Taharas Hamishpacha - Inner Meanings

Taharas Hamishpacha - Inner Meanings


The laws of Taharas Hamishpacha (Family Purity) are an integral part of our religious faith and stemming as they do from our Torah, are not always fully understood by our mortal minds. The Infinite, after all, is not readily comprehended by the finite. The believing Jew maintains the practices of his or her faith whether or not he understands their reasons. Nevertheless, Judaism does permit the asking of questions, and encourages us to attempt to plumb the profundities that lie within each and every Divine commandment.

One principal is crystal clear: Every single commandment is for our benefit; every single mitzvah is good for us - not only spiritually, but physically as well. This is not the motivation for our performance of mitzvot, of course. We perform them because they are Divine commandments, the will of G-d. The dietary laws, for example, are maintained as a Divine discipline, not because eating kosher food is healthful and beneficial to our bodies, but because kashrut is a Torah law. But the fact is that it is healthful and beneficial. Shabbat observance is designed to remind us of G-d as the Creator of the universe - but it is also good for us.

The same holds true of the Taharas Hamishpacha laws. They are mysterious and strange on the surface, but they reflect a deep inner truth about the nature of men and women. For example, there seems to be some kind of congruence between nature itself and the woman. The woman's monthly cycle corresponds to the rhythms of the moon: is this coincidence? The moon's cycle is monthly, as is the woman's. The moon waxes, wanes diminishes, disappears and then reappears once again. Is this an adumbration of the woman's own cycle from ovulation to menstruation? Is it a reflection of the woman's relationship with her husband - waxing with him and waning from him, uniting with him and then withdrawing from him upon the appearance of her internal blood; waiting for the flow of bleeding to cease, immersing herself in the pristine waters of creation and then returning to him again at the next phase? Is there in this rhythm a hint of the secret and  hidden rhythms of the universe? What is there within the depths of the woman that reflects the cycles of the moon? Is it not strange and fascinating that, in effect, every woman seems to have her own personal moon phase?

We shall never know, of course, what lies beneath all this. In her fine book "The Voice of Sarah"*, Tamar Frankel notes several studies which suggest to her that the "woman's personal moon phase affects what we [women] are doing or how we are relating". Ovulation and menstruation, she suggests, are a scale drawing of the creativity of the universe (pp. 80-81).

On a practical, less mysterious level, the period of separation allows the woman's body a time to recoup and to rest. Emotionally, it preserves her basic freedom, and gives her the distance and physical solitude which she needs and welcomes. It enables her to withdraw a bit, to be private, to reach inward into her own self.

In additon, the time of abstinence underscores the idea that she is not always and invariably available to her husband. This helps prevent one of the common debilitating factors in marriage: the feeling that one is being taken for granted. By guaranteeing that the wife is not always available, the practices of Taharas Hamishpacha elevate the relationship to a different plateau.

After a certain woman in our community began observing Taharas Hamishpacha, her husband complained to me about it. Only half jokingly, he said: "Rabbi, this is ridiculous - it's ruining our marriage."

Six months later he confided to me, "This has been wonderful. It has brought a kind of excitement into our married lives. We were very bored with each other, tired of each other. Our physical relationship was becoming monotonous, with no excitement. This was like a magic potion. In all seriousness, Rabbi, this has saved our marriage. Not just the physical part. Everything."  

Without realizing it, this husband was echoing the statement by R. Meir in the Talmud. In tractate Niddah 31b, R. Meir explains why the Torah requires the seven days of preparation: "Because excessive intimacy can cause boredom. Therefore the Torah ordains that we should separate for those [additional] seven days - so that a woman shall be as beloved as she was on the day she stood under the bridal canopy." In other words, Taharas Hamishpacha  reenacts a honeymoon, every month.

There is no question that periodic separation helps draw the couple closer together. They learn to develop and refine other aspects of their relationship: companionship, conversation, understanding, consideration, friendship. These interpersonal skills, so vital in any human relationship, are indispensable in a husband-wife relationship.

Indeed, the fact is that the sexual relationship consists of more than one component. What is often forgotten is that it is not only sexual; it also consists of "relationship" - which implies communication, compassion, love, caring, concern, relating. A preoccupation with the physical aspects of sex can cause the non-physical aspects to be overshadowed. Conversely, non-physical intimacy actually enhances physical intimacy. A physical relationship that lacks love and caring and emotional connection will in short order become meaningless.

In the last of the seven blessings recited under the wedding canopy, we acknowledge G-d Who has given the bride and groom "gilah, rinah, ditzah, v'chedvah, ahavah, achvah, shalom, v're'ut - mirth, glad song,  pleasure, delight, love, brotherhood, peace and companionship."  According to a great sage, the words, "love, brotherhood, peace and companionship" apply to the times during marriage when there must be physical separation between husband and wife. At those times, love of a non-physical nature becomes paramount. The first four qualities - "mirth, glad song, pleasure and delight" reflect the times in marriage when the couple is permitted to be united as one. And, the explantion continues, in either case, the couple remains always a living embodiment of the words in the sixth blessing: there they are described as "re'im ahuvim - beloved companions." This they must constantly strive for, both with and without the physical component.


The period of separation creates an important new dimension in the relationship between husband and wife. It emphasizes that their partnership is based not only on the physical but also on the other aspects of companionship and that not only union but also withdrawal, separation and discipline are integral aspects of their lives together. In a marriage, just as in a painting, the empty spaces are as important as the subject being painted. Just as in music, the pauses are what add beauty and rhythm and substance to the body of the work. A painting or a musical composition without pauses or stops or spaces would quickly lose all meaning.

Through the regimen of Taharas Hamishpacha the wife is appreciated and respected. She can never be regarded as merely an object of her husband's desire or as a plaything to satisfy his whims. That which is easily attained is easily cast off; that which has value is sought after, courted and won over. The fact is that easy sexual satisfaction makes love and intimacy less likely both for men and for women. Immediate gratification is deleterious to sexual satisfaction. Delay and postponement intensify longing and increase desire.

Perhaps most significantly, Taharas Hamishpacha is a monthly reminder of the wife's personhood; it creates a new respect for her sense of self. She now enters a private plateau of independence. She becomes a person in her own right, with her own needs, her own ways and her own unique perspective on life. This is for men a needed regular reminder to respect the differences between men and women.

(A man once came to me with the complaint that his wife was so different from him: she had a different perspective on things, she cried more readily, she reacted differently from him in certain situations. I explained to him that this is precisely how it is supposed to be. It is the very differences between men and women that help forge the marriage alliance and make it last. The maleness of the husband, the femaleness of the wife - these are the cement from which the structure of the marriage takes hold and is built. Men and women are different not only physically but also emotionally, spiritually and mentally. And just as no two men or no two women can create a child, so also no two men and no two women can create the structure of marriage that is part of G-d's plan for mankind - a structure in which the differences are the indispensible qualities which build the relationship.)

The contribution of the Taharas Hamishpacha discipline in enhancing one's character is very profound. When a Jew can control the most powerful and most pleasurable human instinct and say "Wait, not now!" and thus can overpower it and channel it, two things occur:

1. he puts it into his service and he becomes the master

2. because he can control this, he demonstrates that he can control all his other instincts as well - envy, hatred, anger - and become a finer human being.

Beyond all else, there is the added comfort and strength in the joint realization of husband and wife that they are maintaining a practice hallowed by millenia, a regimen that reflects the wisdom of G-d, Torah and our sacred heritage. Through these means, G-d becomes the silent third partner in every marriage.

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