Right away I want to make it very clear that these are only my opinions based on my own personal study of the Scriptures and extra-biblical sources; that I am still learning; and that I may at some time in the future append my beliefs on this subject. I am not fomenting rebellion against Chazal (the Holy Sages), as they have much wisdom to offer on this and other subjects found in Torah, but rather I desire to provide a basic foundation for the observance on the laws of family purity in the simplest of terms, so that women (and their husbands) who may be new to this walk will not be overwhelmed by the extra-biblical observances found within the traditions of Judaism.
Note: The goal should always be to do the things Hashem asks of us in His Word to the best of our ability and knowledge, and allow for more understanding as we continue in walking in His commandments out of love and reverential fear.
What constitutes Niddah?
In Leviticus 15:19 and 24, we are told:
“If a woman has an emission, and her emission in her flesh is blood, she shall be seven days in her [menstrual] separation, and anyone who touches her shall be tamei [a bearer of tum’ah] until evening…And if any man lie with her at all and her [menstrual] separation will be upon him, he will be tamei for seven days….”
Next, Leviticus 18:19 warns:
“Also you shall not approach a woman in the tum’ah of her [menstrual] separation, to uncover her nakedness.”
Finally, Leviticus 20:18 states:
“And if a man lie with a menstruating woman and reveal her nakedness, and she revealed the fountain of her blood, both of them will be cut off from among their people.”
Through the pashut–simple reading/interpretation of the text, we see that a woman is ritually impure for seven days, from the time she begins to bleed until the end of the seventh day. It is with the ceasing of blood flow and the allotted seven days that allows her to mikveh–immerse and become ritually pure.
More than seven days?
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. ~Issues in Jewish Ethics: Menstruation & “Family Purity” (Taharat HaMishpacha)
As we can see from the quote above, the plain interpretation of the texts in Leviticus were added to by the women of Israel, as a way to ensure that they did not transgress the laws of niddah. There is nothing in and of itself that is wrong with adding to the Torah if the motive is to ensure complete obedience–this is called conviction. It is a very serious thing to be cut off from one’s people. I, therefore, commend the heart of these women to obey the letter in the spirit of fear and love of their Creator.
If a woman wishes to extend the days of her purification because of conviction, then this is, I believe, permissible especially when she and her husband are in agreement. However, if a woman is not inclined to count past the required of seven days of separation, it should be understood that she is in compliance with the Torah and nothing more is needful, except immersion.
What about Physical Touch?
Again, taking the pashut into account, there is no explicit command to not touch, only the clarification that a person who touches a woman will become tamei, and were the Temple to be built, any man who desires to go and worship and/or offer sacrifices should refrain from touching his wife in order to not become tamei. Specifically the Torah states that a husband and wife are not to engage in sexual intercourse during the period of a woman’s niddah. It should be noted that it is highly encouraged by the Orthodox Jewish rabbinate, for a man and wife to abstain from all touch, even casual touch, so as to allow a woman complete separation and personal space during the time of her separation. Again, if a woman wants to completely separate from all contact with her spouse, it should be talked about and agreed upon between she and her husband.
Separate beds? Separate seating?
As with personal touch, the need for awareness is greater when the Tabernacle/Temple is present so that the man not become tamei, excluding him from freely going to worship and offer sacrifices. It is not required to sleep in separate beds or to sit on different chairs during a woman’s niddah. It should be clearly understood that should the Temple be rebuilt in our days, so may it be, that we all may want to rethink the necessity of separate sleeping arrangements and being more conscious of sitting on seats that would cause our husband to become tamei. Hashem is not saying that a man cannot become tamei, but that he should be aware of his spiritual state before coming into Hashem’s presence.
What about Mikveh?
Now this is something that I really have an increasing desire to do in a more ritualistic manner. I think it is because of the spiritual meaning I see. Mikveh is alluded to in the book of Exodus with the exodus of the Children of Israel. After they rushed through the bloody door of their homes, departing Egypt, and were born again as a holy nation, they entered the waters of the Reed Sea and mikvehed, being “purified”, in order to prepare them for the divine revelation they would receive at Mount Sinai.
Every month, [there is a great] potential for holiness, a woman’s potential to engage in the sublime power of creation, reaches a peak in her body (an “ascent”). When the potential is not fulfilled and the holiness departs, the now-lifeless remnants leave the body. And this “descent” is susceptible to tum’ah. It is precisely because of the high level of G‑dliness involved in the procreative process that tum’ah can occur at all.
But here again, this “descent” into niddah is for the purpose of a higher ascent, through purification in the mikvah and a new cycle of building up to a higher level of holiness the next month. The mikvah—as will be presently explained—enables one to ascend even higher than the previous month.
In this sense the mikvah and the monthly cycle of a woman may be compared to Shabbat and the weekly cycle of every Jew. The alternation of the holy day of Shabbat with the mundane days of the week is the same cycle of ascent and descent, reenacted every seven days. The six mundane days lead up to Shabbat, during which the world becomes elevated, purified, ascends to its source. Every Jew then receives an “extra soul,” which he loses as the Shabbat departs and he must “go down” again into the struggles of the coming week. It is the very struggle to purify ourselves and the world we confront during the six days that becomes elevated on the Shabbat, and enables us to ascend higher and higher every week, in constant progression. ~On the Essence of Ritual Impurity
It is this belief as stated above–that a woman’s cycle teaches us about the potential for holiness–that leads me to be more observant in the immersion following my own niddah, not only as a woman, but as a daughter of Israel.
I hope that this brief overview of my thoughts on family purity has given you a balanced view of what I believe is required and what is simply conviction-based. Regardless of the level one’s observance–whether sticking strictly with Scripture, or adding to the Scripture out of conviction–we should all be responsible for and aware of our bodies, so that we do not sin or cause our husbands to sin.
In this, as should be with all the commandments found in the Torah, let us be careful to do all as the Lord our God commanded.
If you have any questions, please feel free to ask!
Blessings and Shalom,