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July 29, 2010

The Jewish Laws of Separation also called the Laws of Family Purity, Taharat Ha-Mishpachah, as interpreted from Leviticus 15:19 -24, are taken very seriously here in Israel. I don’t participate in these laws personally as a single non-observant woman yet I am reminded of them as I sleep in them every night.

Essentially, these family purity laws apply to a married woman as she enters the halachic status of niddah. This is mostly when she experiences menstruation or post-childbirth. While a married woman is niddah, couples are not permitted any physical contact. Any contact including touching hands while walking down the street… In order to prevent marital relations from inadvertently taking place at the time that a woman is niddah, couples observe times of separation vestot or onot perishah.

Tohorat Ha-mishpacha today instructs beds in Israel hotels to have the options to be together or separate. Hence the reason that all hotel beds in Israel are twin beds with the option to be together or for separation. The photo above is a photo of one of the typical hotel rooms I have been staying in.

A married woman remains in niddah, prohibiting intimacy with her partner, until she has removed all barriers that could come between her body, g*d, men and most specifically, water. These spiritual and physical barriers, chatzitzot, are removed and then she immerses herself in the mikveh. Once a woman has immersed herself in the mikveh she is no longer niddah and is now tehorah ready to touch and be touched again

  1. Jonathan S permalink

    Lisa, I notice you avoid expressing any opinion on this.

    It has always been an issue I cannot really understand properly; it seems so misogynistic, and every reconstructed, post-feminist justification I have heard seems patronising at best, or even delusional.

    As a man I cannot claim to understand this from personal experience, but I would struggle hugely with the idea that I was impure so regularly and for so long (at all, in fact!) because of a totally natural and unavoidable part of my normal biological functioning.

  2. Gabriela permalink

    Jonathan, I agree it is long time and complicated. But as you said, you can not understand from personal experience. And believe me, most of the women really feel unclean during the period. I think that more than barrier it is a protection for woman and the relationship generally, because sometimes during the period women feel and behave really weird, unfriendly to all world and dont want anyone to touch them. But I agree that the priod (12 days altogether every month ) is very very long.

  3. at different times in my life i have honored this tradition in the ways that a single pretty much secular queer american woman can honor these laws… mostly i have honored them as a choice rather then a law. in my choice i have honored parts of them in a post-queer romanticized notion of heterosexual erotically-charged misogyny aka transculturation. at different times times in my life everything inside me wanted to honor my three maternal generations of american feminist pioneering women who raised me and rejected taharat ha mishpachah. yet the most honest of all answers is that i discovered and continue to rediscover what my own body needs, craves and considers healthy. the answer for me is parts of being separated and parts of the feminist reconstruction work for me but never is this universally consistent. and honestly it never fits the specific guidelines as outlined in Torah. As we say, b’tzelem elochim, each of us, each of our bodies are created in the divine image of g*d and i like to think that each of these bodies are at least a little diverse, different and need different separations… gabriela, you are right on. and jonathan, good question.

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