PART 1: Lev 18:19 Menstrual Impurity & Keeping the Marriage Bed Holy: What Every Believer Needs to Know but Most Have Never Heard

Couple_clasping_hands-640x280“I take my FULL 7 days,” said Megan (name changed for privacy purposes), “My husband would want sex every day otherwise. Don’t get me wrong, we enjoy our time together, but I also enjoy the time off with no pressure to have to get intimate. We actually get time to talk and connect on a different more emotional level that I really need and enjoy, and the break makes coming back together more exciting and new every month.” “What are you talking about?” I inquired. This was the first time I had ever heard about the commandment concerning niddah (a time of separation), but after studying it out and experiencing it myself, I quickly became a believer in the wisdom of God’s commands regarding niddah.

Let me first paint a picture for you of how it all works practically speaking. Then, in Part 2, we’ll dive into the specific theological support based on specific Scripture passages.

In a nutshell, when a woman starts her period, the Bible designates her in a state of niddah or “separation” from certain activities. In ancient times this included separation from intercourse with her husband and separation from participation in the Temple worship services. image010While the Temple worship service is a moot point today, since there is no man-made Temple that one need worry about entering to worship God in Jerusalem in the present age in our present “bodies of death” (or our pre-resurrected state), the only aspect of the commandment relevant for us today is with regard to “separation from intercourse.”

What may sound a bit mundane or even taboo at first can actually be a beautiful, romantic, and blessed opportunity for a married couple. Let me explain.

During a women’s monthly menstrual cycle, the conditions inside the women’s body are in constant change.
However, if one pays close enough attention, a systematic pattern emerges, which is why we call it a “cycle” in the first place. Before the lining of the uterus sheds to initiate her period or right after one’s bleeding days start to end, intercourse can be more difficult, even painful for some women. However, in the optimal time for conception, the conditions of the women’s internal parts are in peak form, naturally lubricated, and more sensitive to receiving pleasure. These details are important to pay attention to, but most people engage in sexual intercourse haphazardly, without considering these constantly changing conditions. In fact, the practice of niddah itself may also account for the rapid multiplication of the children of Israel in Egypt as well compared to the haphazardness of the Egyptians, as we will later see based on the traditional timing of the “reunion” between husband and wife.

0429period05During a women’s period she often feels anything but beautiful and/or sexual. Bloating, cramping, raised body temperature, headache, etc. are all common. She is often in such a state that the rabbis classified it in the same classification as that of an illness. Some women feel these negative effects to a larger degree than others, and some are even bed ridden for a couple days during the 2 to 3 days of heaviest flow.

While not specifically commanded in Scripture, in orthodox Jewish homes, a couple observing niddah will actually sleep in separate beds during the 7 to 12 days of her separation period (I will explain the discrepancy shortly). twobeds_566_356_c1The orthodox will not physically touch each other at all during this time (so as not to arouse desire in the man unnecessarily when it cannot yet be fulfilled). In other words, they do not kiss, hold hands, or physically touch in any way during her period of separation. While our family does not take this slightly extreme but certainly respectful approach (based on my husband’s choice, although I would respect his wishes either way so as not to deliberately taunt him unnecessarily via physical touch), there is still a unique beauty to the separation period for both the orthodox and those of us who follow just the specific requirements of Scripture and not necessarily all the additional traditions that have developed through the centuries to today. The experience for all who undertake it actually serves to help heighten the desire between the couple. It can be compared to the saying “absence makes the heart grow fonder” or the idea that we begin to want to a greater degree that which is forbidden to us.

What is also incredibly special about this period of separation (i.e. not having the option for intercourse during a women’s time of niddah) is the fact that the intellectual and emotional aspects of the couple’s relationship can finally take center stage and get a little attention and development each month without the pressure to take things further. couple-talkingBy contrast, not following the laws of niddah can often lead to a situation in which physical intimacy may otherwise override these deeper mental and emotional times of connection and discovery for the couple. This is because life’s distractions can be many and varied and result in either a “feast or famine” situation. In other words, the only time alone is spent engaged in intercourse to the neglect of intellectual and emotional connecting times, or both sexual and emotional connection is lost completely because of duties and responsibilities of work or family life such that times of physical intimacy are “few and far between.” Contrast this again with the biblical practice of niddah, and the intentionality of the monthly “coming together again event” provides for greater thoughtfulness to keep intimacy on all levels a real priority in the marriage, rather than a haphazard occurrence at best.

mayyim_hayyim_081012_620pxPractically speaking, at the conclusion of the 7 to 12 days of separation (we will cover reasons for difference in length of days shortly), the women in orthodox Jewish communities have the privilege of using the community’s mikvah (baptismal), which is often set up like a fancy “spa” with a small immersion pool. The women of the community use this spa like atmosphere and mikvah to immerse, say a few blessings and spend time in prayer as they “prepare themselves” mentally and physically to rejoin their groom in physical intimacy. Since sex is highly emotional and mental for women, this is an important preparation period that helps the woman be fully engaged and ready for the reunion. The women who enter the mikvah remove everything from their bodies, from jewelry and nail polish to make-up and clothing, and they enter into the mikvah, completely immersing from head to toe.

14440_The_mikve_in_besaluThe process itself is ancient, so there is a beautiful connection these women feel with those who have participated in this commandment before them. The women we read about at the time of Messiah would have all gone through a similar process each month (although not with the extra “spa” modern amenities I thank God we have today!). Still, the theme of “rebirth” that is typically associated with a mikvah or baptism in general (there were many different kinds of “baptisms” conducted in biblical times) is likewise tied to this experience. It is like becoming a new bride all over again each month and looking forward to the joy of joining again to your husband. The entire spa process and preparation involved heightens the excitement of the rejoining that will soon take place for the couple.Judenbad_Speyer_6_View_from_the_first_room_down

While personally, I do not have access to an “official mikvah” (baptismal) spa, it certainly sounds lovely, and a tradition I would enjoy participating in. But none the less, you can always create your own “spa” preparations and atmosphere in your own home if you so choose to create a similar effect. While the actual commandment in Scripture and the halachah (traditional way of keeping this commandment in orthodox circles) acknowledges the minimum separation time of 7 days (Lev 15:19), most orthodox women go beyond the standard 7 day counting by observing the more stringent rule for “short cycling” as I call it. Thus, they start their separation days on the first day of their period, but do not start the final 7 day countdown until their blood flow stops. This is usually between day 4 or 5, in which case, they begin counting 7 final days of no blood flow called the 7 “white” days. This puts the total number of “separation days” on average at approximately 12 days (5 days of actual blood flow and 7 “white” days of no flow). This increased length is also based on Scripture, but only required as applicable with regard to irregular bleeding. In such cases, the extra care is required in Scripture when you either “short cycle” (start way too early from the start of your last period and you continue to bleed beyond two days, i.e. three or more days) or you start your period at an odd or irregular times in general and have odd cycle lengths all the time such that you have a hard time gauging it for sure. Or, if you start to bleed again at a time interval shorter than 18 days from the start of your last period which is within 11 days beyond the 7 normal days of niddah. If this happens there are two options or requirements, depending on how long or heavy the bleeding is. In other words, if, for example, you are in niddah for 7 days of your normal cycle, and you become “clean” again on day 8, if you experience “spotting” or light bleeding again within the next 11 days this is considered unusual (called zivah or time of unusual flow), and the following rules apply. If you spot for one or two days and it stops, you only need to wait one full day without bleeding or one full “white day” and you are “clean” again at evening. If, however, you bleed for three or longer days, it is considered like a period, but with a higher restriction (that of zivah). You must now wait until the bleeding stops completely, then start counting your 7 “white” days of no bleeding (orthodox do this zivah practice all the time even on normal cycles, but biblically it is only necessary to practice zivah when it is an unusual flow, whereas a simple 7 days is all that is biblically required for regular menstrual cycles). While the Bible only requires a 7 day niddah for the normal period cycle (and a usual cycle is normally between 27 to 29 days per interval), it is okay to add extra days if you feel your body is not ready. However, make sure that you do not abuse this separation period and be honest about the days with your husband as that also could lead to a simple sin of lying and deception if you used it to avoid sexual intercourse because you simply didn’t “feel” like it. Push yourself and make it special and it will get better over time as you embrace the process.

Since I have gotten older and my period is not as regular I follow the most often follow the more stringent practice of waiting until the bleeding stops and then start counting 7 days. This means that for orthodox or those like myself, the “reunion” is generally going to fall on day 12 or just short of two weeks from the start of the last period. If you are familiar with ovulation cycles, what you will also notice then is that this means the “reunion” of an orthodox couple (or anyone following the more stringent approach) will land exactly in “prime baby making ovulation time.” A woman’s body is just approaching ovulation by day 12, and she is naturally more “moist,” vaginal mucus itself has thinned out considerably, and she is ready to receive the sperm in terms of “internal” conditions. Not to mention, her sexual desire usually spikes at this time of month too. Of course, not everyone is going to want or be seeking to become pregnant. Therefore, if you are trying not to get pregnant, you may want to adjust your reunion schedule accordingly or take other natural, biblical precautions. But, needless to say, even if you aren’t worried about pregnancy one way or the other, the entire process makes for a much stronger intimacy and enjoyment for the couple on a regular monthly basis. God simply knows what He’s talking about, we just have to trust Him and walk in His ways to receive the blessings that come from simple childlike faith.

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