Last December at LimmudBoston, Lisa Berman, Mayyim Hayyim’s Director of Education, moderated a panel discussion entitled “Sacred Bodies, Sacred Time” about the observance of niddah, monthly immersion. According to the laws of niddah, women immerse in the mikveh after menstruation or after giving birth. They refrain from relations with their partners from the beginning of menstruation or from childbirth until after they have immersed. There are different practices regarding how long one waits to immerse after menstruation or after childbirth and to what degree separation is maintained during that time. Eleven women participated in the LimmudBoston discussion on the topic. They included clergy and lay people; women who go to the mikveh and women who don’t; women who identify as Reconstructionist, Reform, Conservative, or Orthodox; and women who identify as none of those. They came together to discuss questions about niddah – is it a source of spirituality or an archaic ritual? What place does it have in contemporary or feminist Jewish life? Mayyim Hayyim is continuing that conversation on our blog with a series of posts about niddah – and we hope you will join us.
We’re opening this blog series with a compilation of reflections from the LimmudBoston panel. We hope that reading the panelists’ and participants’ impressions will inspire you to share yours. If you’d like to submit a post, you can do so here.
Here is a sampling of what the panelists shared when asked what niddah means to them:
Niddah is a part of my practice as someone who follows halacha and tradition. It is a spectrum of separation, a series of behaviors; it is about his space and my space: This is a time of the month when he doesn’t come into my space. It’s not about me, not about him, but about us as a couple. Niddah is a way of reflecting the major shift of marriage when life didn’t necessarily otherwise look different.
Niddah is a practice, like meditation or yoga. It’s a part of tradition, a part of the search for meaning; tradition has meaning, even when it’s hard to see. Some months, going to the mikveh is meaningful. Like davening, it can be the most meaningful experience or just something I have to do. But if one month it’s not meaningful, and I just do it, usually the next time I’m thirsting for a spiritual experience.
On ways of understanding purity and impurity:
The waters of the mikveh are pure, no matter what your state is. I can go to the mikveh my way and not wreck it for anyone else. I always carry impurity of many kinds. Every day brings new challenges, things that weigh you down.
On the right time to go:
Don’t wait for that one big reason to go. Just go. You can go again when that reason comes.
Now we’d like to hear from you. Do you observe niddah? Why or why not? How do you conceptualize purity and impurity? Find meaning in the mikveh? We hope you’ll join the conversation by sharing your thoughts here.