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The Rabbinical Tradition regarding Menstruation

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The Rabbinical Tradition regarding Menstruation

NIDDAH (“Menstruous Woman”) was the name of a treatise in the Mishnah, in the Tosefta, and in both Talmuds. In the Mishnah it stands seventh in the order Tohorot, but in the editions of the Talmud first, and is divided into ten chapters, containing seventy-nine paragraphs in all.

The Pentateuchal code (Lev. xv. 19 et.seq.) ordains that a menstruous woman shall be unclean for seven days from the beginning of the period, whetller it lasts only one day or all seven. In either case she is unclean for seven days only, but during this time her defilement is communicated to every object with which she comes in contact. These laws, however, have been extended in many ways and made more onerous, both by rabbinical traditions and interpretations and by customs which have been adopted by Jewish women them selves.

According to these more rigid requirements, the woman must reckon seven days after the termination of the period. If, then, this lasts seven days, she cannot become pure until the fifteenth day. Purification, furthermore, can be gained only by a ritual bath (“ mikhweh ”); and until the woman has taken this she remains unclean according to the interpretation of R. Akiba , which was accepted by the Rabbis generally. In addition to all this, a woman who does not menstruate regularly is unclean for a certain time before she becomes aware that the period has begun, and objects which she touches are defiled, since there is danger that the menses may have begun a short time before and that she may not have perceived the fact.

The treatise Niddah is devoted chiefly to a more accurate determination of these regulations and to the rules concerning a woman in childbirth (Lev. xii.).

Ch. i.: Women whose uncleanness is reckoned only from the time of the first appearance of the menses, and the period of retroaction in ritual impurity of this beginning in the case of other women.

Ch. ii.: The examination to determine whether the period has begun, and the different colors of the discharge wllich are considered unclean.

Ch. iii.: Concerning a woman in childbirth. The Pentateuchal code contains different regulations according to whether the woman bears a male child or a female child (Lev. xli.). In this chapter rules are given for various eases in which the sex of the child cannot be determined, as in the birth of a hermaphrodite or in miscarriages and premature deliveries generally; the view of the ancients is also given regarding the time at which the sex of the embryo ean be distinguished.

Ch. iv.: Rules concerning the daughters of the Cutheans, the Saddueees, and the Gentiles in regard to menstrual uncleanness; further details regarding a woman in childbirth.

Ch.v.: Concerning a child delivered by the Caesarean section; the several periods of life, and the regulations which govern them); the signs of puberty in both sexes, and the time of their appearance.

Ch. vi.: Fultller details on the signs of puberty in the female; in the discussion of this subject a sentence of which the converse is not true suggests a number of other statements on the most diverse topics which are not true conversely, such as “He who can be a judge can be a witness; but many a man who is accepted as a witness is not empowered to be a judge.”

Ch. vii.: Regulations concerning the impurity of menstrual blood and other impurities; matters in which the Cutheans are believed.

Ch. viii,-x.: Of spots of blood, and the method of determining whetller spots are caused by blood or by other coloring matter; the symptoms of the appearance of the menses; concerning the corpse of a menstruous woman.

Source on the Niddah: The Jewish Encyclopedia, ed. Isidore Singer, New York 1907, vol. IX, p.301.

Some samples of other rabbinical regulations:

  • “If a man who dwelt in the same courtyard with an Ha-arez (non-Jew), forgot some vessels in the courtyard, even though they were jars with tightly fitting covers, they are deemed unclean for the jars may have been shifted by his menstruant wife.”
  • “ If the wife of an ‘am-Ha-arez entered a Harber’s house without his permission to take out his son or daughter, or his cattle, the house remains clean even though she has entered it without permission, but she has to hurry so as not to touch anything.”
  • “ If a piece of dough that has suffered first grade uncleanness were made to adhere to another piece, all becomes unclean in the first grade.”
  • “ Cloth is susceptible to five forms of uncleanness.”

From The Talmud, Sedar Toboreth, II, ch. 7, mishnah 1, etc.; I.Epstein, The Babylonian Talmud, London 1948, pp. 399, 401, 306, 122.

The Code of the Maimonides gives lengthy instructions as to what renders a couch or seat unclean:

“The couch or saddle of one who had intercourse with a menstruant is not like the couch or saddle of a menstruant, for the couch or saddle on which the menstruant has pressed is one of the Father of uncleanness; but the couch or saddle of him who has intercourse with a menstruant is but an offspring of the uncleanness, like utensils that he has touched, which do not convey uncleanness to persons or to other utensils, but only to foodstuffs and liquids” Book 10.

Source: H. Danby, Code of Maimonides, Yale 1954, vol. 8.

John Wijngaards

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