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Laws of Religion

Laws of Judaism Concerning Women and Men

 

9. Menstruation Restrictions

 

from the Biblical Books of Moses (Torah)

and the Code of Maimonides (Mishneh Torah)

 

 

Menstruation Restrictions

From the Biblical Books of Moses (Torah)

 

The Torah says that a woman who discharges menstrual blood is to be separated for seven days.[1] If her discharge is not at the usual time of her menstrual period or if it extends beyond the usual time, she is impure during the whole time of the discharge.[2] (Editor’s note:  Most of the rules concerning ritual purity in Judaism are no longer followed, as explained in the Introduction to the section on Ritual Purity in Judaism. Among those that are still observed are the prohibitions concerning contact with one’s wife from the commencement of vaginal discharge of blood or from childbirth until ritual immersion in a pool of water (mikveh).)

 

 

Menstruation Restrictions

Jewish Law (Halakha) from the Code of Maimonides (Mishneh Torah)

 

Contents:

 

Irregular genital flows, menstruation and childbirth

 

Purification by immersion following irregular genital flows, menstruation and childbirth

 

Prohibitions on intercourse and other acts with women who are menstruating or have other vaginal discharge

 

 

Irregular genital flows, menstruation and childbirth. A person who has an irregular genital flow (flux) and a woman who is menstruating or has given birth is impure until purified by immersion.[3] (Editor’s note: In reality, all Jews in the present era are ritually impure and remain impure even after immersion, as explained in the Introduction to the section on Ritual Purity in Judaism. Most of the rules concerning ritual purity in Judaism are no longer followed. Among those that are still observed are the prohibitions concerning contact with one’s wife from the commencement of vaginal discharge of blood or from childbirth until ritual immersion in a pool of water (mikveh). While we refer to states of ritual purity and impurity in the present era, these terms are now used solely to describe, for example, when it is permitted to have sexual intercourse with a woman rather than referring to actual ritual purity and impurity.)

 

For a woman, irregular genital flow causing impurity is bleeding at a time other than her normal menstrual period.[4] The discharge must be red blood not a white or green liquid in order for it to render the woman ritually impure.[5] Such a discharge or a menstrual flow makes a woman impure even if it is the result of jumping or becoming sexually excited as a result of observing the mating of animals or birds.[6]

 

 

Purification by immersion following irregular genital flows, menstruation and childbirth.  To become pure, a woman who has suffered from irregular genital flow or who has completed her menstrual period or given birth must undergo immersion.  Otherwise, even many years later such a person will still be impure.[7]

 

Immersion in water is to be done on the eighth night following the commencement of the menstrual period.[8] A woman with irregular genital flow lasting one or two days waits one day after cessation of the flow before immersing herself. A woman with a longer period of irregular genital flow,[9] one who has given birth to a male, and a man with irregular genital flow wait seven days. After giving birth to a female, the period of waiting is fourteen days.[10] A man or a woman who immerse after the seven day period following irregular genital flow may not engage in any activities that require them to be pure until the evening following their immersion.[11]

 

Total immersion in water (mikveh) is required for any impure person to become pure.[12] A person should undergo immersion naked and all hair must be immersed. However, if the person is wearing clothes, the immersion is still effective.[13] Waiting until sunset is also required to achieve purity following immersion in many cases, including irregular genital flow.[14]

 

The water used for immersion must have come together on the ground.[15] Water that has been drawn, as for a bath, will not remove ritual impurity.[16] There is a hierarchy of types of bodies of water which have varying degrees of effectiveness.[17] The highest grade is a flowing stream, which is the only type of water that can lift the impurity of a person with irregular genital flows, a menstruating woman or one who has recently given birth.[18]

 

Immersion without intention, for example by falling into water, purifies a menstruant after her period has ended, so that she may have sexual intercourse with her husband.[19]

 

The requirements of the purification procedures with immersion in a pool of water (mikveh) for a menstruating woman (niddah) or one who has recently given birth have been made more stringent than they originally were by increasing the time that must pass before immersion can occur.[20] Furthermore, all blood emanating from the vagina is now regarded, for purposes of determining the time for immersion, as the blood of irregular genital flow. Therefore, rather than immersing after seven days following the commencement of menstruation, it is now required to wait seven days following the cessation of the menstrual flow. This extended period of impurity now applies to any vaginal bleeding[21] including bleeding of the hymen following intercourse of a virgin.[22] Similarly, a woman must now wait seven days after the flow of blood after childbirth stops before immersing herself rather than waiting just seven days after giving birth to a boy or fourteen days after the birth of a girl.[23] The prohibitions concerning contact with one’s wife from the commencement of menstrual flow until ritual immersion are still observed.

 

 

Prohibitions on intercourse and other acts with women who are menstruating or have other vaginal discharge.  A man who has intercourse with a menstruating woman, with a woman with irregular genital flows or with a woman who has recently given birth is subject to the punishment of extinction (karet in Hebrew)[24] which entails a flogging.[25] This punishment pertains as long as the tip of the man's penis has entered her vagina or anus and she is over three years old.[26] (If she is less than three years and one day old, intercourse with her is not regarded as intercourse*.[27]) This is the punishment if the intercourse occurs before the time of purification of the woman by immersion.[28] If the woman fails to purify herself by ritual immersion in a pool of water (mikveh) after menstruation, irregular genital flow or childbirth, then a man who has intercourse with her, even years later, is liable to extinction (karet).[29] A man who has intercourse with a woman who is presumed by her neighbors to be menstruating is subject to a flogging.[30]

 

A man is forbidden from getting close to his menstruating wife even if they are both fully clothed. This prohibition applies through the seven days following the cessation of menstrual flow until her ritual immersion in a pool of water (mikveh). He is not to come into contact with her even if they are both fully clothed, nor touch her even with his little finger.[31] Nor may he eat out of the same dish with her.[32] During this period, she may not fulfill her usual obligations[33] to her husband of washing his hands, his face and his feet.[34] Also, her usual obligation to make his bed[35] should be fulfilled only when he is absent.[36] Her usual obligation to hand him his drinks[37] should be fulfilled by placing the drink on the floor or on a table where he can take it for himself.[38] All of these restrictions are to prevent the occurrence of prohibited sexual intercourse.[39] However, a man may gaze at his wife when she is forbidden to him because of her menstrual period, but he should not joke or act frivolously with her, lest this lead to forbidden contact.[40]

 

If a woman has regular menstrual periods, her husband may assume that she is not having her period when it is not her usual time unless she or her neighbors say that she is menstruating.  Thus, he may have intercourse with her if he arrives home from a trip and she is asleep.[41] He is to refrain from having intercourse with her on the day or evening when her menstrual flow is expected, even if it has not yet begun.[42]

 

If a woman says that she is ritually impure (e.g., menstruating) and then says that she had only been joking and that she is, in fact, pure, she is to be believed only if she provides a good reason for having said she is impure – for example, that her husband's mother or sister were nearby and she did not want to be seen by them having intercourse with her husband.[43]

 

A man is forbidden from having sexual relations with his wife close to the expected time of the beginning of her menstrual period. If her period normally begins in the daytime, the prohibition begins at the beginning of that day; if it is usually at night, then relations are forbidden from the beginning of that night.[44]

 

If in the midst of intercourse the woman, who was ritually pure, declares that she has become impure (due to menstruation or other vaginal discharge), the man must not withdraw from her while he still has an erection. This is because a man derives equal pleasure from withdrawal and entry and so the punishment of extinction (karet) would apply. Rather, he should remain motionless with his toenail dug into the ground until his penis is no longer erect. Only then is he to withdraw.[45]

 

A woman whose menstrual periods are not regular must test herself for blood with a white cloth both before and after each act of sexual intercourse. If her periods are regular, then the test cloth is only required after intercourse. The man must also wipe himself with a cloth to test for his wife's blood after intercourse.[46]

 

No test cloth is needed after intercourse with a virgin, since the flow of her blood is ritually pure; it is not considered as menstrual blood.[47] However, as explained above on this page, since the time of the Talmudic sages, Jewish women have adopted the practice of regarding the blood from the torn hymen of a virgin as causing ritual impurity. To become pure again, the woman must ritually immerse herself in water after seven days without vaginal bleeding.[48]

 

A man and a woman who both have irregular genital flows may not eat together, lest they subsequently have sexual intercourse.[49] For a man, irregular genital flow causing impurity is white, but not as clear white as normal semen.[50] It is discharged without erection of the penis or feelings of sexual desire or satisfaction,[51] without a thought of sexual relations, without seeing a woman who induced lustful urges, without overeating or overdrinking or eating food or drinking beverages that induce the discharge of semen, without being sick, without lifting a heavy object and without jumping around.[52] Maimonides says that irregular genital flow from a man is semen.[53]

 

 

*Sexual intercourse with a female less than three years and one day old is not considered as sexual intercourse[54] because, according to Maimonides, healing will restore the hymen and thus the virginity of such a young female following intercourse.[55]

 

________________

 

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Abbreviations used in footnotes:

Gen: The Biblical book of Genesis.

Exod: The Biblical book of Exodus.

Lev: The Biblical book of Leviticus.

Num: The Biblical Book of Numbers.

Deut: The Biblical Book of Deuteronomy.

 

MT:  The Mishneh Torah of Maimonides (Code of Maimonides). The names of the specific books and treatises within each book are given according to the Yale University Press translation and also the Moznaim/Touger Hebrew transliterations to facilitate locating the texts posted here.

F:  indicates page numbers in the Feldheim Publishers, Ltd., translation of Book 1 of the Mishneh Torah of Maimonides, the Book of Knowledge.

M:  indicates page numbers in the relevant volume of the Moznaim Publishing Corporation’s Touger translation. (Some of the books of Mishneh Torah are published in several volumes by Moznaim, so the Moznaim volume numbers do not correspond to the Book numbers of Maimonides’ work.)

Y:  indicates page numbers in the translation of the Yale University Press Judaica Series.

 

●  The sources cited are described on the page Source Texts Used for Laws of Judaism.



[1] Lev 15:19

[2] Lev 15:25

[3] MT Book 10, The Book of Cleanness, Sefer Taharah; Treatise 4 on Couch and Seat Uncleanness, Chapter 1, sec 1 (page 207Y); Chapter 1, sec 15 (page 209Y)

[4] MT Book 9, The Book of Offerings, Sefer HaKorbanot; Treatise 5 on Those Whose Atonement is Not Complete, Mechusrei Kapparah; Chapter 1, sec 6 (pages 306M 157Y)

[5] MT Book 5, The Book of Holiness, Sefer Kedushah; Treatise 1 on Forbidden Intercourse, Issurei Bi’ah; Chapter 5, secs 6-7 (pages 60M 33Y); MT Book 10, The Book of Cleanness, Sefer Taharah; Treatise 4 on Couch and Seat Uncleanness, Chapter 1, sec 6 (page 207Y)

[6] MT Book 5, The Book of Holiness, Sefer Kedushah; Treatise 1 on Forbidden Intercourse, Issurei Bi’ah; Chapter 5, sec 1 (pages 58M 31Y)

[7] MT Book 10, The Book of Cleanness, Sefer Taharah; Treatise 4 on Couch and Seat Uncleanness, Chapter 5, sec 1 (page 222Y)

[8] MT Book 5, The Book of Holiness, Sefer Kedushah; Treatise 1 on Forbidden Intercourse, Issurei Bi’ah; Chapter 4, sec 6 (pages 26-27Y 48M)

[9] MT Book 5, The Book of Holiness, Sefer Kedushah; Treatise 1 on Forbidden Intercourse, Issurei Bi’ah; Chapter 6, secs 7-8 (page 39Y); sec 11 (page 40Y)

[10] MT Book 5, The Book of Holiness, Sefer Kedushah; Treatise 1 on Forbidden Intercourse, Issurei Bi’ah; Chapter 4, secs 5-6 (pages 46-48M 26-27Y); MT Book 10, The Book of Cleanness, Sefer Taharah; Treatise 4 on Couch and Seat Uncleanness, Chapter 5, sec 2 (page 222Y); sec 9 (page 225Y)

[11] The Book of Cleanness, Sefer Taharah; Treatise 4 on Couch and Seat Uncleanness, Chapter 5, sec 9 (page 225Y)

[12] MT Book 10, The Book of Cleanness, Sefer Taharah; Treatise 8 on Immersion Pools, Chapter 1, sec 2 (page 497Y); Chapter 1, sec 7 (page 498Y)

[13] MT Book 10, The Book of Cleanness, Sefer Taharah; Treatise 8 on Immersion Pools, Chapter 1, sec 7 (page 498Y)

[14] MT Book 10, The Book of Cleanness, Sefer Taharah; Treatise 5 on Other Fathers of Uncleanness, Chapter 10, secs 1-2 (page 288Y)

[15] MT Book 10, The Book of Cleanness, Sefer Taharah; Treatise 8 on Immersion Pools, Chapter 1, sec 1 (page 497Y); Chapter 4, sec 1 (page 509Y)

[16] MT Book 5, The Book of Holiness, Sefer Kedushah; Treatise 1 on Forbidden Intercourse, Issurei Bi’ah; Chapter 11, sec 16 (pages 79Y 146M); MT Book 10, The Book of Cleanness, Sefer Taharah; Treatise 8 on Immersion Pools, Chapter 4, sec 2 (page 510Y)

[17] MT Book 10, The Book of Cleanness, Sefer Taharah; Treatise 8 on Immersion Pools, Chapter 9, secs 1-8 (pages 524-526Y)

[18] MT Book 10, The Book of Cleanness, Sefer Taharah; Treatise 8 on Immersion Pools, Chapter 9, sec 8 (page 526Y)

[19] MT Book 10, The Book of Cleanness, Sefer Taharah; Treatise 8 on Immersion Pools, Chapter 1, sec 8 (page 498-499Y)

[20] MT Book 5, The Book of Holiness, Sefer Kedushah; Treatise 1 on Forbidden Intercourse, Issurei Bi’ah; Chapter 11, secs 3-17 (pages 140-178M 75-79Y)

[21] MT Book 5, The Book of Holiness, Sefer Kedushah; Treatise 1 on Forbidden Intercourse, Issurei Bi’ah; Chapter 11, secs 3-4 (pages 140M 75-76Y)

[22] MT Book 5, The Book of Holiness, Sefer Kedushah; Treatise 1 on Forbidden Intercourse, Issurei Bi’ah; Chapter 11, sec 8 (pages 142M 77Y)

[23] MT Book 5, The Book of Holiness, Sefer Kedushah; Treatise 1 on Forbidden Intercourse, Issurei Bi’ah; Chapter 7, sec 5 (pages 82M 45Y); Chapter 11, sec 5 (pages 140-142M 76Y)

[24] MT Book 5, The Book of Holiness, Sefer Kedushah; Treatise 1 on Forbidden Intercourse, Issurei Bi’ah; Chapter 4, secs 1-2 (pages 44-46M 25-26Y)

[25] MT Book 5, The Book of Holiness, Sefer Kedushah; Treatise 1 on Forbidden Intercourse, Issurei Bi’ah; Chapter 1, sec 7 (pages 16M 11Y); MT Book 5, The Book of Holiness, Sefer Kedushah; Treatise 2 on Forbidden Foods, Ma’achalot Assurot; Chapter 14, sec 1 (pages 438M 226Y); MT Book 8, The Book of Temple Service, Sefer Ha’Avodah; Treatise III on Entrance into the Sanctuary; Bi’at HaMikdash; Chapter 4, sec 1 (pages 242M 98Y); MT Book 14, The Book of Judges, Sefer Shoftim; Treatise 1 Sanhedrin, Sanhedrin V’Haonshin Hamesurim Lahem; Chapter 18, sec 1 (pages 130M 50Y)

[26] MT Book 5, The Book of Holiness, Sefer Kedushah; Treatise 1 on Forbidden Intercourse, Issurei Bi’ah; Chapter 4, sec 1 (pages 44-46M 25Y)

[27] MT Book 5, The Book of Holiness, Sefer Kedushah; Treatise 1 on Forbidden Intercourse, Issurei Bi’ah; Chapter 1, sec 13 (pages 20M 13Y)

[28] MT Book 5, The Book of Holiness, Sefer Kedushah; Treatise 1 on Forbidden Intercourse, Issurei Bi’ah; Chapter 4, sec 2 (pages 46M 25-26Y)

[29] MT Book 5, The Book of Holiness, Sefer Kedushah; Treatise 1 on Forbidden Intercourse, Issurei Bi’ah; Chapter 4, sec 3 (pages 46M 26Y)

[30] MT Book 5, The Book of Holiness, Sefer Kedushah; Treatise 1 on Forbidden Intercourse, Issurei Bi’ah; Chapter 1, sec 22 (pages 26M 16Y)

[31] MT Book 5, The Book of Holiness, Sefer Kedushah; Treatise 1 on Forbidden Intercourse, Issurei Bi’ah; Chapter 11, sec 14 (pages 144-146M 78Y); Chapter 11, secs 18-19 (pages 148M 79-80Y)

[32] MT Book 5, The Book of Holiness, Sefer Kedushah; Treatise 1 on Forbidden Intercourse, Issurei Bi’ah; Chapter 11, secs 18-19 (pages 148M 79-80Y); MT Book 10, The Book of Cleanness, Sefer Taharah; Treatise 6 on Uncleanness of Foodstuffs, Chapter 16, sec 11 (page 393Y)

[33] MT Book 4, The Book of Women, Sefer Nashim; Treatise 1 on Marriage, Ishut; Chapter 21, sec 3 (pages 268M 131Y); sec 7 (pages 270M 132Y)

[34] MT Book 4, The Book of Women, Sefer Nashim; Treatise 1 on Marriage, Ishut; Chapter 21, sec 8 (pages 270M 132Y); MT Book 5, The Book of Holiness, Sefer Kedushah; Treatise 1 on Forbidden Intercourse, Issurei Bi’ah; Chapter 11, sec 19 (pages 148M 80Y)

[35] MT Book 4, The Book of Women, Sefer Nashim; Treatise 1 on Marriage, Ishut; Chapter 21, sec 3 (pages 268M 131Y); sec 7 (pages 270M 132Y)

[36] MT Book 4, The Book of Women, Sefer Nashim; Treatise 1 on Marriage, Ishut; Chapter 21, sec 8 (pages 270M 132Y)

[37] MT Book 4, The Book of Women, Sefer Nashim; Treatise 1 on Marriage, Ishut; Chapter 21, sec 3 (pages 268M 131Y); sec 7 (pages 270M 132Y) ; MT Book 10, The Book of Cleanness, Sefer Taharah; Treatise 6 on Uncleanness of Foodstuffs, Chapter 16, sec 11 (page 393Y)

[38] MT Book 4, The Book of Women, Sefer Nashim; Treatise 1 on Marriage, Ishut; Chapter 21, sec 8 (pages 270M 132Y)

[39] MT Book 4, The Book of Women, Sefer Nashim; Treatise 1 on Marriage, Ishut; Chapter 21, sec 8 (pages 270M 132Y); MT Book 5, The Book of Holiness, Sefer Kedushah; Treatise 1 on Forbidden Intercourse, Issurei Bi’ah; Chapter 11, secs 18-19 (pages 148M 79-80Y); MT Book 10, The Book of Cleanness, Sefer Taharah; Treatise 6 on Uncleanness of Foodstuffs, Chapter 16, sec 11 (page 393Y)

[40] MT Book 5, The Book of Holiness, Sefer Kedushah; Treatise 1 on Forbidden Intercourse, Issurei Bi'ah; Chapter 21, sec 4 (pages 256M 134Y)

[41] MT Book 5, The Book of Holiness, Sefer Kedushah; Treatise 1 on Forbidden Intercourse, Issurei Bi’ah; Chapter 4, sec 9 (pages 48M 27Y)

[42] MT Book 5, The Book of Holiness, Sefer Kedushah; Treatise 1 on Forbidden Intercourse, Issurei Bi’ah; Chapter 4, sec 12 (pages 50M 28Y)

[43] MT Book 5, The Book of Holiness, Sefer Kedushah; Treatise 1 on Forbidden Intercourse, Issurei Bi’ah; Chapter 4, sec 10 (pages 50M 27-28Y)

[44] MT Book 5, The Book of Holiness, Sefer Kedushah; Treatise 1 on Forbidden Intercourse, Issurei Bi’ah; Chapter 4, sec 12 (pages 50M 28Y)

[45] MT Book 5, The Book of Holiness, Sefer Kedushah; Treatise 1 on Forbidden Intercourse, Issurei Bi’ah; Chapter 4, sec 11 (pages 50M 28Y)

[46] MT Book 5, The Book of Holiness, Sefer Kedushah; Treatise 1 on Forbidden Intercourse, Issurei Bi’ah; Chapter 4, secs 14-16 (pages 52M 28-29Y)

[47] MT Book 5, The Book of Holiness, Sefer Kedushah; Treatise 1 on Forbidden Intercourse, Issurei Bi’ah; Chapter 4, sec 16 (pages 52M 29Y); Chapter 5, sec 18 (pages 66M 36Y)

[48] MT Book 5, The Book of Holiness, Sefer Kedushah; Treatise 1 on Forbidden Intercourse, Issurei Bi’ah; Chapter 11, sec 8 (pages 142M 77Y)

[49] MT Book 10, The Book of Cleanness, Sefer Taharah; Treatise 6 on Uncleanness of Foodstuffs, Chapter 16, sec 11 (page 393Y)

[50] MT Book 9, The Book of Offerings, Sefer HaKorbanot; Treatise 5 on Those Whose Atonement is Not Complete, Mechusrei Kapparah; Chapter 2, sec 1 (pages 312M 160Y); MT Book 10, The Book of Cleanness, Sefer Taharah; Treatise 4 on Couch and Seat Uncleanness, Chapter 1, sec 6 (page 207Y)

[51] MT Book 9, The Book of Offerings, Sefer HaKorbanot; Treatise 5 on Those Whose Atonement is Not Complete, Mechusrei Kapparah; Chapter 2, sec 1 (pages 312M 160Y)

[52] MT Book 9, The Book of Offerings, Sefer HaKorbanot; Treatise 5 on Those Whose Atonement is Not Complete, Mechusrei Kapparah; Chapter 2, sec 2 (pages 312M 160-161Y)

[53] MT Book 9, The Book of Offerings, Sefer HaKorbanot; Treatise 5 on Those Whose Atonement is Not Complete, Mechusrei Kapparah; Chapter 2, sec 1 (pages 312M 160Y)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[54] MT Book 5, The Book of Holiness, Sefer Kedushah; Treatise 1 on Forbidden Intercourse, Issurei Bi'ah; Chapter 1, sec 13 (pages 20M 13Y)

[55] MT Book 4, The Book of Women, Sefer Nashim; Treatise 1 on Marriage, Ishut; Chapter 11, sec 3 (pages 132M 68Y)