This post is cross-posted at JWA.
I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately about niddah, or the laws having to do with a women’s monthly immersion in the mikveh (this is what happens when you run a Jewish blog—you read a lot of random things). I am no expert on this issue—far from it—but I think it’s a really interesting topic, and something that more women should be aware of, especially in light of the battle over mikvaot that is going on in some communities in Israel right now. So here are the basic, traditional rules: a woman is supposed to abstain from sex and any physical contact throughout her period and for seven days after, until she has immersed herself in a mikveh. The reason for the immersion is so that she will no longer be tameh, which is loosely translated as “impure,” but that many believe is really meant to convey a lack of wholeness without the heavy negative connotations of impurity. In addition, the mikveh is, traditionally, intended for married women.
The mikveh presents many challenges for a woman living in the modern world, even among more traditional communities. First, the issue of whether or not an unmarried woman can go to the mikveh—what do observant women do who are having sex outside of marriage? In an article on The Sisterhood on the issue, Rabbi Miriam Berkowitz, a Conservative Rabbi in Israel, estimates that approximately one third of Orthodox women who are having sex outside of marriage use the mikveh each month. However, In Israel, there are many times when women who are not married are barred from using a mikveh. So what should such women do?