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

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Niddah in Temple times

22 April, 2005

Question:

I was reading a little bit about niddah during the time of the Temple. I am curious how it worked when tumah was transferable. How could women take care of their children if touching them made them impure? I read that women who were niddah had to wear a special kind of clothing. Doesn't this detract from her tzniut, to have everyone see that she is niddah? How does she take care of the house and see people and just carry out everyday life in this state? It seems horrible to me that life could be so restricted like this and that women's menstruation is put on display for anyone to see.


Answer:

Tum'ah is not contamination.  The main ramification in the time of Beit haMikdash was that anyone who had contact with a niddah would immerse in the mikveh and wait for sunset before offering a sacrifice at the Temple or eating sanctified food.  For most women, there would be little or no effect on everyday life. The effects would be more significant for those who ate their everyday, non-sanctified food in a state of taharah (purity), and for the families of kohanim who frequently ate sanctified food.

It is important to remember that there were many sources of tum'ah. Niddah was specific to women; however, some forms of tum'ah were specific to men and many were independent of gender.

The special clothing for a woman during niddah was a necessary measure in those times so that someone heading to the Temple would know to avoid contact with her, or to immerse after contact.  It also served as a practical reminder to the couple that relations were prohibited.  However, since this was a societal norm and all menstruating women participated in it, married or unmarried, it was presumably taken as a natural part of a woman's life.  In our context, since there is no practical need for it, and since unmarried women are always in niddah, it would indeed not be modest to continue with recognizably different clothing. 


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