Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Biblical vs. Rabbinic niddah rules, impacting fertility

Now this is interesting.

There is a difference between Biblical and Rabbinic niddah rules. Biblically, in many (though not all) instances, there is no waiting of 7 days after the termination of bleeding before going to the mikvah. But because (possibly as a result of Zaroastrian influences, as Dr. Elman has shown) in the times of the gemara, women accepted upon themselves to sit shiva nekiim for a drop of blood the size of a mustard seed, every niddah is treated as zavah, such that the number of days of niddah are effectively doubled. This universally accepted practice then becomes halacha.

I have heard it said that there is a practical benefit to this halacha as it has developed, in terms of fertility. Thus,
As the night that the woman ritually traditionally immerses is about 12 days after menstruation started, it often coincides with a woman's ovulation, and thus improves the chances of successful conception if sexual relations occur on that night.
However, new research would seem to indicate that the opposite is true, and that the Biblical rules of niddah would do more for fertility (discounting any issues of missing ovulation for some women). Thus, this article states:

Having sex every day improves the quality of men's sperm and is recommended for couples trying to conceive, according to new research.

Until now doctors have debated whether or not men should refrain from sex for a few days before attempting to conceive with their partner to improve the chance of pregnancy.

But a new study by Dr David Greening of Sydney IVF, an Australian centre for infertility and in vitro fertilisation (IVF) treatment, suggests abstinence is not the right approach.

He studied 118 men with above-average sperm DNA damage and found the quality of their sperm increased significantly after they were told to ejaculate daily for seven days.

Of course, this scientific evidence does not do anything to change the halacha.

15 comments:

indavao said...

hi.. just dropping by here... have a nice day! http://kantahanan.blogspot.com

Ezzie said...

That doesn't discount the timing of ovulation point; it merely argues that it's better for the men to have sex more.

Practically, people aren't having sex every single night; if you want as close to a "guarantee" that a couple would have relations around ovulation, the shiva nikiim would make it likely that the couple would do so.

Anonymous said...

". But because (possibly as a result of Zaroastrian influences, as Dr. Elman has shown) in the times of the gemara, women accepted upon themselves to sit shiva nekiim for a drop of blood the size of a mustard seed, every niddah is treated as zavah, such that the number of days of niddah are effectively doubled."

I don't think the second is because of the first. It's a separate gezera.

michael said...

I personally know the case of an old yemenite rabbi (a kabbalist) who allowed an halakhically barren women to do tevilah before the seven days. I am not going to give his name, so as not to get him in trouble.
She gave birth, of course.

joshwaxman said...

there are indeed multiple gezerot in play. and i am likely not recalling Dr. Elman precisely. you would seem to be correct, that in terms of 3 days+, it would seem to come from Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi. the gemara in niddah 66b:

"R. Joseph citing Rab Judah who had it from Rab stated: Rabbi ordained at Sadoth,32 If a woman observed a discharge on one day she33 must wait34 six days in addition to it.35 If she observed discharges on two days she33 must wait34 six days in addition to these.36 If she observed a discharge on three days she33 must wait34 seven clean days.37 R. Zera stated: The daughters of Israel have imposed upon themselves the restriction that even if they observe a drop of blood of the size of a mustard seed they wait on account of it seven clean days."

kt,
josh

joshwaxman said...

see also this post, and the comment section there:
http://menachemmendel.blogspot.com/2006/12/rabbi-zera-under-attack.html

kt,
josh

Anonymous said...

"But because (possibly as a result of Zaroastrian influences, as Dr. Elman has shown) in the times of the gemara, women accepted upon themselves to sit shiva nekiim for a drop of blood the size of a mustard seed, every niddah is treated as zavah, such that the number of days of niddah are effectively doubled."

Where can I read Dr. Elman's work on this?

joshwaxman said...

i heard it in his class a few years ago. though we accumulated thousands of pages of source sheets for the class. bli neder, i'll try to look through my looseleaf binders to see if i can spot the article, or whatever it was.

kt,
josh

Anonymous said...

Thanks! I'd really appreciate a post about it (so that I'll see it).

robert said...

I don't remember exactly which book it's in, but Rambam's mishneh torah details the biblical nidah laws, then details the rabbinic stringencies and the chumrot that the women took on themselves. I'm looking for a way of dealing with these rabbinic gezirot / chumrot since I just found out that my wife ovulates around 9 or 10 days into her nidah cycle. To get pregnant you generally need to be together at least 1 - 3 days prior to ovulation.

Rambam says that the reason for the gezirah of treating nidah like zavah was 1. because women's period's had become irregular and 2. because people didn't understand how to the calculate the nidah and zavah days correctly. Technically, a woman can only become nidah on certain days during her cycle and any bleeding outside those days makes her either a zavah ( katan or gadol ). Now the question is, since today we have computer programs which can accurately track and calculate the nidah days without any expertise whatsoever on the woman's part, can we go back to biblical nidah? If the original reason for a gezirah no longer applies do we still have to follow the gezirah? In the discussion of givinat akum by Rambam in the MT he indicates that the majority of the Geonim held that givinat akum was permissible under certain conditions since the original reasons for the gezirah no longer applied, Rabbainu Tam ruled the same way. However Rambam ruled that the gezirah stands even if the reasons for it no longer apply.

So there are opinions on both sides it seems.

joshwaxman said...

I would caution you regarding basing yourself on Rambam's definition of Biblical niddah. If I recall correctly, he has a *very* different theory of the definition of Biblical niddah vs. zavah as opposed to those of other Rishonim. Bli neder, I'll try to elaborate in another comment.

Rather, consult your local posek, who will almost certainly be able to find a way to work this out...

kol tuv,
josh

joshwaxman said...

again, this is working from memory, but iirc, according to Rambam, starting from menarche, there are specific days. if the period is in a specific timespan, she is a niddah. otherwise, it is zava. other rishonim take each onset of period as the beginning of a calculation.

i am not going to go into reasons why specific aspects can be relaxed. it is not clear that it was an imposition by the Rabbis, such that where the reason is nullified, the decree is nullified. see Dr. Elman, and how this may well have been an adoption of a chumra by the women of the time because they didn't want to be more lenient than their Persian neighbors. in which case, minhag and whether it may be relaxed apply.

besides this, what if the first day is not accompanied by a hargasha, or is the wrong color, such that it is not Biblically niddah? the second day, though, is, because it is the right color or is accompanied by a hargasha. even aided by a computer program, start counting on the wrong day and you will end too early. i'm not making these answers up on the spot, btw.

for fertility problems, while they won't publicly proclaim and publish the teshuvot -- because it is so easy for non-rabbis to misapply thinking that non-identical circumstances are indeed identical -- there are rabbis who can provide guidance to solve these problems.

my usual disclaimer applies. don't rely on this blog for any practical halachah.

hatzlachah,
josh

robert said...

The general approach I've seen seems to be fairly well represented by this page from Nishmat: Halachic Infertility - Treatment. Are you aware of a halachic solution for someone who ovulates before day 11 and bleeds for 5 days? We're already using all the tricks in the book to get down to 11 days but that's really still 2 - 3 days too late to get pregnant naturally.

By the way, who is Dr. Elman and has he published any books / papers on the subject of Rabbinic / womans nidah chumrot?

joshwaxman said...

i'll try to check out that page, give it some thought, and get back to you.

in terms of Dr. Elman, see here for an example:
http://www.cardozolawreview.com/content/28-1/ELMAN.WEBSITE.pdf

kol tuv,
josh

joshwaxman said...

sorry -- i've been swamped and haven't had a chance yet. hopefully soon.

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