A woman in niddah who wishes to return to a state of taharah (ritual purity) must first perform a hefsek taharah to ascertain that all bleeding has ceased. She must then confirm that bleeding has not recurred during the following seven days. These days are known as the shivah neki'im, literally translated as "seven clean days." Since the status of niddah has nothing to do with physical cleanliness, "seven blood-free days" is closer to the phrase's meaning.
A woman during this time period is said to be "counting the shivah neki'im." Even though she is not obligated to verbally enumerate each day, she is obligated to be aware of her progress through the seven days. After she has completed her shivah neki'im, she may immerse in the mikveh. All the restrictions of niddah apply until she immerses.
The seven blood-free days are sometimes called yemei libunah, "her white days," because a woman should wear clean white underpants and sleep on white sheets while she is counting them. (If she sleeps with tight-fitting white underwear or white pajama pants, the white sheets are customary, not strictly obligatory.) Whites enable her to notice any bleeding and to demonstrate her awareness of the shivah neki'im.
If a woman forgot to put on white underwear, or does not have any available, she may count shivah neki'im as long as her underwear is clean and free of stains. She should change to white as soon as she can.
If stains on white underwear are making it difficult for a woman to complete the clean days, a specific halachic question should be asked.
Reusable white cloth pantiliners are permissible during the clean days, and are halachically similar to white underwear. Disposable pantiliners are a matter of debate and a specific question should be asked.
During the shivah neki'im, a woman performs a series of internal examinations (bedikot), to verify that the bleeding has not recurred and to establish her awareness of the seven days. She should do two bedikot each day, one upon arising in the morning (any time after dawn, but preferably after sunrise), and one in the afternoon, before sunset.
If she forgets one bedikah, or even both, on days 2-6, she may continue counting. In some cases, when the examinations present difficulties, a halachic authority may instruct a woman to omit some examinations, depending on her particular circumstances.
It is critical to perform at least one bedikah on the first day and one on the seventh. If she omits either of these two critical examinations, she may have to postpone her immersion (although she should first consult with a halachic authority).
In general, the shivah neki'im remain valid as long as they meet all three of these conditions:
- they are preceded by a hefsek taharah
- they include a bedikah at the beginning and at the end,
- no more than five days elapse without a bedikah.
For this reason, a woman instructed to perform a minimum number of bedikot is often told to perform one bedikah on day 1, one on day 7, and at least one on an intermediate day. In this way, if she forgets the bedikah on day 7, she can make it up on day 8 and need not start her shivah neki'im over from the beginning.
There is no requirement to look at toilet paper during the shivah neki'im. The halachot concerning discharge on toilet paper are the same during the shivah neki'im as when tehorah. For details, please see the article on Toilet Paper.
Staining or Bleeding during the Shivah Neki'im
If a woman finds even a trace of niddah blood on one of the internal examinations, or if she discovers a stain of the sort that makes a woman niddah, then the entire count of shivah neki'im is invalidated and she must start over with a new hefsek taharah.
When a woman has even the slightest doubt about a bedikah or stain during the shivah neki'im, she should not decide on her own that her count was invalidated, as her decision itself may have halachic ramifications. Rather, she should consult a halachic authority about the questionable bedikah or stain, and continue with her count and bedikot until she receives a definite answer, keeping in mind that the subsequent bedikah may, if necessary, be retroactively considered a new hefsek taharah.
(Note: If a woman experiences a flow of blood that invalidates her shivah neki'im, and is able to attempt a hefsek taharah the same day she began bleeding, the hefsek taharah must be performed late in the afternoon – after minchah ketanah – and the moch dachuk may not be omitted. This applies only where there was an actual flow of blood, but not where the shivah neki'im were invalidated by staining or an invalid bedikah.)
The seven clean days may begin only after a minimum wait from the onset of niddah. For more information, please see our article "Minimum Wait."
The shivah neki'im are counted according to the Jewish calendar, with each day beginning at sunset and ending the following night.
The English day of the week on which a woman performs her hefsek taharah prior to sunset comes out the same as the English day of the week on which she will immerse.
For example, a woman performs her hefsek taharah on Monday afternoon, before sunset and plans immersion for the following Monday night. Her seven days begin on the first Monday night. They are:
- Monday night/Tuesday day
- Tuesday night/Wednesday day
- Wednesday night/Thursday day
- Thursday night/Friday day
- Friday night/Saturday day
- Saturday night/Sunday day
- Sunday night/Monday day
At nightfall on Monday, her shivah neki'im are completed, allowing her to immerse in the mikveh.