by Reb Akiva @ Mystical Paths
One of the touchiest mitzvot to discuss within Torah Judaism is the mitzvah of Family Purity. This wonderful euphemism actually means restrictions on the timing of marital relations between the married Jewish couple. This article will briefly discuss the mitzvah, and an option for those having physical trouble with a specific aspect of the mitzvah application. It’s extremely hard to do this modestly, but can be important information for those with this particular problem. As such I’m going to try my best to discuss it, venture into the necessary details, while doing my best to avoid any inappropriate public discussion. THAT SAID, THIS ARTICLE WILL INVOLVE ADULT TOPICS and TERMINOLOGY. Don’t get upset that you were shocked, this is the “trigger warning”.
Family Purity, a definition. Within observant Judaism, consistent with our understanding of the Torah (she’bi’ktav and she’baal’pe), a restriction is placed upon a married couple (married couple means two opposite sex cis-gendered adults who have bound themselves as a couple formally according to the laws of Moshe and Yisroel, or informally by committing a series of actions that equate enough of the formal ones) to NOT engage in marital relations (that means intercourse) at times when the woman is having her monthly cycle (menstruating).
Like most things in observant Judaism, there are many details and additional restrictions to prevent accidental violation of the restriction. These include a minimum number of days in the restriction time, including some defined as “clean days” to verify there is no remaining cycle output (menstrual flow), and others such as avoiding all physical contact on restricted days (to avoid being overcome by desires for each other). [Clean days in this sentence has no spiritual implications, it rather means days when flow has ceased.]
However some couples encounter female-health physical difficulties with this mitzvah. Examples include a short cycle, where required separation times may leave little time for marital relations, erratic cycles that ‘surprise’ the couple and their plans, or long menstruation that similar to the short cycle may leave little time for relations. Modern medicine can assist with these problems, as medicine that helps regulate cycles can be given in many circumstances.
Another problem which sometimes occurs, and for some couples may be a regular problem, is ‘spotting’. Because the restrictions rely on timing as well as physical signs, and there is no greater sign of flow than the result, any spot found can indicate the start of a cycle – even if the timing isn’t right. If such spots are found, particularly during clean days, they are exceptionally problematic and may require the restriction period to restart – resulting in a significant delay in resuming relations – sometimes even running into the next regular cycle! For some couples where this may happen with some regularity, this can be a major disruption to their married life.
Got all that? How am I doing? This is hard!
Someone having such a problem should get checked out by appropriate medical professionals. Sometimes these signs are indications of medical issues that can and should be addressed. But sometimes they’re not, it’s just the particular woman’s system’s way of operation.
Around 15 years ago, a halachic innovation entered to try to help. The bodeket. This is a medical specialist with religious training (usually a nurse practitioner or gynecologist) who performs an examination when such a problem is occurring to determine IF the source of the spotting is uterine (which invokes all the restrictions) or is NOT. At least in some cases, spotting may not be uterine, and if not does not invoke restrictions. For some couples, finding this out when they have been struggling with this problem is a major help in their lives.
All of this was brought up by a recent advertisement by our HMO in Israel, which now has an on-staff bodeket provided as part of their medical services. Apparently this problem solving approach is now well enough known to warrant providing.
If a married Jewish couple is suffering from such a situation, they should consult their local orthodox rabbi, and/or an expert posek (expert rabbi) on this topic, and ask about whether using a bodeket would be appropriate.