Question:

My wife is very convinced about the following:

“The rabbis were not women and they were afraid that women would confuse menstruating blood with other discharges and extended the period of separation and eliminated niddah completely and only kept zavah. Women cannot be afraid to confuse menstruation with other discharges because we are women. We menstruate. We know our bodies. H’ agrees. That’s why Hashem said 7 days after menstruation you are clean. Menstruation is normal physiological healthy state in women. You are a woman you know when you bleed. End of Story. Then the rabbis had to
come in and make themselves rulers over women’s bodies and make everything more complicated and unnecessary.”

As you can tell she is very passionate. She researches articles and takes time to really investigate this. More than me! So I’m not at a level to be able to respond. It also can seem to make sense to me

Can you help

Answer:

It looks like you wife does do her homework, and she wants to investigate things thoroughly, so let’s investigate this enactment from its sources.

If we look in the Tractate Berachos 31a, the gemorah says, “A person should not pray when his mind is preoccupied with a court case… rather only with from a clear cut law, (meaning a law that everyone agrees that it is the law- R’ Yona ibid). What is a clear cut law? Abaya said’ “like R’ Zeira said, that the women of Israel were stringent on themselves and counted seven days even if they saw a drop of blood the size of a mustard seed”. On one hand we see from this that it was the women themselves that instituted this stringency.

On the other hand if it was merely the women who instituted this, why is the called a clear law, what made it into law? See Ramban (Niddah 1-19) and Chinuch (Mitzvah 209) that in essence it was the women who instituted it, but it is called a clear cut law because the rabbis were pleased with their adherence to such a stringency and they made it into halacha and became the accepted ruling. The rabbis therefore didn’t “come in and make themselves the rulers over women’s bodies”, the women themselves instituted this, and the rabbis agreed to it because they saw that it was in their best interest.

The issue however is still not settled, as the question remains as your wife wants to know, what was so difficult for all the women to tell if they were menstruating? Is it only the modern woman that is in touch with her body? The answer is that since the halachos are complicated, and it is easy for one to get confused. There are three different type of tumah, niddah, which is when a woman menstruates, then there is also bleeding that comes at other times, called zava ketana, and a zava gedolah. When a woman menstruates she is tamei for seven full days, even if she only bleeds a little bit. She doesn’t have to count any clean days, just goes to the mikvah after the seven days and she is fine. From day 8 until day 18, (11 days) it is not called Nidah, rather zeeva. If she bleeds for only one or two days she has to have one or two clean days, she goes the the mikvah and she is fine. However if the bleeding was on three consecutive days she has to count 7 clean days before she can go to the mikvah. (According to most Rishonim the first day of bleeding is the first day of the nidah- zeva cycle, however according to Rambam (Issurei Biah 6, 4-6) the cycle starts when she gets her first period and continues as a cycle 7-11-7- 11 until she gives birth. That can be very confusing.)

Another point, not all menstrual blood is nidah. Only 4 shades of red are really tamei (Mishna Niddah 19). In essence the sages knew of 60 different shades of red blood, (see Tractate Baba Metziah 84b) but only four of them are actually niddah. It doesn’t merely go by what we call “menstruating”. Nowadays we aren’t as keen on the colors therefore in practice we assume that all shades of red are niddah, however it is possible that he first few days were not the right color and afterwards it became the right color, she thinks she is during the niddah days, but she is mistaken because the niddah days only started on day four. Now she has to wait, seven niddah days from the first day of niddah (day four), which would really be day 11. If she would go to the mikvah on day seven she is still a niddah, and committed a issur kares. Or let’s take another case, on day one she saw a little bit of blood, and then it stopped for a few days, then it started for seven days. It is possible that the first blood was real niddah and therefore the last days were in the 11 zava days, and now she biblically needs seven clean days, or else she transgressed a issur kares. It can get quite confusing and we are dealing with a serious transgression, therefore the women themselves elected to be stringent and made a rule that they always wait seven clean days before immersing in the mikvah.

There is also another factor here. Once the sages made this stringency into halacha we are obligated to follow their directives. This is (Deuteronomy 17-11) a positive commandment given by H-shem himself, and this is what he wants us to do. It isn’t up to the individual to decide which of the sages directives he will choose and which he will drop, If the rabbis instituted it – H-shem wants it. There is a very scary story in Tractate Shabbos 13a in the name of Eliyahu Hanavi, that there was once a student that was very learned, and he died young. His wife took his tefillin to the beit midrash and asked, “it says in the torah that torah learning gives us long life, why did my husband die so young?” And no one could answer her until Eliyahu asked her, “after you were a niddah, in the clean days, was there any contact between you?” She answered, “we were in close contact but didn’t have a relations. To this Eliyahu Hanavi answered, “This shows us that H-shem doesn’t show favors, and even though he was learned he still transgressed a sin because they didn’t separate enough during the clean days after nidah.

Sources:

Rabeinu Yona Berachos 31a, Tur and Prisha Y:D 183.

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