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Question: My husband and I have had trouble conceiving a child. We know that keeping the Laws of Marital Relationships often help people conceive a child. Can you explain to me what these Laws are?
It is true that these Laws have often given people the merit they needed to conceive children. In this small article, I can give you some of the basics that you need to know. When you feel ready, you can move on to more details of the Laws.
Please remember that this article is intended for beginners, and therefore does not include everything there is to know about this subject.
Let me begin with some philosophical background.
The Laws of Niddah are Laws of Holiness. The Laws of Niddah, like all the Laws of Judaism, elevate the physical to the highest spiritual level a person can reach. It allows us to rise above ourselves -- not by ignoring the physical, but by using it for spiritual gain.
According to the Laws of the Torah, it is also the responsibility of a husband to keep his wife satisfied to the best of his ability, just as it works the other way as well. To the Jewish way of thinking, marital relations is one of the greatest physical gifts that Hashem has given mankind. Therefore, do not shun it, and do not avoid it. But on the other hand, do not debase it.
As with all things in life, we learn to use it in such a way that elevates us. The fact that we arrange ourselves according to the schedule of one of the partners in the marriage, in accordance with the Torah's Laws, allows us to develop the self-control and discipline that can lead us to holiness.
Niddah is one of the sets of Laws that also has beneficial side effects. We do not know the reasons for any of the Commandments, but we can understand some of the benefits and some of the beauty in many of the Commandments that affect us daily.
During the time that a man and woman are forbidden to have relations they are forced to relate to each other in non-physical ways. They must see each other in other terms, and develop their relationship with each other on a spiritual and emotional footing.
And this is not optional. The Torah commands a husband and wife to follow this cycle, and thus make certain that their relationship has depth. The Torah is very concerned about the well-being of all Jews.
We should not assume, however, that this is the reason that the Torah gave this Commandment. Nevertheless, understanding this intended side-effect of these Laws can spur us on to greater joy in their observance.
Before I begin, take note of this: A vital factor of the Laws of Family Relations is something we call "tznius." Tznius involves proper attitude, and is a primary means to holiness. For example, we do not make jokes about private bedroom matters. Even in a serious vein, a woman's personal matters are nobody's business but hers, her husband's when he needs to know, her doctor's, and her Rabbi's when and if he needs to know. We generally do not discuss with others about which day a woman has gone or is expected to go to the mikvah, and unless there is some overriding need, she will not mention it even to another woman.
Tznius involves, among other things, knowing what should be only between husband and wife, and what is public. Discussing the Marital Laws, of course, must also be done in the most respectful manner, and not in public, and certainly not with unmarried men or boys.
Let us now begin to discuss some of the Laws of Niddah.
The Torah teaches us, "Do not draw close to a woman when she is a niddah; relations are forbidden [at that time]." (Leviticus 17:18)
Notice the Torah's wording here: "Do not draw close." The Torah does not specify any particular type of drawing close, but ties it in with marital relations. In other words, any act of physically drawing close is forbidden. And certainly, any act that could lead a person to marital relations is forbidden. A husband and wife are very accustomed to being physically intimate with each other, and therefore they must take great care in these matters.
When a woman is a niddah, she and her husband must relate completely on a non-physical level. Certainly, they do not hug or kiss each other, for that would be "drawing close," in a manner which is associated with relations.
When does a woman become a niddah? When blood comes from her womb. She might see the flow, or she might see a stain on her clothing.
It is necessary for me to point out that for a woman to become a niddah the blood must come from her womb. If she cuts her finger, for example, she does not become a niddah. If she finds blood on her underclothing, and she does not know if it is from a cut or from her womb, she should call a Rabbi and ask.
When blood exits a woman's womb, she becomes a niddah. This should not be looked at as a time of negativity. Her body is renewing itself, getting ready to produce fresh ova so that she will be able to fulfill the Commandment of procreation. And it is a time of freedom, in a sense.
A woman is a niddah until she undergoes what we call "taharah." The taharah process involves a minimum of twelve days, most often thirteen. These are divided into two sets of time, the first five days, and seven days of taharah, after which she must immerse properly in a mikvah.
It is important to note that a woman who does not go through this process cannot become tahor. It does not matter if she not seen blood in ten years. No matter how long ago she last had her period, if she has not immersed properly in the mikvah, she is still a niddah. We will discuss those Laws below, with Hashem's help.
The first five days begin when she first sees the flow. She counts from the beginning of the flow, and continues until the flow stops. If it takes less than five days for her flow to stop, she still has to wait until five days are over. Even if she saw blood for only one day, she must wait five days until she can begin the seven-day taharah process.
The five days need not be complete five days. The first day might start in the middle of the day, if she first saw her flow in the afternoon. But whenever they began, they end on the night after the fifth day, as we will discuss below.
For example, if she first saw blood on Sunday, whether it was Sunday morning, or Sunday afternoon, or even Sunday evening ten minutes before sunset begins, Thursday is the fifth day. It is therefore the final day of the five days, even though that actually adds up to only four-and-a-half days.
If she sees blood on a Saturday night, Sunday is still the first day of the five days, and therefore Thursday is still the last day of the five days. Remember, our days begin when night begins. Gentile days go from midnight to midnight, but Jewish days go from nightfall to nightfall.
If she sees for more than five days, the "five" days end when she has definitely stopped seeing. (It is quite normal to see for six days.)
Once she has stopped seeing blood, she can begin the count of the Seven White Days. When I say "stopped seeing blood," I mean either a flow of blood or stains on her clothing. It means that she has completely stopped seeing blood.
The Seven White Days begin when the woman, before sunset, takes a shower or bath, and cleans herself thoroughly, everywhere, or at the very least in that area. She then waits a few minutes, and inserts a cloth (as explained a few paragraphs below) and checks herself. If it comes out clean, then the next day is the first day of the Seven White Days.
The Seven White Days are not simply days of waiting. The woman must check herself twice a day, once when she gets up in the morning, and once just before sunset.
The checking is done with a white, absolutely clean piece of cloth (about three or four inches square). Specially made cloths for this purpose are sold in various places. You can usually buy them at your local mikvah.
First, the woman checks the cloth very carefully to make sure it is clean of any marks.
When satisfied that it is absolutely white and clean, she places her finger in the center of the cloth, and allows the cloth to wrap around her fingers. When she inserts her finger, she pushes the cloth in so that every surface inside her is touched by the cloth.
She removes the cloth, and checks it again, very carefully. If it comes out free of any mark, no problem. She can begin the Seven White Days.
If the cloth has a mark, no matter how small, then it depends on the color.
A red color mark is obviously no good, and means she has to begin the count again. It means she is still seeing some discharge of blood.
A black mark means she must begin again, because blood can become black.
White or pale yellow are not a problem, and she can continue the Seven White Days.
Sometimes other enzymes and secretions can mix with the discharge, so colors may come out strange.
Colors like brown, dark yellow, gold, and pink, are very problematic. What we do is we bring them to a competent local Orthodox Rabbi who looks at the cloth and is able to determine whether it is Niddah blood or not.
One of the more intense series of lessons that many Rabbis undertake in their training is the study of Niddah checking cloths. A Rabbi who studies this field is trained to recognize the many possible colors that can appear on a checking cloth, and to know what they are. Therefore, Rabbis are very experienced in these matters, and you should not hesitate to bring a cloth with a questionable color to the Rabbi.
During the Seven White Days the woman should wear white underclothes, and use white linen on her bed. If she sees on them a stain of a questionable color, at any point during the Seven White Days, she must ask a Rabbi, because each case is different. She might even have to start the count of Seven White Days from the beginning.
So the sequence is as follows: The woman has her period, or as the Orthodox phrase it: the woman sees blood. She waits five days, or until the blood stops, whichever comes LAST.
Just before nightfall, she cleans herself, and checks internally. This checking is called the Hefsek Taharah -- the break for Taharah. If the cloth comes out clean, she can begin the Seven White Days.
Let's go back to the original example, and assume that she saw blood Sunday morning. Let's say the blood stopped Wednesday, and she didn't see even a stain. She should do her Hefsek Taharah on Thursday evening just before sunset. If it comes out clean, Friday then becomes the first day of her Seven White Days.
Friday, the first of her Seven White Days, she does another check when she wakes up in the morning. Friday evening, just before sunset, she checks again. Saturday morning she checks again, and Saturday evening just before sunset she checks again. And so on. She does this for seven days: every morning, and every evening just before sunset, until the following Thursday evening.
I mentioned above that the five days don't have to be complete. But the Seven White Days must be complete. Therefore, the woman goes to the mikvah the night the Seven White Days are over. This is the same day of the week that they began. In other words, if she began the Seven White Days on Thursday night, then she will be going to the mikvah on Thursday night, unless something goes wrong, and she has to start again from the beginning of the Seven Days again. This does not usually happen, but it can.
Thursday evening, just before sunset, she checks again, and if everything is still okay, which by then it usually is, she begins the preparations for the mikvah. This involves a luxurious and relaxing hour of preparations, including a bath, followed by a shower, and other careful preparations. She cleans and cuts all her nails, both finger and toe, as well as making sure there is no food between her teeth. She must clean her ears, and every body cavity. She must remove all makeup. She must comb out all her hair completely. This means all hair she has everywhere on her body. Many women take the bath at home, and do the follow-up shower at the mikvah.
When going to the mikvah, she may not have anything between her and the water at any part of her body. Therefore she must remove all jewelry, makeup, etc. This is why she should not get a haircut too close to going to the mikvah, because sometimes small hairs are hard to get rid of after a haircut. There is supposed to be a woman attendant at the mikvah to help you check that you are ready for the mikvah. You may have to call the mikvah in advance to make sure she is there that night.
Immersing in the mikvah must take place after the Seven White Days are completely over, so you will generally be attending the mikvah after the stars come out in the sky, when we know that it is already definitely night.
When you immerse, you must make sure that all of you is immersed and is touching water. Even your hair must be under the water. One of the purposes of the mikvah lady is to make sure that you and all your hair have been completely and properly submersed.
When you immerse in the mikvah, you will make a blessing. The custom among many is to immerse once, then make the blessing, and then immerse two or three more times. The woman there should help you with the blessing. The blessing means "Blessed are You Hashem, Ruler of the universe, Who has made us holy through His Commandments, and has commanded us about immersion."
When you immerse the subsequent times, it is a good time to silently pray for special things, like that Hashem grant you children.
When you return home, the first thing you should say to your husband is "I am tahora." This means he is now allowed to touch you, which was forbidden all the time of your niddah.
The night a woman returns from the mikvah she and her husband are required to have relations. Any other nights are really up to the desires and needs of the two. Biologically speaking, the best night to conceive is usually mikvah night.
If you need to find a mikvah, see the links at the bottom of my wife's article "The Jewish Facts of Life" (the link for it is at the bottom of this article).
There is one more aspect of these Laws that we must mention. The Torah also forbids relations on the day that a woman expects her period. This is called "veset," which means, more or less, "cycle." The day of her veset she and her husband must refrain from relations, because on that day she should expect her period. We call that "keeping her veset."
How does she know when to expect her period? This is done by keeping a careful record of when each of her periods start. A woman should have a private calendar on which she marks the time of the month that she first sees blood. Most importantly, to make life easier, she should also mark whether she saw it by day or by night. Thirty days later, she should keep her veset.
If for example she sees blood on the morning of April 1st, she counts thirty days. On April 30th she must keep her veset, and refrain from relations that day. She does an internal check with an examination cloth and looks for any drop of blood. If the cloth comes out clean, then that night (the following night -- i.e., the night of April 30th that becomes May 1st) she may have relations with her husband.
She should also calculate how much time has passed between her last two periods. For example, if she saw April 1st, and then saw on April 28th, then she has what we call a veset of a twenty-eight-day interval (counting both the first day she saw and the day that she saw the second). She should count twenty-eight more days, which would bring her to May 25th, and on that day she should refrain from relations. That day is her "Interval Veset." The next time, she counts the interval between her last two periods.
Most women wind up keeping their veset on both the thirtieth and thirty-first days. If your cycle is more erratic than that, see if your doctor can help. With your Rabbi's guidance, it may be possible to correct it without violating Jewish Law.
Keeping the Laws of Niddah properly are very likely to help you get that extra merit from Hashem that will help you conceive a child. And best of all, you will then know that he or she was conceived in the best of situations.
It is also good to say each Friday evening, as you light Shabbos candles, the special prayer that women say when they light the Shabbos candles. It includes a prayer for children. Giving charity is also a good thing, and especially just before praying.
May Hashem help you, and grant you healthy children in the best possible way, and may they all grow up to light the world with Torah and good deeds, and give you many years of joy.
Some books for more advanced reading on this subject:
Hedge of Roses, by Norman Lamm
The Secret of Jewish Femininity by Tehilla Abramov, published by Targum / Feldheim Publishers.
You can get these and other great books at Tiferes Stam Judaica