While the Beit HaMikdash existed, ruach ha’kodesh dwelled among Israel, ritual purity was practiced, and our Sages refrained from imposing additional restrictions on the prohibition of niddah. However, after people lost heart, they decided to enact decrees to distance people from transgressing * A deeper reason for adding prohibitions: since the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash sexual pleasure lost its reason, and the root of the mitzvah of ona was harmed * Nowadays, there are those who seek to repeal the takkanah of Rebbi regarding sheva niki’im, and although their reasoning seems logical, we do not have the power to repeal earlier decrees
The prohibition of having marital relations and avoiding physical contact, as well as the prohibition of entering the Beit HaMikdash (the Holy Temple) and eating tohorot (foods requiring ritual purity), apply to both niddah and zavah, but regarding the number of days of impurity from the Torah, there is a difference between them. Niddah is a woman who discerns menstrual blood, and from the Torah she is teme’ah (ritually impure) for only seven days. Namely, from the day she began to see the menstrual blood, she begins to count seven days, and whether she sees blood during these days for one day or seven days, if by the evening of the end of the seventh day, she finds that she has stopped bleeding – she immerses in a mikveh, and is purified. Zavah is a woman who, within an eleven-day window of the completion of her base seven-day niddah period (and immersion in the mikveh) notices an abnormal blood discharge. If the next day another discharge is noticed, followed by yet another discharge on the third consecutive day, she is deemed a “zavah gedolah”. She is then required to count seven clean days, immerse in a mikveh on the seventh day, and when the Beit HaMikdash existed, bring two turtle-doves, or two young pigeons as a sacrifice on the eighth day (this is not the place to explain the law of a zavah ketana).
Nearly one hundred and fifty years after the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash, Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi (Rebbi), the editor of the Mishnah, saw that some women made a mistake between counting the days needed for the purity of a niddah, and counting the days needed for zavah. And some women mistakenly considered dam tahor (pure blood) as dam tameh (impure blood), and consequently, when they see dam tahor a number of days before the onset of menstruation, they begin counting the seven days of niddah from seeing the dam tahor, while in fact, they should start counting afterwards, from the beginning of seeing dam tameh. He therefore enacted a takkanah (rabbinic enactment) that every woman should be concerned about both niddah and zavah, that if she saw blood for a day or two, she must count six clean days, and after that, immerse in a mikveh. And if she sees blood for three days or more, she must count seven clean days, and after that, immerse in a mikveh (Niddah 66a).
The Minhag (Custom) of B’not Yisrael (The Daughters of Israel)
Over time, the minhag of B’not Yisrael was to be machmir (stringent), and always count shiva niki’im (seven clean days). In other words, even when they saw blood for only one or two days, they counted seven clean days instead of six days that Rebbi enacted, and our Sages accepted their custom as binding law and halakha pesukah (a halakhah about which there is / should be no further discussion or debate), and as Rabbi Zeira stated: “The daughters of Israel have imposed upon themselves the restriction that even if they observe a drop of blood of the size of a mustard seed they wait on account of it seven clean days” (Niddah 66a; Berachot 31a; SA, YD 1833:1).
Many people are mistaken, thinking that the ikar (essence) of the chumra stems from the minhag of B’not Yisrael, but in effect, their chumra only added one day in rare cases of short-term bleeding of a day or two – in substance, only about one or two percent compared to Rebbi’s takkanah.
The Meaning of the Rabbinical Sayagim (‘Fences’)
In all the mitzvot in the Torah, the Torah commanded on the ikar of the isur (prohibition), but surrounding the absolute isur there is a gray area that is not totally prohibited, and therefore the Torah did not forbid it, but it encompasses problems and complications, seeing as those within the gray area may reach the prohibition. However, the Torah commanded the Chachmei Yisrael (Sages of Israel) to delve into the gray area bordering Torah prohibitions and set sayagim (“fences”, or halachic stringencies) in it, so that by means of them, the Jewish nation could fulfill the mitzvot of the Torah (see, Likutei Halachot to R. Natan Hilchot Taarovot 1:8).
This is what the Torah says: “‘Keep My charge” (Leviticus 18: 30) – make a charge to my charge” – literally, ‘add restrictive measures to safeguard my original precept’ (Yevamot 21a). In other words, Hashem’s mitzvot appear in two levels of Torah she’bichtav (Written Torah) and Torah she’ba’al’peh (Oral Torah). The words of the Written Torah express the supreme, Heavenly idea that defines the principle of the mitzvah, and the words of our Sages in the Oral Torah determine the nature and framework in which the mitzvah will actually appear in the olam ha’ma’aseh (the actual world).
The Days of the First and Second Temples
When the First Temple stood and the Shechina (Holy Presence) dwelled amongst the Nation of Israel, and the word of Hashem was revealed through His prophetic servants and they set fewer sayagim to the Torah, and relied more on the revelation of kedusha (holiness) and nevuah (prophecy) to prevent Israel from sinning. However, after the destruction of the First Holy Temple and the departure of prophecy, during the early days of the Second Holy Temple it was agreed by the Anshei Knesset HaGedolah (Members of the Great Assembly), among them the last of the prophets, that in order to fortify the Torah and mitzvot, there was a need to add and enact sayagim to the Torah (Avot 1:1). Thus began the period of the Sages, who established the Torah in the nation of Israel, and thanks to them, even during all the exiles, Am Yisrael continued to adhere to the Torah, keep the mitzvot, and look forward to redemption (Peninei Halakha: Zemanim 11:6).
The Sayagim on Hilchot Niddah were Determined after the Destruction of the Holy Temple
Apparently, in relation to the prohibition of niddah, as long as the Second Holy Temple existed, and tohorot was practiced, our Sages refrained from setting sayagim that added days of prohibition between spouses, as they had done in other prohibitions, because adding days of prohibition would disrupt laws of Torah regarding tohorot and korbanot (sacrifices). Moreover, the addition of days of impurity also reduced a woman’s ability to go up to the Mikdash, and eat tohorot. And in many houses where tahara was meticulously observed, a woman in the days of her impurity had to retire to the back of her house, and not touch the food and liquids of the rest of the household, and wear impure clothes and utensils reserved for these days (see, Ramban, Vayikra 12: 4). Therefore, Rabbi Meir Simcha from Dvinsk wrote (Meshech Chochma, Shmot 12:22) that when speedily in our days the Beit HaMikdash is built, Rebbi’s takkanah that equated the laws of niddah to the laws of zava, will be repealed.
After the Second Temple was destroyed, and many Jews were exiled from their land and tohorot was cancelled, people lost heart, traditions were forgotten, and some people made mistakes between impure and pure days, and between impure and pure blood. Thus, our Sages, in a gradual process, set the sayagim that added days of prohibition.
A Deeper Reason for Determining Sayagim after the Destruction
A question arises about the sayagim of the prohibition of niddah: how can restrictions that add days of prohibition and nullify Jews from fulfilling two great mitzvot from the Torah, the mitzvah of ona (marital relations) and the mitzvah of puru u’revuru (procreation)? However, after the Beit HaMikdash was destroyed and Israel were exiled from their Land, all joy was forsaken, and even the mitzvah of ona was weakened, and therefore our Sages did not refrain from setting restrictions even on the prohibition of niddah as they had set for all prohibitions in the Torah.
We have also learned that the source of the dwelling of the Shechinah between a husband and wife in the joy of ona is rooted in the Kodesh HaKodashim (Holy of Holies) in the Beit HaMikdash (Peninei Halakha: Simchat HaBayit ve’Birchato 1:6). We also find that the shape of the Keruvim (Cherubs) placed in the Kodesh HaKodashim on the Aron HaBrit (Ark of the Covenant) was in the form of a man and woman fulfilling the mitzvah of ona (Yoma 54a). And when Israel ceased to do the will of Hashem, the Keruvim parted, and turned their faces away from one another (Baba Batra 99a). Likewise, our Sages also said “Since the destruction of the Temple, sexual pleasure has been taken from those who practice it lawfully, and given to sinners” (Sanhedrin 75a).
In a similar vein, we learned from the words of the Tanna Rabbi Yishmael ben Elisha (Baba Batra 60b), who was the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) at the time of the destruction of the Second Temple, and was ultimately executed by the wicked kingdom (i.e., Rome). “It has been taught: Rabbi Yishmael ben Elisha said: Since the day of the destruction of the Temple, by right, we should decree upon ourselves not to eat meat nor drink wine… we ought to, by right, decree upon ourselves not to marry and beget children, and the descendants of Abraham our forefather will cease to exist on their own. However, let Israel go their way: it is better that they should err in ignorance than presumptuously.”
Thus, we have learned that as a result of the destruction and exile, the root of the mitzvah of ona and its joy was impaired, and consequently, there was room to set sayagim to the prohibitions of niddah and zavah as our Sages had established in all the mitzvot.
This idea has halakhic meaning, for some poskim wrote that this is the reason why after the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash, the mitzvah of puru u’revuru is not coerced (Hagahot Maimuniot, Mordechai, Beit Shmuel EH, 1:6). Thus, they did not enact wearing colored underwear to prevent stains (Chatam Sofer, YD 161). Similarly, we have found in many congregations abroad that due to the sorrow of the exile, the Torah commandment of Birkat Kohanim was cancelled, and only in the Mussaf Prayers of Chagim, during times of rejoicing, was it observed (Sichot HaRav Tzvi Yehudah HaKohen Kook, Bamidbar, p. 67).
Extra Distancing to Preserve Love
Despite the destruction and exile and the addition of restrictions and days of prohibition, during the time of purity, the mitzvah of ona remains in full force, as it is a mitzvah for a man to bring pleasure and joy to his wife as best he can, and a mitzvah for a woman to make her husband as happy as possible. Not only that, but in the fulfillment of the mitzvah of ona and puru u’revuru there is a certain tikun (rectification) to sin and exile.
Sheva Niki’im Nowadays
Some people ask, maybe nowadays it is possible to cancel the takkanah to count sheva niki’im (‘seven clean days’) for niddah. There are two sides to the question. One, perhaps after having returned to Eretz Yisrael, there is room to embellish the mitzvah of ona and reduce restrictions, as was the practice while Am Yisrael previously lived in their Land. The second, that temptations and obstacles have increased, and the longer the prohibited time lasts, the more difficult it is to abide by. However, although the claims of the questioners are convincing, we do not have the authority to discuss the repeal of a takkanah enacted by Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi, who was the head of the Sanhedrin. Nor do we have the authority to repeal a minhag that has been accepted as halakha pesukah by the Sages of the Talmud, and consequently, the takkanah is binding in full force. Thus, even though we were privileged to return to the Land and build it, we have not yet been privileged to build the Torah properly, and consequently, the takkanah corresponds to the state of spiritual destruction. And for this we pray: “Restore our judges as before, and our counselors as at first, remove from us sorrow and sighing.”
Nevertheless, in everything possible to be lenient in the laws of niddah, al pi din (according to the letter of the law) it is correct to be lenient, since the chumrah in this prevents a mitzvah from the Torah, and is liable to lead to obstacles. In addition, the mitzvah of simchat ona should be embellished as much as possible on the permitted days.
One might say that since one of the reasons for the prohibition of niddah is that out of a couple’s distancing seven days each month “in order that she shall be beloved by her husband as at the time of her first entry into the bridal chamber,” after the destruction of the Mikdash and exile, the joy of marriage was impaired, and a need to add days of prohibition was created. Thus, with each passing month the longings increase, and a husband and wife can take pleasure with joy in their renewed connection, and their love is preserved and renewed (Peninei Halakha: Simchat HaBayit ve’Birchato 3:15).
This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated from Hebrew.