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Hilkhot Niddah: Bedikot of Shiva Nikkiyim

by Rabbi Dov Linzer (Posted on November 13, 2009)
Topics: Halakha & Modernity, Sex & Niddah, Talmud, Niddah, Taharot

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In hilkhot Niddah, the topic of bedikat shiva nikkiyim – the internal checking that a woman does during the seven days after cessation of bleeding – raises important questions. In general, it is a question how relevant the Brisker approach to learning – an approach which posits a chakira, two competing conceptual definitions of a law, and then makes all debates dependent on this question – is relevant to the world of halakha. At least as far as a number of Rishonim and almost all of the Achronim are concerned, all the halakhic debates revolve around the question of how we conceptualize the nature of these bedikot, these internal checks. Is the purpose of the bedikot to establish that the woman is not bleeding, or – given that she already did a hefsek taharah, a check when she first stopped bleeding, and has already established that fact – the purpose is more to serve the formal function of counting the days and/or designating them formally as nikkiyim, as blood-free days. In the Amoraim, this could be the debate about what constitutes the bare minimum checking according to R. Eliezer in the mishna – is it the first and last days (formally bracketing and thus designating the entire period) or is it the first OR the last day (which could verify lack of bleeding, but does not designate the entire 7 days in the same way). In the Rishonim, this is probably the debate around whether, according to Rav, checking a middle day alone could work (Ra’avad, Rosh, Rashba – because this would suffice to determine lack of bleeding) or not (Razah, Ra’ah, others – because a middle day cannot define the 7 day unit, for which at least 1 if not 2 endpoints are needed).

In terms of practical halakha, we rule that a woman must check all 7 days lichatchila, ab initio, and at least 1 AND 7 b’dieved, post facto. Nevertheless, this debate still plays out in the Achronim regarding a number of cases (for an extended discussion, see Sidrei Taharah 196:18) . The approach that sees a need for a formal counting could lead to more demands, such as the need to have intent and always be somewhat aware that one is in the middle of shiva nikkiyim (Me’il Tzedakah – adopted by many Achronim, but also rejected by many others), or the need to check only during the day and not at night (also debated). The Shala goes so far to say that a woman needs to verbally count the days, but this is roundly rejected. However, it could also lead to fewer demands at times – such as the position of Rav Moshe Feinstein and the Badei HaShulkhan that a woman can do a bedikah soon after she does an internal wash. As a way of determining that she is no longer bleeding, such a check would not be too meaningful, but if the only purpose is to formally designate the days as clean this would suffice.

It goes without saying that our discussion does not end with this fascinating conceptual analysis. It must spent a good deal of time discussing not only bottom line halakha in these areas, but how to be properly sensitive to the challenges – both practical and psychological – that can arise around bedikot, and how to be as responsive as possible to these realities within the demands of halakha.