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My Untouchable Wife

By Tzvi Fishman
7/29/2007, 12:00 AM

A newly-wedded husband has written our jewishsexuality.com website, expressing his difficulty in not being able to touch and kiss his wife during her Niddah period. With the hope that he can benefit from the broad experience of our readers, I invite you to send in your comments and share your reactions with him. Since today is Tu B’Av, a day marking the national reunion of the tribes of Israel, and a day celebrating the holy bonds of marriage and love, we can add to the joy of the day by helping this troubled couple, and others, to see the heavenly blessing of Tarahat HaMishpachah.
Yes, kissing one’s wife goodbye in the morning is a wonderful thing, but at the expense of cutting oneself off from G-d?

QUERY:

I am a newly married man and I am struggling with not touching my wife (shomer negiah)  during her niddah (menstrual) period. You yourself quote on your jewishsexuality.com website the saying of the Rabbis: “Are the Torah's prohibitions not enough for you that you come to create new prohibitions for yourself?” Furthermore, it is stated, "Thou shalt not add or subtract any mitzvot." I would like to offer the thought that the entire book “Road to Purity” (“Derech Tahara” by Rabbi Modechai Eliahu) is adding additional mitzvot. I have read “Road to Purity” as well as “Daughter of Israel” and they have brought nothing but depression. Is not Shalom Bayit and a happy marriage more important then minhagim (customs) and fences?

I will agree that staying away from intercourse during Niddah is not such a hard thing to do and even logical. But being compeletly shomer negiah during niddah? Do you know how insane it was for us not to touch each other the first week of marriage? Is that normal or healthy? And now I find out that the day before she "could maybe" get her period, that we are also not allowed to touch, just in case! How can I not kiss my wife goodbye when I leave for work? Is that treating my wife with respect, to just say, "Ok, sis, see ya! Maybe I'll kiss you in 14 days!” Is that normal? You know what this causes? Severe guilt and depression on the part of my wife because, heaven forbid, she accidentally handed me a glass of water instead of setting it down on the table. And when she is stressed out and in need of my affection, can I not give her a back rub or a gentle kiss? No! Because, heaven forbid, it could lead to yadda yadda yadda. She cannot even uncover her hair in her own home because if I see it I could go crazy and make love to her, because I am nothing but a weak man and men are uncontrollable sex fiends that need fences around everything or they will commit rape. Is this a normal way of thinking?

As if I am some kind of monster

Please address these issues, as I don't think I can go 14 days treating my newlywed wife as a sister or cousin. I do not believe that she should be made to feel guilty for wanting to be close to her husband. You talk a lot about masturbation on your website. Some say that the ultimate cure is to get married so you won't have to masturbate or look at porn. Your wife is all you need. But nay, it is not so! For I am forbidden, according to “Road to Purity,” to merely gaze longingly at my wife during the period of niddah. Of course I could never go to a rabbi with such issues because the answer will just be "try harder" and that it's a sin to touch her during niddah.

RESPONSE:
First, in answer to your sincere and important letter, since you are obviously an observant and G-d fearing Jew, it is essential to understand our orientation to the commandments. While we do not always understand the reasons for the mitzvot that G-s has given to the Jewish People, we trust that they were all given to us for our spiritual and material well being.  We also believe that our Sages, in their great wisdom, have added certain fences, also for our good, in order to help keep us on the right path. Perhaps a person may be so solidly grounded in Torah that he does not personally need the enactments that are designed to keep a person from sin, but the majority of people do require such safety borders. Even great and holy people like Shimshon and King Shlomo fell from their exalted levels because they trusted in their own strength and holiness, believing that they could act against the warnings of the Torah and not fall into error. And even though they did so, in their way of thinking, to help the national interests of the Jewish People in Israel, and not for selfish, personal reasons, their disobedience to the will of G-d brought about their downfalls.

Thus it is important to approach the laws of Niddah like all of the other laws of the Torah and the enactments of our Sages, and know that they are for our own good. In the same way, we are happy to clean the whole house before Pesach, and wear tzitzit on hot summer days, and fast the whole day of Tisha B’Av, even though these things can be difficult and burdensome. Admittedly, when it comes to the period when we have to keep a certain physical distance from our wives because of the laws of Niddah, the matter is compounded because of the powerful emotional needs and sexual urges that are a natural part of marriage. But even then, we are to trust that the Sages of Jewish Law know what is best for us in maintaining our spiritual and physical well being. They are the doctors of the soul, and we do well to rely on them. The laws of Niddah are all based on the Written and Oral Torah, and the teachings of the Talmudic Sages, and are not the whims of this book or that.

Furthermore, when one learns the secrets of Torah, one understands that the “fences,” such as not touching one’s wife during her Niddah period, are not really fences at all. For instance, the holy Zohar explains that the spiritual impurity of Niddah is the severest of impurities, with the ability to “jump” to another person. One does not have to have intercourse with one’s wife during her Niddah period in order to be exposed to the spiritual impurity of Niddah – affectionate hugging and kissing can also expose a husband to this severe spiritual impurity. The tumah of Niddah is like a thick cloud of spiritual pollution, which blemishes a Jew’s holiness and acts as a barrier between a person and G-d, adversely affecting his prayers, Torah learning, and the entire gamut of Divine service.  Yes, kissing one’s wife goodbye in the morning is a wonderful thing, but at the expense of cutting oneself off from G-d? And if a wife hands her husband a glass by mistake, she needn’t fall into a bout of depression and guilt, as you write, rather her regret over the unintentional action brings immediate forgiveness, and her mistake is not something that brings about the transference of her Niddah at all. So neither you nor your wife should be alarmed or uptight over moments of forgetful behavior.

Certainly, at the beginning of a marriage, the times of separation seem like forever. But they come to strengthen the emotional and spiritual bonds between a man and his wife, and elevate their relationship over the transitory passions of our physical yearnings. Try talking to some husbands who have been married for several years. I am sure that they will tell you that keeping the laws of Niddah have enhanced their marriages and deepened their love for their wives, keeping the love between them ever refreshed and renewed. Chances are they will tell you that these times of sexual separation brought them closer together and preserved the purity and excitement of being newlyweds all through their lives.  

Waters of Renewal

A basic guide to the laws of Taharat HaMishpachah can be found at milknhoney.co.il

Happy Tu B'Av!