Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Laws of Family Purity


So I mentioned in my last post that I had irregular, frequent, bleeding. Emphasis on the frequent.  This may turn into a series of posts, hard to say how long it will take to explain such a complex idea/practice.  It's a way of life for Orthodox Jews, it's incredibly complex-so complex that you often times become BFFs with your Rabbi because you need questions answered.  

Let me back up a bit-in Judaism, there is an idea that your Rabbi is there to help answer your questions.  We are taught to ask questions.  Better to have the correct answer than to guess on your own.  Now, what does correct mean?  It's not so simple....rabbis can have varying opinions, many things are up for interpretation, many things are interpreted differently for different people depending on their "place" in life.  Judaism never aims to make life purposefully complicated, but for those who are much more in touch spiritually, it is easier for them to submit to a stricter lifestyle.  That does NOT make them any better, they are just on a different level. All levels are seen as equal, we do not judge our peeps.  I could go on and on with the technicalities, but I won't.  I want to get into Taharas Mishpacha-literal translation: purity of the family.  

I will first say that when I realized this whole concept existed (I did not grow up with this in my house btw), I was appalled and I distinctly remember saying to friends, "I want to marry someone who doesn't believe it that...I can't imagine myself ever______."  So there ya go, if you find what I'm about to tell you strange, don't worry, it's a very overwhelming commitment, but one that many people will agree helps strengthen the core foundation of a relationship (specifically a marriage...that could turn into a whole other conversation...anyway....).  

I will try to sum this up as best as I can, my resource is The Secret of Jewish Feminity by Tehilla Abramov.  I had non Jewish friends read this and they have a lot more knowledge regarding the subject, so this is an easy and quick read for those of you who are interested in reading more.  

Ok, so I just tried to use that book as a way to help myself organize a way to write this, and it is just.too.complicated to post a general post.  I will sum this up in my own words, with facts, and if there are questions regarding the practical application, or if you would like to hear about other people's experiences keeping the Laws of Family Purity I can arrange that as well.

  1. Once a woman has a flow (of blood-now, question 1-what's a flow?  answer-it's complicated...if you can feel blood, if you can see it flowing from you, if you fill a panty liner, or if you spot a certain sizeable amount of blood on youself).  Once you recognize blood, and it's to be considered a flow, you announce yourself a niddah.  I can't find a literal translation of niddah...
  2.   Someone who is considered a niddah has multiple restrictions.  Practically for this situation, you must separate from your husband.  Question 2-what does separate mean? Answser 2-no physical contact. So the obvious, no sleeping together (that is why every couple has two beds.  Some people keep their beds always separate as a way to keep their niddah status private at all times, others only separate their beds when they are in niddah, or even sleep together in one bed when they are not in niddah).  Not only do you not engage in physical contact, you must practice ways that keep the enticement low.  You put an object between yourself and your spouse at the dinner table as a reminder of your niddah status, don't wear perfume, don't change in front of your spouse...the list really goes on and on.   
     3.  Once you are clean, you can return to normal physical contact.  Question 3-what makes one clean?
  • Answer 3-once you are deemed "in niddah" you must count AT LEAST 5 days...some people bleed more, some bleed less, but it must be 5 days regardless.  
  • After those 5 days, you must count 7 clean days- no blood.  Question 4-how do you know there's no blood?  Answer 4-you find out you're clean through an internal exam with a specific kind of cloth called a bedikah (translation: search) cloth.  It really isn't as painful as it sounds.
    4.  Once you achieve "clean" status, you go to the mikvah. Question 5-what's a mikvah?  Answer 5-a    mikvah is a ritual bath.    I have come across many people who have heard of this "bath" we go to.  
  • There is a process of how one prepares for the bath.  It is a very spiritual, emotional time for the woman.  It is a time for prayer.  
    5.  Go swim!
  • Not really-you don't swim, you dunk 3 times (or 2 or 4 depending on what you were taught, re: rabbinical opinions above ;) 
  • You go in completely naked, with nothing obstructing anything in or on your body that way the water can penetrate every part of your body.
  • You say a special prayer while in the water.
    6.  After, you  go back to your room, change, and go home.  At this time, you are required to have s.e.x. with your husband.  Question 6-why do I have to do "it?"
  • Answer 6-that's the beauty of this whole thing!  See, in an ideal, "normal" cycle, you bleed for days 1-5, you get "clean" from days 6-12 (that window could vary depending on if you bleed for 5 or more days), but see-you go to the mikvah around the day of ovulation.  Natural family planning at it's finest-no guess work, no options, your body just leads the way.  BUT-what if you're infertile?  What if you ovulate early?  Those are all issues that arise and there are complicated answers to those questions.  
Based on the above information, now you can understand why frequent bleeding was really a problem.  I knew I would never go for long enough periods of time to be considered "clean."  How would I ever get pregnant if I was always being restricted from physical contact with my husband?  Although now we know-s.e.x doesn't always makes babies!  So that is why I knew birth control was not a good treatment option for me because I knew what would happen once I went off of it!  But then I found out it was the only treatment recommended and that to get pregnant I would need fertility treatment-which makes sense! 

Again, this is a very complex process, this is not meant to serve as rabbinical advice.  However, if you have thoughts about the laws of family purity, or want to know more, please let me know!  My views on this subject have really transformed and I truly appreciate the intimacy it creates.  Although for many infertiles, it is a very sad, vulnerable, bitter time because it is a slap in the face, a brutal reminder of their infertilness.  But as I mentioned in an earlier post, it is almost impossible to enter into a new cycle without even the tiniest bit of hope, regardless of the past failures.  So, every time you enter into a new nidddah cycle, hope and excitement await you!

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