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The following comment is made in the wikipedia entry on Niddah:

In the days of the Amoraim, because of possible confusion in determining when menstruation began and ended and hence whether blood was normal menstrual (niddah) or abnormal (zavah) blood, it became the accepted practice and practical halacha, that all women treat any emission as a continued abnormal flow (zavah gedolah—זבה גדולה) which requires counting seven abnormal-discharge-free days from the end of menstruation.

My question is exactly how did this become the accepted practice? Was it an enactment of the Sanhedrin or a general practice that became universal on its own? What was the extent of the original practice and what were the specific reasons behind it ( beyond the simple explanation given above )?


I ran across the following from Rav Mordichai Eliyahu's book דרכי טהרה:

בנות ישראל החמירו על עצמן שעל כל טיפת דם קטנה כחרדל יושבות הן ז' נקיים כמו זבה גדולה. וסיבות רבות לחומרה זאת, והחשובה בהן היא כדי שתהיה לכל הנשים ספירה אחידה, ולא תצטרך כל אחת ואחת לחשב לעצמה חשבונות מסובכים שלא כולן בקיאות בהם. דין זה, אע"פ שהוא חומרה, נקבה בהלכה שאין עליה עוררין וכשהגמ' מדגימה "הלכה פסוקה", לגבי הנאמר במשנה "אין עומדין להתפלל אלא מתוך הלכה פסוקה", מביאה הגמ' הלכה זאת.‏

The above gives the following sources:

  • רמב"ם ה' אסורי ביאה פי"א ה"ג וה"ד
  • נדה סו. רמב"ם הל' אסורי ביאה פי"א ה"ד
  • ב"י ס' קפ"ג
  • ברכות לא ע"א

I found the following in Rambam's Mishne Torah, הלכות אסורי ביאה יא"ד

ד ועוד החמירו בנות ישראל על עצמן חומרה יתרה על זו, ונהגו כולם בכל מקום שיש ישראל: שכל בת ישראל שתראה דם--אפילו לא ראת אלא טיפה כחרדל בלבד ופסק הדם--סופרת לה שבעת ימי נקיים, ואפילו ראת בעת נידתה. בין שראת יום אחד, או שניים, או השבעה כולן, או יתר--משיפסוק הדם, סופרת שבעת ימי נקיים כזבה גדולה. וטובלת בליל שמיני, אף על פי שהיא ספק זבה, או ביום שמיני אם היה שם דוחק, כמו שאמרנו--ואחר כך תהיה מותרת לבעלה.‏

My original question still stands. How and why did this go from being a widespread personal chumra to being codified halacha?

This question is separate from the issue of the Rabbinic decree ( Gezirah ) during Talmudic times to treat all flows of blood as suspected Zav emissions ( ספק דם זיבות ).

הלכות אסורי ביאה יא"ג

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And what is the reason that this was marked down? –  Robert S. Barnes Sep 25 '13 at 6:00
Personally, I downvoted because the whole question is based upon a faulty premise - namely that the Halacha you are describing was ever literally a personal chumra. It seems to me that it is correctly understand as a widespread chumra to the point that it is universal. A corollary might be lighting Shabbos candles 18 minutes early, except I'm not sure that that's actually Halacha, whereas counting seven clean days is. –  yoel Oct 8 '13 at 8:07
Your recent edit makes the question even more confusing because you are asking about exactly that about which you say you are not asking. –  yoel Oct 8 '13 at 8:08
@RobertS.Barnes there is a mishnah in Ketuboth that codifies Das Yehudis, as being the trends of modesty among women. Maimonides says this explicity in mishnah Torah. That I think is another example of trends or stringencies that are adopted by the populace becoming halacha. I'll try to make an answer later when I have time with real sources for you. –  Baby Seal Jan 30 at 17:36
footnote 2: judaism.stackexchange.com/a/35908/4682 –  Baby Seal May 26 at 13:40

4 Answers 4

There are two basic schools of thought about this principle cited by Rebbi Zeira.

The Talmud in Niddah 66a is the most primary source for the discussion of this.

אמר רב התקין רבי בשדות ראתה יום אחד תשב ששה והוא שנים תשב ששה והן שלשה תשב שבעה נקיים אמר ר' זירא בנות ישראל החמירו על עצמן שאפילו רואות טפת דם כחרדל יושבות עליה שבעה נקיים

Rav said: Rebbi established in the fields1 that a woman who sees once sits that day plus the following six, if she sees twice she sits that day plus the following six. If she sees thrice, she sits for seven [full] clean days. Rebbi Zeira said: The daughters of Israel were stringent upon themselves that even if they see a drop of blood like a mustard seed, they sit for seven [full] clean days.

I was intentionally vague in my translation to avoid matters of dispute.

Later in the Gemara, Rava says about this statement of Rebbi Zeira:

היכא דאחמור אחמור היכא דלא אחמור לא אחמור

Where they were stringent, they were stringent, and where they weren't, they weren't

In Berachos 31a, the practice of Rebbi Zeira is cited by Abaye as a "codified halacha"

והיכי דמי הלכה פסוקה אמר אביי כי הא דר' זירא דאמר ר' זירא בנות ישראל החמירו על עצמן שאפילו רואות טיפת דם כחרדל יושבת עליה שבעה נקיים

What is an example of a "codified halacha"? Like what Rebbi Zeira said, that the daughters of Israel...

In terms of why this practice came into being, the Ramban in Hilchos Niddah ch.1 writes that the stringency of Rebbi really addressed all concerns, but Jewish women wanted to make it simpler for themselves and just treat all blood-spotting the same, so they adopted the practice cited by Rebbi Zeira. The Ran, among others, points out that this stringency is not as extensive as it sounds, because the enactment of Rebbi already demanded 6 clean days for even one spotting. They only added one more day, the purpose of which was to make things simpler.

As to when it developed, note that Rava in Nidda 66a referred to the practice as being accepted in some places but not in others2. Abaye, a contemporary of Rava, cites it as an example of a "codified halacha" in Berachos 31a, the implication of which being that it is universally accepted and bears no further discussion. Therefore it seems that its transformation must have taken place during Rava's time (ca 270 - 350 according to this Wikipedia article stub), before Abaye passed away (339 according to this Wikipedia article). So approximately around the year 300. The Piskei HaRosh implies this understanding, as in HaTinokes Siman 4 he writes that based on Niddah 66a the practice was not widespread, but in Hilchos Mikvaos Siman 36 he writes that in the times of Rava it was widespread (Divrei Chamudos on Mikvaos note 6 makes this point).

As to how it developed, there are two basic schools of thought, as I mentioned.

The Ritva writes that the practice was initiated as a grassroots stringency which Jewish women accepted upon themselves. However, the Rabbis saw that it was fitting, and they adopted the practice as their own enactment. They basically co-opted the practice as their own formalized Rabbinic decree. Tosefos to Megillah 28b s.v. שאפילו רואות implies such an understanding, as he writes the following:

היאך מצינו טפה כחרדל הגורמת שבעה נקיים בדאורייתא דודאי לא תקנו חכמים דבר דלית דכוותיה דאורייתא

Roughly translated:

Where do we find a drop the size of a mustard seed that causes a Biblical requirement for seven clean days? Because certainly the rabbis would not have established something to which there isn't a Biblical parallel!

Tosefos seems to view this halacha as a formal Rabbinic enactment. Otherwise you cannot challenge the concept based on the Rabbinic methodology of its implementation. His words, "תקנו חכמים," further imply as much.

Others, however, have a much more passive approach. The Rosh writes in Tinokes Siman 6

עבדו רבנן הרחקה יתירה ונהיגו בנות ישראל כר' זירא

The Rabbis made a further removal and guided Jewish women to act in accordance with R' Zeira

and later he writes

החמירו על בנות ישראל

[They] were stringent on Jewish women...

The Maadanei Yom Tov note צ there writes that the Rosh was justified in calling it the stringency of the Rabbis, even though it was self-imposed, because once the Rabbis allowed them to do it, and set it as a "codified Halacha" it can be quoted as such.

The Ramban, Hilchos Niddah Ch. 1 halacha 19, writes

חומרא זו שנהגו בנות ישראל הוכשרה בעיני החכמים ועשו אותה כהלכה פסוקה בכל מקום, ולפיכך אסור לאדם להקל בה ראשו לעולם

This stringency which Jewish women followed was appropriate in the eyes of the Rabbis, and they made it like a codified halacha in all places, and therefore it is forbidden to be lenient with it, ever.

The Rambam writes in Hilchos Issurei Bi'ah 11:10:

חומרה יתרה שנהגו בה בנות ישראל מימי חכמי תלמוד; ואין לסור ממנה, לעולם.

[This] is an additional stringency which Jewish women practiced over the times of the Rabbis of the Talmud, and one may not depart from it, ever.

The Rambam makes no mention of it ever evolving to more than an accepted practice.

Following the first train of thought, there is very little room to view the practice any differently than any other Rabbinic enactment. However, the second approach allows the room for such discussion, and indeed the Galya Masechta writes that since it is a matter of custom, there is room to be lenient with Rebbi Zeira's halacha under pressing circumstances. R' Shlomo Zalman in Minchas Shlomo Tinyana 72 argues with the Galya Masechta and says that despite its origins, it has the full weight of a Rabbinical law.

1 Rashi explains that "in the fields" means a place where there weren't Bnei Torah, and therefore the women did not know how to count their cycles properly. The Ramban (in Chiddushim to Niddah 66a) explains similarly, adding that they didn't know how to identify pure vs. impure blood. The text of the Rif had בסוודות, and the Me'iri had בשוריית, which refer to specific places, although the Ran in Sh'vuos has the same explanation as Rashi on the text of the Rif. It would be possible to discuss limiting the enactment of Rebbi to places without Bnei Torah based on this. However, the Rambam, the Ramban, and the Tur all make no mention of any limitation to Rebbe's enactment, and indeed the Ramban and Tur both provide justification for the enactment which is all-encompassing.

2 Although some understand this to be referring to the application of the stringency to birth, as per the context of the Gemara there, and not to the universal nature of its acceptance.

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really well done +1 –  Baby Seal Sep 17 at 0:08
+1 Perhaps you could include discussion about בשדות though. You left that part completely out and it could be very important to determining what is Gezera and what is Minhag. –  Double AA Sep 17 at 2:51
@BabySeal Thanks - I wasn't expecting too many people to have the patience for the whole thing! But it was a good review for myself. –  YEZ Sep 17 at 3:30
@DoubleAA done, to the extent that I am familiar with it. –  YEZ Sep 17 at 18:45
+1 for the interesting info - I would point out that Rambam says the opposite of Tosafot in מאכלות אסורות יז,ט. Specifically that the Sages in fact made gezirot that had no basis in the Torah at all. –  Robert S. Barnes Oct 10 at 7:15

See here for a collection of sources on this question.

A highlighted summary:

  • The Rif says that Chachamim subsequent to Reb Zeira established it as a requirement עבדו רבנן הרחקה יתירה והנהגו בנות ישראל למעבד כרבי זירא דהא אמרינן דהא דרבי זירא הלכה פסוקה היא כדאמרינן התם [ברכות ל"א ע"א].

  • The Ramban seems to say the same thing חומרא זו שנהגו בנות ישראל הוכשרה בעיני החכמים ועשו אותה כהלכה פסוקה בכל מקום, לפיכך אסור לאדם להקל בה ראשו לעולם.

If I understand it correctly, they are saying that when the Talmud in Brachos 31a says that this is a clear Halacha, it is showing that this was rabbinically established (at least by the time of Abaya), and not just a custom.

The Rambam has a different approach to this. He says that the Amoraim of the Talmud specifically enacted waiting 7 clean days for any regular bleeding because the ability to distinguish between Niddah and Zahava was becoming problematic. The famous halacha of Rav Zeira only referes to seeing a drop of blood, which as he describes at length earlier has different laws depending on the circumstances, and with it became a universal custom. It still has the force of that custom today.

He writes that all of the customs that were instituted by the women from the days of the Talmud (this one and others listed there) - ואין לסור ממנה, לעולם - should never be deviated from.

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This is great I don't know why there weren't more up-votes –  Yehoshua Feb 15 at 18:52
I'm familiar with this - it's probably referring to a specific enactment that was made, but applied to rural area's only ( בשדות ) where the were no talmidai chachamim and the women were insufficiently educated to correctly track the timing of when they could be niddah or zavah. In any case, my question is specifically about the חומרות בנות ישראל and if they are minhag only of if they were formally codified. These are two completely separate issues and shouldn't be conflated one with the other. In fact, I think I have enough information now to write my own answer to this question. –  Robert S. Barnes May 26 at 7:29
Rashi is quoted as saying this in Sefer HaPardes as well –  Baby Seal May 26 at 13:39
@BabySeal, saying what exactly? –  Yishai May 26 at 14:32
talks about the chumra : hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=39330&st=&pgnum=24 maybe adds a bit? –  Baby Seal May 26 at 14:47

Off the top of my head, the Babylonian Talmud records it as "the daughters of Israel were strict on themselves ...", and it's implied that at some point it became codified, but I believe there are other sources from the same era that just list it as a rabbinic enactment.

I strongly recommend you read Deena Zimmerman's book. She presents all the sources without sugar-coating or glossing over things.

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So there's not really any record of how it went from stringency to codified law? –  Robert S. Barnes Oct 8 '13 at 17:54
@RobertS.Barnes I recall that Zimmerman discusses it. Bli neder I'll check her text when I get a chance. But regardless I strongly recommend her book. –  Shalom Oct 8 '13 at 18:09
Wouldn't the sources that are refering to a Rabbinic enactment be reffering to the actual Rabinic Gezirah to treat any flow of blood as Safeq Zav? Rambam seems to indicate that these are two completely separate issues, a Gezirah and a Chumrah Benot Yisrael. –  Robert S. Barnes Oct 10 '13 at 8:30

The source of this is a statement in the Talmud repeated twice. Once in Brachot 31a and once in Nidda 66a.

R. Zera said: The daughters of Israel have undertaken to be so strict with themselves that if they see a drop of blood no bigger than a mustard seed they wait seven [clean] days after it.

Nothing more is expounded about this topic in the Talmud or the Gaonim.

However, if one studies mesechet Nidda, it becomes very clear that the 7 clean days count, is much much simpler than the rules of Nidda and Zava. (I remember when studying this the first time, that I was relieved that these rules don't have to be memorized in practice)

The simple reading of the Talmud, is that this was a common practice that all women applied to themselves. My unsourced assumption here, is that what the Talmud means by this, is that each time the laws of niddah were passed on to the next generation, they would simplify the rules and mention the 7 clean days count. So it became practice to behave that way, and it is what everyone did, and became codified as halacha. (Remember that women in general did not go to Yeshiva and learn halachot in an indepth manner, but rather learned from the home. Niddah, together with chalah and lighting shabbat candles, were Mitzvot that were the responsibility of Women (Bahmeh Madlikin )

However, today, as the nidda following population has grown, and we know more about how babies are born, there is a much more common situation known as Halachic infertility. (The larger the population, the more common a rare event becomes) Basically, what this means, is that a woman can not become pregnant unless she is with her husband during those extra 7 clean days. Because of this, today, you will find much more nuance regarding the halachot of how to count the 7 days, especially in Israel, where it seems they are more lenient than in the US (http://forward.com/articles/157819/for-some-halacha-makes-conceiving-tough/?p=all *) which ironically, the Talmud calls a halacha that does not generate any discussion. (http://halakhah.com/berakoth/berakoth_31.html#31a_6)

* see the comment:

As far as I know this article is incorrect. I live in Israel and am Orthodox. I had a similar problem to Rachel in the article, (but with a much earlier child), and I was given permission to go to the mikveh earlier. Our Rabbi (ultra-Orthodox) had no hesitation. The problem is not with Halacha but with the Rabbis' interpretation of it, and this article is besmirching Halacha.

Read more: http://forward.com/articles/157819/for-some-halacha-makes-conceiving-tough/?p=all#ixzz2rtmKDtH3

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@avi, the question is about 7 days after blood flow ends. There is no evidence in the comments that anyone is lenient on that question (as opposed to only waiting minimum days regardless for other concerns, which is a later stringency which is more conceivable to find leniency on). That is even generously allowing that psuedo-anonymous comments on a thread like that constitute a source. –  Yishai Jan 30 at 17:20
It's a real shame that people are downvoting, without having the facts in hand. But again, par for the course. –  avi Feb 2 at 10:00
I would say it's more of a shame that people post without having the facts in hand. There is something wrong with your first paragraph: the statement is repeated in Megillah 28b. Such a mistake does very little to make me believe you are an expert in the topic that I should believe the rest of the post. –  Double AA Feb 2 at 13:56
@Yishai I know first hand of Charedi Rabanim here in Jerusalem who have given heterim to women to go to the mikveh before the 7 clean days are up when the women in question ovulate prior to the 12th day. –  Robert S. Barnes May 20 at 18:43
@RobertS.Barnes, I'm sure they and their Rav are as Chareidi as can be. That they do what you think they do, that they understood their Rav correctly, and that their Rav's psak is justifiable, I'm less sure of. I realize that a Rav can legitimately make a psak private to not deal with the politics. It just makes it unpersuasive. If the arguments are seen and debated by his peers, that means a lot more. But none of that improves the answer - which points to a source which says the opposite of what it claims, with only a pseudo-anonymous comment to justify it. –  Yishai May 21 at 19:29

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