Learning to evaluate stains
28 February, 2006
I would like to understand why women are not taught how to determine which stain makes them a nidda. Why should whatever knowledge rabbis or yoatzot possess to make these judgments not be accessible to every woman? This way they will not have to be completely reliant on others to determine their behavior in such a private area of their lives. This is particularly germane because many woman make their own judgments anyway to avoid the discomfort and inconvenience of having to call a rabbi. (There are few yoatzot in most areas of the world.)
Someone who is familiar with an area of halacha can often practice that halacha without consulting a halachic authority. We do so every day by deciding what bracha to make on the food we eat, for instance. With bedikot, however, there is much debate about the different colors which are problematic, and there are different traditions concerning those colors. The rules that govern which stains and bedikot put a woman in niddah are not identical to the assumptions most women make when evaluating whether they have their period. The Torah itself distinguishes “between [niddah] blood and [non-niddah] blood” (Devarim, 17:8). A rabbi or yoetzet does extended shimush (practical training) in order to learn which colors are acceptable in the tradition their teacher carries. For a woman to train in assessing stains, she has to find a halachic authority to train her and set aside many hours for training.
In practice, colors that do not present a question – white, clear, yellow, and light brown discharges with no hint of red – need not be shown to a halachic authority. A bedikah that has a bright red stain doesn’t usually have to be looked at either, because it is obviously a niddah color (except if it comes at an unexpected time or under special circumstances, such as after a medical procedure, which may not make you niddah). Any color that is unclear – brown, etc.- should be evaluated by a halachic expert in this field. If the same ‘unclear’ color recurs, a woman can ask the rabbi or yoetzet if this is a color which she needs to bring for evaluation in the future or if she can extrapolate from their recent ruling. In this way, a woman can often learn over time to assess most of the stains she personally encounters, even without the expertise to assess the stains of all women.
Finally, yoatzot are serving more and more communities. Our directory of yoatzot halacha outside Israel can be accessed here; for referral to a yoetzet in Israel please contact us.
Response updated September 2020.
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