that:
- it was actually the women who directed the law in the direction of greater stringency. Why so?...Thomas Laqueur, in Making Sex .. documents the fact that, until recent times, common belief held that women were most fertile at the ends of their periods, as close as possible to the cessation of their bleeding...If the original Niddah restrictions were to be observed, a couple would have their first post-separation relations at the end of the woman’s bleeding, precisely the point—according to this belief—that pregnancy was most likely to result....Against this background, we may readily understand the stringency reported by R. Zeira (extending the period of separation and permitting sexual relations only after the period of highest fertility had—again, in their understanding—passed) as an act of birth-control....
His paper, A Developmental Perspective on the Laws of Niddah, traces the history of Jewish law on this subject, showing how stringency increased over time. 
Conservative Jewish views
Conservative Judaism teaches the halakhot (laws) regarding family purity are normative and still in force, 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.
Isaac Klein's A Guide to Jewish Religious Practice is one of the most common references used by ordinary Conservative Jews, and describes the obligations and rituals of niddah in detail.
In December 2006, the Rabbinical Assembly'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; two responsa were the majority opinions, one by Rabbi Susan Grossman and one by Rabbi Avram Reisner, the other responsum was the minority opinion, written by Rabbi Miriam Berkowitz.
Despite the official stance, the practices related to family purity are often not widely followed among the Conservative laity.
A recent edition of the United Synagogue Review (Fall/Winter 2006) included a series of articles on mikvaot. Rabbi Myron S. Geller, a member of the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, writes about a recent upswing in the observance of the laws of family purity within the Conservative Jewish community. 
- Conservative Judaism has largely ignored this practice in the past, but recently has begun to reevaluate its silence in this area and to consider the spiritual implications of mikvah immersion for human sexuality and for women. Jews-by-Choice tend to recall the mikvah ceremony as an experience of heightened spirituality, leaving a permanent mark on their religious awareness. Some comments I have received about the mikvah include: 'It made me feel closer to God,' 'An emotional highlight of my life,' 'When I came up from the waters all was quiet, my eyes wanted to cry. My soul was still...I am still in a state of peacefulness and love fills me.' ...These observations, written by converts to Judaism several weeks after the event, reflect the powerful impact of the mikvah ritual on Jews-by-Choice and the profound importance they attach to its spiritual significance.
- At a time when New Age enthusiasm is persuading numbers of people, disenchanted with traditional religious expression, to seek fresh ways of discovering spiritual meaning in their lives, Conservative Judaism has found in an age-old practice a metaphor for rebirth and renewal that retains its power to uplift, cleanse and inspire.
Extent of adherence to these laws
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.
- Role of women in Judaism
- Halacha (Jewish law)
- Jewish view of marriage
- Negiah (guidelines for physical contact)
- Tzeniut (modest behavior and dress)
- Yichud (prohibitions from secluding oneself with a stranger)
- Mikvah Calendar (Mikvah Calendar)
- ↑ 1.0 1.1 Jewish Encyclopedia, Red Heifer
- ↑ Niddah (Mishnah) 66a, 67b
- ↑ There is a dispute as to whether this prohibition is Biblical or Rabbinic. See Negiah; see also Badei HaShulchan 195:14.
- ↑ There are additional restrictions in the time of the Holy Temple because of the Biblical concept of Tumah).
- ↑ Remah Yoreh Deah 183:1; see Shiurei Shevet HaLeivi 183:7
- ↑ When the wife is a Niddah, touch between spouses that is not Derech Chiba v'Taavah is only prohibited Rabbinically according to most authorities, although there are those who disagree. See Badei HaShulchan 195:14.
- ↑ Yoreh Deah 195
- ↑ See Marital Intimacy by Rabbi Avraham Peretz Friedman (Compass Books 2005), p.p. 27- 42.
- ↑ Yoreh Deah 184:2
- ↑ Yoreh Deah 189:1-2
- ↑ Yoreh Deah 184:10
- ↑ Haaretz Newspaper, "Be pure or be fruitful" December 15, 2006
- ↑ Mishneh Torah Kedushah Laws of forbidden relations 4:6
- ↑ Mishneh Torah Kedushah Laws of forbidden relations 4:14
- ↑ Mishneh Torah Kedushah Laws of forbidden relations 4:15
- ↑ See: Family Purity—A Guide to Marital Fulfillment, by Rabbi Fishel Jacobs, chapter 10.
- ↑ "A Developmental Perspective on the Laws of Niddah", David C. Kraemer, Exploring Judaism: The Collected Essays of David Kraemer, Univ Pr of America, 1999
- ↑ Rabbi Miriam Berkowitz, Mikveh and the Sanctity of Family Relations, Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, Rabbinical Assembly, December 6, 2006
- ↑ Rabbi Susan Grossman, MIKVEH AND THE SANCTITY OF BEING CREATED HUMAN, Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, Rabbinical Assembly, December 6, 2006
- ↑ Rabbi Avram Reisner, OBSERVING NIDDAH IN OUR DAY: AN INQUIRY ON THE STATUS OF PURITY AND THE PROHIBITION OF SEXUAL ACTIVITY WITH A MENSTRUANT, Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, Rabbinical Assembly, December 6, 2006
- ↑ Rabbi Miriam Berkowitz, RESHAPING THE LAWS OF FAMILY PURITY FOR THE MODERN WORLD, Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, Rabbinical Assembly, December 6, 2006
- ↑ Sanctifying Waters: The Mikvah and Conservative Judaism
- "The holy home" - work on Niddah
- Yoatzot - Niddah resource
- A guide to Niddah laws - Rabbi M. Morgan
- On the Essence of Ritual Impurity
- - Mayim Rabim website and message boards - women's reflections on mikvah and taharat hamishpacha
- - resource for purifying oneself from niddah
- - Jewish Marriage Education. Non-profit organization bringing a deeper understanding of marriage and family life to the Jewish community
- "Laws Of Taharat Hamishpachah (Family Purity)"
- Automatically calculate your vestos and get reminders sent to your email or cell phone
- Rabbinically Approved Niddah Calendar