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 internal examination, or bedikah. This examination is called a hefsek taharah, which literally means that she has stopped bleeding and can begin the process of exiting the niddah status
>How to Do a Hefsek Taharah
Preferably, before doing a hefsek taharah, you should first remove any remaining blood by bathing, or at least by wiping the external vaginal area with a wet cloth or baby wipe. But, if this is not possible, and the examination itself shows no problematic stains, the hefsek taharah remains valid and you may commence the shivah neki'im (seven blood-free days) the following day.
The hefsek taharah itself is done as follows:
- 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, pre-checked 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 well‑washed old white underpants or undershirts. Surgical cotton or cotton balls are not recommended, as they often contain tiny colored threads, and because they may absorb blood so deeply that it cannot be seen on the surface.
- Wrap the cloth around your finger - the index finger is usually the easiest - completely covering it at least to the second knuckle. Insert the finger deeply but GENTLY into the vaginal canal as far as the length of your finger will allow. If this is difficult for you, try to go deeply at least for the hefsek taharah examination and for one of the examinations during the seven blood-free days - preferably the first. If, however, this is painful, more stress should be placed on going around the entire vaginal circumference than on depth.
- Move the finger circumferentially around the vaginal canal, GENTLY touching the sides and checking inside all folds and crevices.
- Withdraw the cloth and check it in a good light. If all discharge on the cloth is white, clear, or light yellow, bleeding has clearly stopped and you can count the NEXT day as the first of the shivah neki'im (seven blood-free days). If the discharge is obviously red, the examination has clearly failed. Any other color should be shown to a rabbi.
- 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 few minutes between inspections in order to allow the natural secretions to return, to avoid irritation. Most women find that there is no point in making more than three attempts on the same day.
Learning to do a hefsek taharah is quite similar to learning how to use a tampon. It helps to relax and try a number of positions, such as raising one foot on the edge of the toilet or bathtub, sitting on the toilet with legs apart, or squatting. If the examination is painful, a rabbi or yoetzet should be consulted about using a lubricant.
>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.
However, the seven blood-free days may not begin before the sixth day of her niddah status (see Five-Day Minimum). Therefore, a woman ordinarily should not perform the hefsek taharah before the fifth day - even if she is convinced that her bleeding has ceased. If she would find it difficult to do a hefsek taharah on the fifth day, she may do it on an earlier day, leaving a gap between the hefsek taharah and the beginning of the shivah neki'im.
The hefsek taharah must be performed before sunset. The proper time is in the late afternoon shortly before sunset, but when necessary, the examination is usually even if performed in the morning. An early hefsek taharah is invalid only if she experienced a flow for only part of one day and wants to do a hefsek later that day (e.g. she had a flow during the shivah neki'im). In that case, the hefsek taharah must be done in the late afternoon before sunset.
Busy women who have a tendency to forget, especially on short winter afternoons, and who don't find these exams painful or troublesome should do one in the morning and repeat it in the afternoon. In this way they have a "backup" in case of forgetting. On Erev Shabbat one should check before candlelighting even if the community starts Shabbat early; however as long as one checks before sunset, the exam is valid.
A woman who missed sunset by a few minutes should immediately perform the examination, note the exact time, and then consult a rabbi to determine whether it was valid.
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