Nishmat's Women’s Health and HalachaIn memory of Chaya Mirel bat R' Avraham

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Harchakot postpartum

28 May, 2005

Question:

Can you possibly refer me to any material about dealing with the difficulty of keeping the "harchakot" after birth?
This material is needed for a seminar paper in a course for new mother counselors.
Thank you.


Answer:

The postpartum period can prove especially trying for the halachically observant husband and wife.  Postpartum bleeding can last off and on for two months (and sometimes even more), during which time the wife cannot immerse.  The couple must absorb the intense emotions accompanying bringing a newborn into their lives while observing harchakot for a prolonged period of time.

On a practical and technical level, there are no leniencies for this specific situation, challenging though it may be.  We cannot over-emphasize the importance of asking questions, both about questionable bedikot or stains and about any possibility of reducing the number of bedikot, in helping the mother get to mikveh as soon as possible.  Careful review of the relevant halachot can also help the couple develop techniques to manage the situation.  For example, passing the baby directly from hand to hand is prohibited (until the baby attains independent mobility).  The father may pick up the baby from just beside the mother, on the same mattress or chair.  A portable infant seat can provide a convenient resting place for the baby.  With practice, such techniques become second nature.  Of course, common sense must prevail.  It would be a distortion of halachah to endanger the baby in any way.  Where there is no safe alternative, the baby may be passed directly (again, with great care not to touch).

Emotionally, having a baby presents many challenges. The halachic prohibitions do not preclude providing support and encouragement to each other. Rather, they challenge the couple to develop non-physical expressions of their love for each other.  A kind word, a sweet gesture, or an offer of extra help can go a long way.

The new mother often requires some time to recover physically and emotionally before she is prepared to resume relations with her husband.  A baby also demands a great deal of physical strength.  The harchakot help ensure that neither she nor her husband will be tempted to have relations before she is ready and that their physical energies can be entirely focused on the newborn.  

According to the Torah, tumah (impurity) requires a distance from the Beit HaMikdash (Temple in Jerusalem), and sometimes also from other people. This distance is not viewed as a punishment, but rather as an opportunity for introspection following events which necessarily change our relationship with G-d and the world.  The process is perhaps parallel to the temporary physical distance of a husband and wife postpartum.

Please note that the above ideas are not meant to provide reasons for current practice of these halachot, but encouragement in keeping them.  Readiness to have relations is not an absolute requirement for post-partum immersion.  When the Temple is rebuilt, G-d willing, the duration of these prohibitions will be shortened.

Keeping halachah properly, especially at a time when it is most difficult, can only help us merit geulah (redemption) and even a rebuilding of our Temple.  Keeping our ultimate religious goals in mind can help us work through the short term challenges halachah presents and appreciate the blessing of welcoming a newborn.

Please click here for our video on this topic.


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