Question:

Is it forbidden to place an item on the lap of your wife who is a niddoh if there is no concern that you are going to touch her?

The Mechaber seems to allow one to throw an item towards one wife for her to catch (seemingly because there is no concern that they will touch each other), unlike the Ramo. Perhaps the only time the Mechaber is machmir for the chashash of negiyah is when you are passing from hand to hand (which is the only case mentioned in the Shulchan Aruch). What would be the halacha for Sefaradim who follow the psak of the Mechaber regarding placing an item in her lap?

Answer:

Answering halachic questions through an online forum has many advantages. There are some types of questions, however, that in my opinion are best fielded by a rav who knows both the husband and wife personally and can offer halachic guidance, recommendations or a decisive answer depending upon the Rav’s assessment as to how best promote the couple’s growth in avodas Hashem. Din online realizes that many do not have access to a personal rav and have, therefore, offered this substitute. It is important for us (administration of din online) to emphasize that such a forum may not be ideal and occasionally may lead to responses that are not appropriate for the person asking the question. We encourage all questioners and readers to invest time and energy to develop a relationship with a responsible and capable living rav who is able to get to know you. Knowledge about your history, life experiences, general background and education, skills, relationships, realistic potential to advance your religious connection with Hashem, physical limitations and family dynamics are among the factors that a rav may use to answer a she’eiloh.

This question, is such a question. The exact case is not found in shulchan Aruch and an application needs to be made from the principles of the poskim. The psak requested is for a person of Sefaradic background, there are various halachic opinions and there are at least two parties involved in this question. The topic of the question indicates that personal knowledge of the couple’s background, level of commitment, quality of marriage and more can be used as factors in reaching an appropriate decision.

I shall therefore, present to you some of the halachic principles at play and suggest that you use them to make a decision or turn to a local rav who knows you both for guidance or a ruling.

  1. The Shulchan Aruch forbids physical contact between husband and wife while they are in the period of nidus.[1] The Mechaber rules that they may not pass objects to each other, out of concern that the couple may touch each other.[2] The Ramo adds that they may not even pass things to each other in the air (throwing and not hand to hand). When items are thrown to each other there is never a possibility that they may touch each other. Apparently the Ramo accepts the alternative explanation (presented by the Rashbo) for the prohibition to pass items. The Rashbo reasons that passing items is an act of affection and may lead to intimacy.[3] According to this explanation it is possible to understand how the Ramo extends the prohibition to include throwing items to each other. Since the Mechaber specifically mentions the reason to refrain from passing objects to each other is in order to prevent physical contact, it seems that the Mechaber disagrees with the Ramo’s addition. According to the Mechaber the couple may throw items to each other.[4] Many Sefardic Poskim, however, did accept the Ramo’s note.[5]
  2. The Commentary by Rav Yitzchak Reisher, Toras Hashlomim, points out that the wording of the Ramo forbids throwing an item for her to catch in her hand; however, it is permissible to throw an item into her lap. Apparently this is less of an affectionate gesture and permissible.[6]
  3. Your question is, what would be the opinion of the Mechaber regarding passing an object from the husband’s hand to the lap of his wife when they are in nidus. The Torah Hashlomim’s case is different in that the object is being thrown and not placed. However, the thrust of his argument is not because he is convinced that throwing into a lap is significantly less affectionate, but due to the wording of the halochoh. The same nuance can be deduced from the wording of the Mechaber in that he emphasizes do not pass from his to her hand and vice versa. The implication is that it is only into the hand that is a problem. One can infer that it is permissible to put it in her lap since hands are not involved, there is less room for physical contact.[7]
  4. In summary, the rabbinic restriction to avoid physical contact between husband and wife is a matter of dispute. According to Ashkenazic custom to follow the rulings of the Ramo, not only is passing from hand to hand forbidden but also throwing items to each other is included. According to some poskim even extends to include throwing an object into her lap or bag that she is holding. The wording of the Ramo does not support that conclusion and Rav Karelitz rules that one should try to refrain from even throwing things into her lap or bag, but, if necessary, it is permissible. In this writer’s opinion it is halachically permissible to pass something into a bag held by your spouse or into her lap. It is also praiseworthy for a couple to decide to be stringent especially when both husband and wife know it is a chumroh and wish to accept the chumroh as an act of love towards Hashem’s mitzvos. A chumroh is appropriate when a person has reason to believe it is permitted and has the halachic prerogative to be lenient but is still unsure and is careful to avoid doing something wrong or when a person knows it is permissible but still wishes to do something that they know is within the spirit of the law and they take the notion of the law one step beyond what they are required to do. In this case, where the law is a way to safeguard the Torah law to avoid getting intimate with a niddoh, it is noble to adopt a chumroh if you have a positive feeling and interest in adding safeguards to mitzvos. The Mechaber only forbids passing items directly from hand to hand and apparently allows throwing. Passing an item into her lap is not directly discussed. It also seems to be in the gray area of something to be avoided as a chumroh, but technically permitted. In these types of rulings, a posek may factor in other considerations. An online answer loses the personal psak and a decisive response might offer an inappropriate ruling for you and your wife. Therefore, I will avoid offering a final decision for you and allow you to follow this up as you see fit.

Sources and Notes

[1] While technically it is the woman who has the menstrual period, the halachos are directed to both parties and I believe it is healthiest for the couple to view the status of nidus as something that has affected both parties equally and not as the wife’s issue. Statements by the husband like “we are in nidus” can be less offensive than statements like you are a niddah.

Inducing one’s wife to tears is a serious halachic matter and all attempts should be made to avoid that. In my opinion it is permissible to refer to the niddoh status of one’s wife as “we are in nidus”, when technically the husband is not a niddoh, since the phrase is accurate if applied to the laws of nidus and the intention is to create an atmosphere in which the wife does not feel responsible for the difficulty both parties need to endure.

[2] Affectionate physical contact between a niddoh and any Jewish man (including a husband) is a serious Torah violation that is so severe that it falls in the category of one of the few actions that one needs to sacrifice his life before transgressing.

The protective measure to avoid passing items to each other is rabbinic in nature and has greater latitude for leniencies. For example, one may pass a gett to ones’ wife while she is a niddoh as that is the type of act that would not lead to greater affection and draw them closer together (Darkei Teshuvoh in the name of Beis Yitzchok siman 18). Once it is done, they are not husband and wife. However, in the context of the marriage the law is treated as a separate piece of legislation and the reasoning behind it does not affect the application of the law. For example, the Shach explains that even according to the Mechaber one may not pass a long pole to his wife or vice versa even though there is not likelihood that they might touch each other.

If the type of interaction is such that it is unlikely that they will touch each other, Rav Nissim Karelitz is lenient (195:2:4). A couple traveling by bus with a baby in a heavy stroller have seconds to disembark from a bus. The mother is often pushing her stroller and cannot manage to maneuver or lift the stroller herself. When she is travelling with her husband and they are in nidus, he may help her to carry the stroller and baby off of the bus. She cannot lift the carriage herself and once each person grabs opposite ends of the carriage, they will not let go as it is too heavy for each one to carry themselves. They may do the same when negotiating a staircase. The husband may help his wife up the stairs with the stroller if there is no alternative solution available. (If an elevator is available, they should take advantage of it).

The difference between this case and the long pole mentioned earlier is that pole can be held by each person independently. Only when the carriage cannot be picked up at one end by each person is Rav Karelitz lenient.

Only the type of contact between husband and wife that is common to their regular behavior as a couple is an issue. In a situation in which there is no alternative solution, Rav Moshe Feinstein (E.H. 2:14) permits a couple to sit next to each other on a bus even though there is not enough space on the bench to avoid physical contact between a husband and wife when they are in nidus. He explains that the issur of lo sikravu to an ervah is only relevant when the physical contact is affectionate in nature. Otherwise there is no Torah or rabbinic transgression. Chazal did enact legislation specific to a husband and wife during the nidus period since their common behavior as a couple may naturally lead to a serious transgression. Therefore, causal physical contact was restricted. He reasons that the physical contact in a crowded bus is not common contact between a couple, but the common contact existing between strangers in a public area and is not included in Chazal’s restriction. If possible, he recommends that the couple find different spots to stand or sit in. If that is not practical, it is permissible for a couple to squeeze together in a crowded public area without concern of violating the rabbinic legislation specific to the nidus period.

[3] עיין ב”י א”ה סימן כ”א בשם הרשב”א.

[4] וכ”נ ממש”כ בביאורים ד”ה וכן ע”י זריקה, בספר בדי השלחן.

ובברכי יוסף קצ”ה סק”ה הביא מהתשב”ץ ומהריק”ש דשרי לזרוק, אולם בסק”ו שם כתב דאנן אסרינן זריקה, הרי דאף החיד”א החמיר בזה, אולם ס”ל דאין להחמיר אלא בזריקה ישר מיד ליד אבל כשזורק באויר למעלה וברדתו היא מקבלתו, שרי, ומסתמך על מה שהתירו המהריק”ש והתשב”ץ וכל שאינו ממש כדברי הרמ”א יש להתיר.

[5] The Chida in his sefer Birkei Yosef (Y.D. 195:6) accepts the Ramo’s opinion.

[6] Not all commentaries agree with his conclusion. See Shiurei Shevet Halevi Y.D. 195:2:4 that rules that one should refrain from throwing items onto her lap.

[7] Receiving a baby with one’s hands from the lap of a spouse technically is included in the words of the Mechaber and forbidden. However, if the infant leans towards the arms of the opposite spouse it is permissible to accept the infant with one’s hands from the grasp of one’s spouse. Rav Shlomo Zalman reasons that since this law is not found in the gemoro, it can be interpreted to be a restriction when the transfer of object is done exclusively by husband and wife. We can draw a distinction between a case where only the couple was involved and a case in which the energy of another person is involved. We have no evidence that the restriction extends to such a situation and one may be lenient (Minchas Shlomo 2:75:2 and Chut Shani 195:2:3).

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