The Laws of Niddah: Taharat Hamishpaha

The Bible prohibits sex between a man and a menstruating woman.

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Following are some additional rationales for the observance of niddah, as culled from various sources:

1. Maimonides [1135-1204] suggested that the prohibition of relations with one's wife during her menstrual cycle was meant to help suppress a man's sexual lust and control him from spending whole days in the company of many women.

2. Nahmanides [1194-1270] takes a very practical viewpoint, suggesting that since the ultimate purpose of sex is to reproduce and have children, a man must abstain from sexual contact with his wife during her menstrual cycle since she cannot possibly conceive at this time.

3. The Hinnuch [a medieval commentary on the commandments], quoting the Sages, states that one of the reasons to keep a husband away from his wife during her menstrual cycle was to make her more beloved to him after she becomes "clean."

4. Maurice Lamm, the Orthodox rabbinic authority, suggests that whereas unrestricted approachability leads to overindulgence and often boredom and marital disharmony, the separation of husband and wife can bring a refreshing zest to love.

5. Rachel Adler articulates the symbolic meaning of the ritual bath by stating that a woman's monthly period is a nexus point between life and death. The flood of blood marks a brush with death, and a potential child will not be born. The mikveh, on the other hand, is a sign of life.  Its waters are called living waters and immersion in the ritual bath signals that the potential begins anew for a child to be born.

6. Elyse M. Goldstein ("Take Back the Waters: A Feminist Re‑Appropriation of Mikvah," Lilith no. 15 [Summer 1986]) suggests that to go back to the waters of the mikveh is a wholly female experience. Just as Miriam's well gave water to the Israelites [as they wandered through the desert], so will the mikveh give strength back to Jewish women. Water is the symbol of both birth and rebirth.

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Rabbi Ronald H. Isaacs

Rabbi Ronald H. Isaacs is the spiritual leader of Temple Sholom in Bridgewater, New Jersey. He has served as the publications committee chairperson of the Rabbinical Assembly.