Friday, July 20, 2012

A Few Points Regarding Some Laws of Niddah

I COMMONLY FIND that when one thing bothers me a million things bother me. Chana Gittel over at JMVHO has posted a number of complaints about certain Halachic standards found within her community. Some of the things she mentions are being done in compliance with Halacha, and some aren’t (in my opinion). So while I won’t be able to make everything go away, I’d like to address her points and clarify which things are ‘real’ and which aren’t, and outline what is required by Halacha and what is not.

Now when a woman goes to the mikvah (spa? yeah, right), you have to get some woman with "training" or "credentials"(??) to come give you an okay to dunk. Someone who scrubs your back while you sit there in the bath naked, who inspects your naked body to see if they see a stray hair, Someone who takes the liberty of bleaching your nails if its yellowish, (bleach!!!), cut into your skin if they think there is a drop of nail there, Ask you if you checked your belly button for dirt. (ears, teeth, belly button?) All privacy is out the window. That's still the part that everyone is used to. But, every chassidic woman who has gone to the mikvah has some crazy stories to tell… Can one refuse to be checked? No.

The traditional role of the mikvah lady is for one thing and one thing only: to watch in order to make sure that the hair of the one immersing gets completely submerged. The fact that some take it upon themselves to force or even suggest with slight intimidation chumros to those using their services is an abuse of power. The mikvah lady is not, in the eyes of the Halacha, required to impose her Halachic standards upon others, and there is no reason she should be doing so; assuming the mikvah-goer has a chezkas kashrus and has some competent individual to direct Halacha questions to. She does not have to scrub your back or inspect you unless you ask her to, and you are absolutely not required to ask her to – you can do all your scrubbing and checking yourself lechatchila. Look up the Halacha in the Shulchan Aruch (YD 198:40); you’ll see there’s nothing more to it.[1] This complaint is completely valid, and I would suggest anyone who has this issue to find a different mikvah.

As far as how many days we are really required to wait, if any, I have no idea. How many were added on by rabbis…? Did our great-great-great-grandmother go through those white underwear/linen days, the stick in cloth days, the taking questionable blood stains to rabbis? I don't know. Ignorance is not bliss.

These are all good questions. Here are some very basic answers:

·         Since the time of the sealing of the Talmud it has been accepted that one always waits seven clean days. This is sometimes required min haTorah and sometimes a chumra that evolved due to various concerns the women and the rabbis had. See the Taz (183:2) for an elaboration on how this Halacha evolved and how the concerns are addressed.

·         The well-established minhag is not to begin the seven days until 4-6 days have passed, depending on custom. As an established minhag it is only a few hundred years old, but its theory traces to the Talmud. For further elaboration see the Shulchan Aruch and Rema (196:11-13).

·         Wearing white is a minhag that probably began at least in the times of the Rishonim. However it is not the be-all and end-all, and wiggle room can certainly be found where necessary. See Rema (ibid. 3).

·         Doing bedikos and consulting the rabbi with questionable stains is as old as anything in the Talmud. With regard to bedikos however, while some are very necessary, many are only lechatchila, and it is worthwhile of not crucial to know what is what and to have a rabbi who knows you and can guide you when it is proper to be lenient with those, based on your personal needs. For further study see the Shulchan Aruch and Rema (ibid. 1-2) and the Halachos found in this Kuntres.

For further elaboration on any of the points, just ask.

Not everything is easy, and lefum tza’ara agra. But that doesn’t mean we should make up stuff and go crazy for no good reason. Ignorance is certainly not bliss. And investigating and knowing the background of the things one keeps not only insures that one doesn’t do the wrong thing or waste one’s time; it also infuses dry rote with greater meaning. That is the right way to follow Halacha, in my opinion.

[1] Also see the teshuva here entitled האחריות של בלנית המקוה.


  1. Seriously, if anyone has any questions, just ask. I actually have a test coming up and could use the chazara. :)

  2. Look up the Halacha in the Shulchan Aruch (YD 198:42); you’ll see there’s nothing more to it

    Are you sure you got the right se'if number?

    1. My mistake, I meant to write 40. Will correct accordingly. Thanks for pointing it out!