Seven Blood-Free Days (Shivah Neki'im)
Beginning the night after the hefsek taharah, a woman counts seven blood-free days (shivah neki'im). She performs internal examinations (bedikot) to confirm that bleeding has not recurred, and wears white underpants to ensure that she is aware of any staining.
A 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, which is literally translated as "seven clean days." Since the status of niddah has nothing to do with physical cleanliness, "seven blood-free days" may be a better translation. A woman during this time period is said to be "counting the shivah neki'im," even though she is not obligated to actually enumerate each day. After she has completed her shivah neki'im, she may immerse in the mikveh.
While she is counting the seven blood-free days, a woman must wear clean white underpants and should sleep on white sheets. (It is customary, but not strictly required, to use white sheets even if she sleeps with tight-fitting white underwear.) For this reason, the seven blood-free days are sometimes called levanim, "her white days."
During the shivah neki'im, a woman must perform a series of internal examinations (bedikot), to verify that the bleeding has not recurred. She should do two bedikot each day, one upon arising in the morning (preferably after sunrise), and one in the afternoon, before sunset. If during the intermediate days she forgets one, or even both daily examinations, she may usually continue counting. Indeed, if the examinations cause her pain, or if she is particularly susceptible to spotting or has other difficulties, a halachic authority may permit her to reduce their number depending on her particular circumstances. The examinations on the first and seventh days, however, are critical, and if she omits both examinations on either day, she may have to postpone her immersion (although she should consult with a rabbi or yoetzet first).
If even a trace of blood is found in one of the internal examinations, or if she discovers a stain which meets the conditions required for ketamim, then the entire count of seven blood-free days is invalidated and the woman must start over with a new hefsek taharah. If, however, she has even the slightest doubt about her status, 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 rabbi about the problematic bedikah or stain, and continue with her count until she receives a definite answer, keeping in mind that a subsequent bedikah may if necessary be a new hefsek taharah, .
According to the view followed in most communities, the shivah neki'im may not begin until at least five days have passed since the woman became niddah. Therefore, a woman who has short menstrual periods, or who becomes niddah outside her period as a result of spotting, must be careful not to start her seven blood-free days until the sixth day from the onset of her niddah status. The custom in certain Sephardic communities, however, is to wait only four days, and even in other communities a rabbi may permit a woman to follow this view in extenuating circumstances, such as fertility problems.
The seven blood-free days are counted according to the Jewish calendar, with each day beginning at night and ending the following evening. For example, a woman performs her hefsek taharah on Monday afternoon, before sunset. Her seven days begin on 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 and she may immerse in the mikveh.
Staining or Bleeding during the Shivah Neki'im
The following two examples illustrate situations in which a woman finds that she may have invalidated her shivah neki'im.
A woman begins counting her seven blood-free days on Monday. On Wednesday morning, she finds a brownish red stain on the bedikah cloth and brings it to a rabbi. She does not receive an answer before sunset, so she does her usual bedikah Wednesday afternoon and keeps in mind that this may turn out to be a new hefsek taharah. That bedikah is clean. On Wednesday night, the rabbi calls to tell her that her morning bedikah was not good, so that she needs to begin counting again. She can count her Wednesday afternoon bedikah as her new hefsek taharah. Her new shivah neki'im will thus begin on Thursday, and she may immerse in the mikveh the following Wednesday night.
A woman begins counting her seven blood-free days on Monday. On Wednesday morning, she finds a stain on her white underwear. She decides that she has definitely invalidated her shivah neki'im and puts on colored underwear. Later, a friend suggests that she show the stain to a rabbi. She does so, and the rabbi rules that the stain does not in fact invalidate her shivah neki'im. However, since she made a definite decision not to continue counting, she may need to perform a new hefsek taharah and start counting over again from the beginning. A halachic question should be asked.
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