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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

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

Tosefos in Megillah 28b s.v. שאפילו רואות says 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 understand that this idea was Rabbinically guided from the start, otherwise you cannot ask about the Rabbinic methodology of its inception. No one in the back of the Gemara discusses how Tosefos reads the gemara's statement that they were stringent upon themselves, but I would (hesitantly) suggest that perhaps Tosefos understood their accepting of the takana, which could have been viewed as a "decree which the people cannot handle" and not halachically binding, as an act of stringency on their own part.

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I don't think you are reading the Tosefot correctly here. The question is why did the Rabbis allow it to continue or codify it in the Talmud. There is no reason to read Tosofot as saying the Rabbis established the practice from the beginning. –  avi Jan 30 at 7:58
@avi No- look at Tosefos - he asks why where they מתקן it - why they established it. It wouldnt be called their takana if they merely failed to object. –  YEZ Jan 30 at 18:48

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
@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
@avi Shavua Tov - I had heard that the Tzohar orginization ( which I assume you're familiar with ) was telling couples where one or both were secular to keep just the 7 biblical days and immerse on the eighth night. I found a reference to that here on the Kolech website: kolech.com/ask_show.asp?id=7064 –  Robert S. Barnes May 24 at 19:19
@avi I'm about halfway through Dr. Roznick's book ( 350 pages ) and plan to summarize everything after I've had a chance to make sure I correctly understand the various issues and I can verify everything to my own satisfaction. –  Robert S. Barnes May 24 at 19:45

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