Tuesday, May 18, 2010

A Troubling Trend in Orthodoxy

We subscribe to Mekor Rishon, the current Dati Leumi newspaper of record. We also get the "magazine" package, mostly for the kids magazine which is both excellent, and our kids love to read.
Among the magazines that appear in the package is a bi-weekly rag called "Nashim", with lite divrei Torah, recipes, articles about clothes, pictures about clothes, and other women-related ideas. I never read it. Rena doesn't either, at least not normally. It's skimming material.
This week she called to my attention to a disturbing article in the magazine, about the growing "trend" of women who dunk in the mikveh on the eighth day after the beginning of their niddah cycle, and do not follow the halachically proscribed schedule. (One of the problems with articles like these is that it's difficult to know whether it's really a "trend" and widespread, or whether it's really quite a limited phenomenon. Either way, the article helps spread the word until it really does become more acceptable.)
I've scanned and upload the article for you here. It's in Hebrew, but I strongly recommend reading it if only to be aware of the issues that the article raises.
To understand the background of this issue, a little halachic inside baseball is necessary.
The Torah describes two types of menstrual flow: dam Niddah and dam Zivah. According to the Torah, a woman who sees a normal Niddah flow counts seven days from the onset of the menstruation, and on the night of the eighth day immerses in the mikveh. Zivah is much more stringent. (for brevity, I'm skipping a great deal of detail), and in its primary form requires what is known as shivah neki'im, or seven clean days. That means that a woman must wait until the flow subsides completely, ensure that she is physically clean, and then count an additional seven days.
Practically, we cannot distinguish between the two types of bleeding, so we consider every type of menstrual bleeding as dam Zivah, requiring the familiar seven clean days every kallah learns about before marriage. This translates into a minimum of twelve and often fourteen or fifteen days of separation in a normal Orthodox marriage.
According to the article, a gynecologist and woman's advocate have been teaching women to follow the "Torah law", and instead of counting the seven clean days, to only count the first seven days and immerse on the eighth day. The problem with this is that through the halachic process, not most - but every single halachic authority takes it as a given that we do not follow this practice, but instead must count the seven clean days and maintain the mandated longer separation.
Two things trouble me about this trend:
First and foremost, it reflects a current desire to mold halachah to what most fits today's lifestyle. If it's not convenient, meaningful; if people find it too challenging, then let's change it! Let me be the first to say that separation from one's spouse for two weeks a month is hard. Really hard. But do we really think it's harder today than it was a hundred, or five hundred years ago? Yet, somehow people grant themselves the license to change centuries of Jewish custom to meet their personal needs or views. This will only get worse in the future.
Most troubling though, is that attitude that somehow one can ignore rabbinic law (the "seven clean days stringency") and apply Torah law and still consider the practice Torah Judaism. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The Torah was given to Moshe on Sinai to interpret and transmit to the Jewish people. The Oral Tradition is an integral and indivisible second side of Jewish faith. Without rabbinic law, there is no Torah. What is Shabbat? Who defines when it starts and ends; what actions are permitted and prohibited? That same Oral Law has concluded that women must count the seven clean days. That's the halachah. That's Jewish law.
And no matter what trends develop, and how many women choose to act differently, they might think that they're following the Torah, but they're sadly mistaken.