A woman becomes niddah from the moment that blood exits the uterus and enters the vaginal canal, even before it leaves her body. Therefore, in order to confirm that all uterine bleeding has ceased, she must do an initial internal examination, or bedikah. This examination is called a hefsek taharah, and means that she has stopped bleeding. The hefsek taharah initiates the process of exiting the niddah status and becoming tehorah.
>How to Do a Hefsek Taharah
The hefsek taharah is done as follows:
Remove any remaining blood by bathing, or at least by wiping the external vaginal area with a wet cloth or wipe. If the hefsek taharah was performed without having done the external cleaning, it is still valid, assuming that the examination itself shows no problematic stains. When the hefsek taharah is valid, you may begin the shivah neki'im (seven blood-free days) the following day.
Perform a thorough bedikah:
- Wash your hands. Your fingers should be clean, and should have no exposed cuts that could bleed onto the cloth. Watch out for sharp fingernails, as they can scratch during the internal examination. The free hand can be used to spread apart the external labia.
- Take a soft, white, cotton cloth, often called a bedikah cloth, a taharah cloth, or an ed, and check it for any stains, specks, or colored threads. You can usually obtain these cloths at the mikveh; in Israel, many pharmacies also sell them. You can also prepare cloths at home by cutting up white cloth (e.g., well‑washed old white cotton undershirts). Surgical cotton or cotton balls should not be used. They often contain tiny colored threads and they may absorb blood so deeply that it cannot be seen on the surface. A tampon should not be used because a bedikah involves checking within internal folds and crevices.
- Wrap the cloth around your finger – the index finger is usually the easiest – completely covering it at least to the second knuckle. Find a comfortable position (such as raising one foot on the edge of the toilet or bathtub, sitting on the toilet with legs apart, or squatting). Insert the finger gently into the vaginal canal as deeply as you can comfortably can. If this is difficult for you, try to go deeply at least for the hefsek taharah examination and for one of the subsequent examinations during the seven blood-free days – preferably the first. If, however, you find that inserting your finger so deeply is painful, more stress should be placed on going around the entire vaginal circumference than on depth. If bedikot are uncomfortable, consult a halachic authority about lubrication and other possibilities to improve the situation. In cases of pain, please also consult a medical professional.
- Move the finger in a circular motion around the inside of the vaginal canal, gently touching the sides and checking inside all folds and crevices.
- Withdraw the cloth and check it in a good light.
Please note that according to most halachic authorities, a hefsek taharah need not be totally clear. If all discharge on the cloth is white, clear, light yellow, or light brown with no hint of a reddish tint, then you can count the next day as the first of the shivah neki'im (seven blood-free days). If the discharge is obviously red, another hefsek taharah will be needed. Any other color should be shown to a halachic authority.
A unique halacha of the hefsek taharah is that if the examination fails, you may try again later – even on the same day, if there is still time before sunset. It is advisable to wait a number of minutes between bedikot in order to allow the natural secretions to return, to avoid irritation. Some women are able to get a clean hefsek taharah after multiple attempts. Others find that too many attempts on the same day can lead to irritation and bleeding. With experience, women generally develop a sense of when it's worth trying again, and when it is better to wait until tomorrow.
Following the hefsek taharah, one should change to white underpants. (Some women switch to whites on the morning of a planned hefsek taharah, using a pantiliner that can be removed after the examination.) If a woman forgets to change or does not have white underwear available, the hefsek taharah is usually still considered valid after the fact.
The moch dachuk should be inserted after the hefsek taharah, before sunset.
Learning to do a hefsek taharah is quite similar to learning how to use a tampon. If you experience any difficulty, please don't hesitate to contact us for guidance.
>Timing of Hefsek Taharah
A woman performs a hefsek taharah examination when she believes that her uterine bleeding may have ceased. If the examination confirms the absence of blood, she may begin counting the seven blood-free days (shivah neki'im) the following day.
The hefsek taharah should ideally be performed in the late afternoon, shortly before sunset (shekiah). It is best to leave some time beforehand, to avoid feeling rushed or inadvertently missing sunset. If the first attempt at a hefsek taharah is unsuccessful, this also allows for a 10-20 minute break to allow the natural secretions to return before trying again.
Ideally, the hefsek taharah should take place after minchah ketanah, that is, within two and a half proportional hours before sunset. (A proportional hour, or sha'ah z'manit, is one twelfth of the time when there is daylight. Around the equinox, this sha'ah z'manit is about 60 minutes. In winter it is shorter, and in the summer it is longer.) There are websites that calculate halachic times, including shekiah and minchah ketanah, for any date and location: http://www.myzmanim.com/ or http://www.kashrut.com/zemanim.
On Erev Shabbat one should ideally check before candle-lighting even if the community starts Shabbat early. However, as long as one checks before sunset, the examination is valid.
A woman who missed sunset by a few minutes should immediately perform a hefsek taharah examination, note the exact time, and then consult a halachic authority to determine whether it was valid.
After the fact, a hefsek taharah performed earlier in the day, even in the morning, is valid. (The one exception is if a woman performs a hefsek taharah on the same day on which a new flow has begun, as may be the case during the shivah neki'im. In that case, the hefsek taharah must be done after minchah ketanah.)
Busy women who have a tendency to forget the hefsek taharah, especially on short winter afternoons, and who don't find these bedikot troublesome, should do a bedikah in the morning and plan to repeat it in the afternoon. In this way they have a "backup" in case of forgetting.
[Note: The seven blood-free days may not begin before the end of the minimum wait, even if bleeding has ceased earlier.
If a woman would find it logistically difficult to do a hefsek taharah at the end of her wait and is no longer bleeding, she may do the hefsek taharah on an earlier day, though the minimum wait is still not shortened. Instead there is a gap between the hefsek taharah and the beginning of the shivah neki'im. For example, a woman who becomes niddah on Sunday, and generally waits until the fifth day to perform her hefsek taharah, may perform the hefsek on Wednesday (day four). Thursday (day five) is a "gap day" on which no bedikot are required. Friday is the first day of her shivah neki'im, and if all goes well she may immerse the following Thursday night.]