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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 )?

EDIT

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
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@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
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footnote 2: judaism.stackexchange.com/a/35908/4682 –  Baby Seal May 26 at 13:40

6 Answers 6

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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1  
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

Is חומרת רבי זירה a Minhag or a Codified Halacha and how and why did it originate?

This is a difficult and sensitive question. There are many Talmidai Chachamim on both sides of this question. In order to answer this question properly I feel it’s important to give some context and clarify what I am talking about and also what I am NOT talking about. So I’m going to give a bare bones background to the issue for context, point out the underlying sources from the Talmud, and mention opinions on both sides of the issue. At the end I’ll address reasons why it came about. Constructive criticism is welcome.

Please remember I’m leaving out a lot of details because this is only an overview for the sake of context.

Due to the length of the answer I've had to split it into two parts, this first part dealing with context and background, and the second dealing directly with answering the question.

The Torah distinguishes between a number of different types of uterine bleeding, niddah, zavah, and yoledet ( after birth ). Here we’re interested in niddah and zavah.

Leviticus 15:19

וְאִשָּׁה כִּי-תִהְיֶה זָבָה, דָּם יִהְיֶה זֹבָהּ בִּבְשָׂרָהּ--שִׁבְעַת יָמִים תִּהְיֶה בְנִדָּתָהּ, וְכָל-הַנֹּגֵעַ בָּהּ יִטְמָא עַד-הָעָרֶב.

And if a woman have an issue, and her issue in her flesh be blood, she shall be in her impurity seven days; and whosoever toucheth her shall be unclean until the evening.

The above is talking about Niddah, which is a woman’s regular menstrual cycle.

Leviticus 15:25,28-30

וְאִשָּׁה כִּי-יָזוּב זוֹב דָּמָהּ יָמִים רַבִּים, בְּלֹא עֶת-נִדָּתָהּ, אוֹ כִי-תָזוּב, עַל-נִדָּתָהּ: כָּל-יְמֵי זוֹב טֻמְאָתָהּ, כִּימֵי נִדָּתָהּ תִּהְיֶה--טְמֵאָה הִוא...וְאִם-טָהֲרָה, מִזּוֹבָהּ--וְסָפְרָה לָּהּ שִׁבְעַת יָמִים, וְאַחַר תִּטְהָר. וּבַיּוֹם הַשְּׁמִינִי, תִּקַּח-לָהּ שְׁתֵּי תֹרִים, אוֹ שְׁנֵי, בְּנֵי יוֹנָה; וְהֵבִיאָה אוֹתָם אֶל-הַכֹּהֵן, אֶל-פֶּתַח אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד. וְעָשָׂה הַכֹּהֵן אֶת-הָאֶחָד חַטָּאת, וְאֶת-הָאֶחָד עֹלָה; וְכִפֶּר עָלֶיהָ הַכֹּהֵן לִפְנֵי יְהוָה, מִזּוֹב טֻמְאָתָהּ.

And if a woman have an issue of her blood many days not in the time of her impurity, or if she have an issue beyond the time of her impurity; all the days of the issue of her uncleanness she shall be as in the days of her impurity: she is unclean… But if she be cleansed of her issue, then she shall number to herself seven days, and after that she shall be clean. And on the eighth day she shall take unto her two turtle-doves, or two young pigeons, and bring them unto the priest, to the door of the tent of meeting. And the priest shall offer the one for a sin-offering, and the other for a burnt-offering; and the priest shall make atonement for her before the LORD for the issue of her uncleanness.

The above is talking about Zavah, a rare abnormal bleeding that starts not at the time of her regular menstrual cycle or which continues past the normal end of her menstruation. This can be seen for example from Ramban on ( ויקרא פרק טו ) in which he describes Niddah as a natural bleeding which lasts no more than seven days, but that Zavah bleeding is a severe illness like the Zov of a man, and because of this it requires a sacrifice once the woman has recovered from it.

As hinted at above, the factor which differentiates Niddah bleeding from Zavah bleeding is when the bleeding occurs. It states in various places in the [Bavli and Yerushalmi](http://www.google.com/cse?cx=003922636974222575695%3Adxq675sw--g&ie=Windows-1255&hq=inurl%3A%2Fb%2F&q=%E1%E9%EF+%F0%E3%E4+%EC%F0%E3%E4+%E4%EC%EB%E4+%EC%EE%F9%E4+%F0%F1%E9%F0%E9&sa=+%E7%F4%F9%21+#gsc.tab=0&gsc.q="שבין נדה לנדה הלכה למשה מסיני"):

י"א יום שבין נדה לנדה הלכה למשה מסיני

the eleven days that intervene between one menstruation period and the next are the halachah of Moses handed down from Sinai. ( Soncino Niddah 72b )

What does this mean? According to what I’ve read so far, there are exactly two interpretations of this among the Rishonim; Rambam’s, and everyone elses. In הלכות אסורי ביאה פרק ו Rambam states:

א דַּם הַנִּדָּה, וְדַם הַזָּבָה, וְדַם הַקֹּשִׁי, וְדַם הַיּוֹלֶדֶת, וְדַם טֹהַר שֶׁלַּיּוֹלֶדֶת--כֻּלּוֹ דָּם אֶחָד הוּא, וּמִן הַמָּקוֹר הוּא בָּא, וּמִמַּעְיָן אֶחָד הוּא. וּבַזְּמַנִּים בִּלְבָד הוּא שֶׁיִּשְׁתַּנֶּה דִּינוֹ, וְתִהְיֶה רוֹאָה דָּם זוֹ טְהוֹרָה; וְזוֹ נִדָּה, וְזוֹ זָבָה.

Niddah blood, and Zavah blood, and pre-birth blood, and birth blood, and pure blood after the birth -- they are all one blood, and from the uterus it comes, it is a single source. And only by their times are they distinguished, and seeing this blood be pure, and this Niddah and this Zavah.

The above point seems to be universal, the differences start to show in this following statement:

ה [ו] כָּל יְמֵי הָאִשָּׁה מִיּוֹם שֶׁיִּקָּבַע לָהּ וֶסֶת עַד שֶׁתָּמוּת, אוֹ עַד שֶׁיֵּעָקֵר הַוֶּסֶת לְיוֹם אַחֵר--תִּסְפֹּר לְעוֹלָם שִׁבְעָה מִתְּחִלַּת יוֹם הַוֶּסֶת וְאַחֲרֵיהֶן אַחַד עָשָׂר, שִׁבְעָה וְאַחֲרֵיהֶן אַחַד עָשָׂר; וְתִזָּהֵר בַּמִּנְיָן, כְּדֵי שֶׁתֵּדַע בְּעֵת שֶׁתִּרְאֶה דָּם, אִם בִּימֵי נִדָּה רָאָת, אוֹ בִּימֵי זִיבָה: שֶׁכָּל יָמֶיהָ שֶׁלְּאִשָּׁה כָּךְ הֶן, שִׁבְעָה יְמֵי נִדָּה וְאַחַד עָשָׂר יְמֵי זִיבָה, אֵלָא אִם כֵּן הִפְסִיקָה הַלִּידָה, כְּמוֹ שֶׁיִּתְבָּאַר.

All the days of the woman from the day of her first menstruation until she dies, or until the day of her menstruation is removed to another day -- will forever count seven days from the beginning day of her menstruation and afterward eleven days, seven and then eleven; and be cautious in the counting, so that she will know at the time she sees blood, if it’s seen in the Niddah days, or in the Zavah days: because all the days of a woman are such, seven days of Niddah and eleven days of Zavah, unless interrupted by a birth, as we will explain.

Basically, he’s saying that the seven Niddah days and eleven Zavah days strictly alternate starting from the woman’s first period. This would make it extremely difficult, if not practically impossible for a woman with a regular twenty eight day menstrual cycle to keep track of whether her bleeding occurred in the Niddah days or Zavah days, as her regular menstruation would sometimes occur during one and sometimes during the other. It seems to me that this is likely the source of many of Rambam’s very strict statements regarding this subject.

As far as what I’ve read, the opinion of pretty much all the other Rishonim is well represented by the Sefer HaChinuch ( ספר החינוך , מצוה קפב ):

מדיני המצוה, מה שאמרו חז”ל ( נידה עב ע”ב ) שאחד עשר יום הם שהם בין נדה לנדה, כלומר: שהאשה נעשית בהם זבה, כך היא הלכה למשה מסיני. ופירוש הדבר כך הוא: שכל אשה בעת שתראה דם בתחילת ראייתה תקרא נדה, ועניין הנדות כך דינו: שאם תראה יום אחד דם, או אפילו שבע ימים רצופים, כל זמן שתפסוק הדם ביום השביעי מבעוד יום, טובלת לערב, דהיינו הלילה שמחרתו יום שמיני לתחילת ראייתה. ואחר טבילתה טהורה לבעלה. ואחר שבעת ימי הנדות, אם תראה דם בתוך אחד עשר יום אחר השבעה, יקרא אותו הדם דם זיבה, ודינו כן: שאם תראה ממנו יום אחד , בין שתראה בתחילת הלילה או בסוף היום, משמרת יום אחד כנגדו וטובלת, וטהורה לבעלה לערב. וטבילתה אפילו ביום משתנץ החמה, וזאת היא זיבה קטנה. וכן אם תראה דם שני ימים ותפסוק בשלישי, דינה כמו כן לשמור יום אחד, ובכן יספיק לה אפילו לשני ימים ותטהר, וזאת גם כן תקרא זיבה קטנה. ואם תראה דם בתוך אחד עשר יום אלו שלושה ימים רצופים, תקרא זיבה גדולה וצריכה לישב שבעה ימים נקיים ואחר כך טובלת וטהורה לבעלה. ואחר אחד עשר יום אלו אם תראה, חוזרת לתחילת נידות ויש לה שבעה ימים כדין נדה , כמו שאמרנו למעלה. וכן יהיה הדבר לעולם, אחר הנדות יש לה אחד עשר יום שבהן נעשית זבה , ואחר שעברו אותן האחד עשר יום אינה נעשית זבה לעולם עד שיעברו עליה שבעה ימי נדות. ומפני שכבר טעו בזה אחרים וחשבו שהחשבון הוא שתמנה שבעה ימים של נדות ואחד עשר יום של זיבות, ושבע של נדות ואחד עשר של זיבות, וכן לעולם, הארכתי בעניין לומר שאינו כן, אלא לעולם אין ימי זיבה אלא אחד עשר יום אחר שבעה של נדות, ולא אחר כך לעולם עד שתחזור לתחילת הנדות. רצוני לומר שאם תעמוד ולא תראה אחר האחד עשר יום אפילו שנה, אין לה דין זבה עד שיעברו עליה שבעת יהי נדות.

According to the laws of the commandment, what Chazal z”l said ( Niddah 72b ) that there are eleven days between one Niddah and the following Niddah, such that the woman becomes a Zavah during those days, this is the halacha of Moshe handed down from Sinai. And such is the explanation of the thing: and any woman who shall see blood at the beginning of her Niddah days shall be called a Niddah, and the laws of Niddah as as follows: that if she sees blood one day. or even all seven days continuously, as long as the bleeding stops prior to sunset on the seventh day, she immerses that evening, specifically the night that it’s morrow is the eighth day from the beginning of her Niddah days. And after her immersion she is pure for her husband. And after the seven Niddah days, if she sees blood in the eleven days after the seven days, that blood shall be called Zivah blood, and it’s laws are as follows: if she see one day, whether she sees at the beginning of the night or the end of the day, she keeps one clean day against it and immerses, and she is pure to her husband in the evening. And her immersion is even during the day from the sunrise, and this is the minor Zivah. And likewise, if she sees blood two days and it stops the third day, and her law is to keep one clean day, and likewise it is enough for her even for two days and she is purified, and this is also called a minor Zivah. And if she shall see blood in the eleven days three days in a row, she shall be called a major Zivah and she must sit seven cleans days and afterwards immerses and is pure for her husband. And after these eleven days if she sees, she returns to the beginning of Niddah and she has seven days according to the laws of Niddah, according to what we said above. And such shall it be forever, that after the Niddah days she has eleven days in which she can become a Zavah, and after those eleven days have passed she may never become a Zavah again until she passes seven days of Niddah. And because others have already become mistaken in this matter and thought the calculation is that she should count seven days of Niddah and eleven days of Zivah, and seven days of Niddah and eleven of Zivah forever, because of this have I prolonged the discussion to say that it is not so, instead there are never Zivah days except the eleven days immediately following the seven Niddah days, and never again until after having returned to the beginning of the Niddah days. It is my desire to point out that if a woman gets up from her Niddah days and after the eleven days even for a year, she can not be a Zavah until she passes seven days of Niddah.

The above is fairly self-explanatory and the comments at the end seem to be clearly addressing the Rambam’s position.

The question arose in Talmudic times what to do if one wasn't sure whether or not they were in their Niddah days or Zavah days.

We have the following from ערכין ב דף ח,א:

אין פתח בטועה פחות משבעה ולא יתר על י"ז

ת"ר טועה שאמרה יום אחד טמא ראיתי פתחה שבעה עשר שני ימים טמא ראיתי פתחה שבעה עשר שלשה ימים טמא ראיתי פתחה שבעה עשר ארבעה ימים טמא ראיתי פתחה ששה עשר חמשה ימים טמא ראיתי פתחה חמשה עשר ששה ימים טמא ראיתי פתחה ארבעה עשר שבעה ימים טמא ראיתי פתחה שלשה עשר שמונה ימים טמא ראיתי פתחה שנים עשר תשעה ימים טמא ראיתי פתחה אחד עשר עשרה ימים טמא ראיתי פתחה עשרה אחד עשר פתחה תשעה שנים עשר פתחה שמונה שלשה עשר פתחה שבעה שאין פתח בטועה פחות משבעה ולא יתר על שבעה עשר אמר ליה רב אדא בר אהבה לרבה למה לי כולי האי תימני שבעה ותשתרי אמר ליה לתקונה לידי נדה ופתחה קאמרינן

IF A WOMAN GOES ASTRAY IN HER RECKONING THERE IS NO RE-OPENING FOR HER [OF THE NIDDAH COUNT] EARLIER THAN SEVEN, NOR LATER THAN AFTER SEVENTEEN DAYS.

Our Rabbis taught: If a woman astray in her reckoning said: ‘I saw uncleanness for one day’ then her re-count begins after seventeen days; [if she says.] ‘I saw uncleanness for two days’, her re-count commences after seventeen days; [if she says,] ‘I saw uncleanness for three days’, her re-count commences after seventeen days. [If she says,] ‘I saw uncleanness for four days’, her re-count commences after sixteen days; [if she says,] ‘I saw uncleanness for five days’, her re-count commences after fifteen days. [If she says,] ‘I saw uncleanness for six days’, her re-count commences after fourteen days; [if she says,] ‘I saw uncleanness for seven days’, her re-count commences after thirteen days; [if she says,] ‘I saw uncleanness for eight days’, her re-count commences after twelve days; [if she says,] ‘I saw uncleanness for nine days’, her re-count commences after eleven days; [if she says,] ‘I saw uncleanness for ten days’, her re-count commences after ten days; [if she says,] ‘I saw uncleanness for eleven days’, her recount commences after nine days; [if she says.] ‘I saw uncleanness for twelve days’, her re-count commences after eight days; [if she says,] ‘I saw uncleanness for thirteen days’, then her re-count commences after seven days; for the re-opening [of the Niddah count] does not come before seven nor later than after seventeen days. R. Adda b. Ahabah said to Rabbah: Why all this [reckoning]? Let her count seven days and be permitted [to have intercourse]! — He answered: [We are meaning] to set her right concerning her menstruation and its re-commencement.

Soncino Arachin 8a has extensive footnote explanations starting on page 24 of the PDF. In order to not make this any unnecessarily longer I’ll summarize: in order for a woman who didn’t know if she was in her Niddah days or Zavah days to know for certain that she was back in her Niddah days, she had to pass a maximum of seventeen days without bleeding or a minimum of seven. If she bled one to three days she waited seventeen days. For each additional day of bleeding she subtracted one clean day until she got to 13 days of bleeding and seven clean days. The practical take away from this was that any typical woman who bled between four to seven days, with a regular menstrual cycle whose length was 21 days or longer and who didn’t bleed or stain during the intermediate days of her period was always without a doubt in her Niddah days and not in her Zavah days when her menstruation began.

Rav Ovadia Yosef points out ( טהרת הבית ח”ב עמ’ שכו ) that: שכיח יותר דם בימי נדה מאשר דם בימי זיבה -- that bleeding in the niddah days is more common than bleeding in the zavah days.

Now the question arises exactly what constitutes bleeding that causes her to become impure and start counting her seven Niddah days or causes her to become a Zavah during her Zavah days. This starts to get us to the meat of the question.

According to Rambam: הלכות אסורי ביאה פרק ה

דָּם הַבָּא מִן הַחֶדֶר, כֻּלּוֹ טָמֵא--חוּץ מִדַּם טֹהַר, שֶׁהַתּוֹרָה טִהֲרַתּוּ, וְדַם קֹשִׁי, כְּמוֹ שֶׁיִּתְבָּאַר; וְדַם הָעֲלִיָּה, כֻּלּוֹ טָהוֹר--שְׁהוּא כְּמוֹ דַּם מַכָּה שֶׁבַּמֵּעַיִם אוֹ בַּכָּבֵד אוֹ בַּכִּלְיָה וְכַיּוֹצֶא בָּהֶן.

Blood which originates in the room, it is all [ biblically ] impure -- other than pure blood, which the Torah purified, and pre-birth blood, as we will explain, and the blood of the “aliyah”, it is all pure -- because it is like the blood of a wound that is in the intestines or the liver or the kidney and such things.

The “room” or the “source” were names given to the uterus, excluding the fallopian tubes (aliya) and cervix, and all blood that originates there is biblically impure, other than blood that occurs at specific times designated by the Torah, specifically blood “koshi” which is the fourteen days prior to birth ( with certain conditions ), and bleeding between the eighth and fourtieth days after a boys birth, or between the fifteenth and eightieth days after a girls birth. This also seems to be a consensus. This uterine bleeding should also be accompanied at some point by a “feeling” of some kind, in order for the biblical prohibition to be in effect. In various cases it is assumed that the feeling may have been masked or not noticed.

So how does one tell if the bleeding is from the uterus? There were a number of ways of dealing with this uncertainty. Thus for example, we have all the laws of stains which were legislated ( מדברי סופרים ) to deal with this issue. In addition, it seems that Chazal had a method based on the shade of the blood to determine it’s source. It’s important to note that the shade of red does not seem to be the underlying issue, it was simply a tool which was being used to try and determine if the bleeding originated in the uterus or from some other source.

You can see an example of this in Niddah 65b ( נידה פרק י דף סה ב ) in the discussion of virginal defloration:

ושאר ראיות שבין ב"ש וב"ה הלך אחר מראה דמים שהיה ר"מ אומר מראה דמים משונים הן זה מזה כיצד דם נדה אדום דם בתולים אינו אדום דם נדה זיהום דם בתולים אינו זיהום דם נדה בא מן המקור דם בתולים בא מן הצדדין אמר רבי יצחק בר רבי יוסי אמר רבי יוחנן זו דברי ר' מאיר אבל חכמים אומרים כל מראה דמים אחת הן

In regard, however, to other observations of blood, concerning which a difference of opinion exists between Beth Shammai and Beth Hillel, he is guided by the colour of the blood; for R. Meir ruled: The colours of the various kinds of blood are different from one another. In what manner? Menstrual blood is red, the blood of virginity is not so red; menstrual blood is turbid, the blood of virginity is not turbid; menstrual blood issues from the source, the blood of virginity issues from the sides. R. Isaac son of R. Jose citing R. Johanan stated: This is the ruling of R. Meir alone, but the Sages maintain: All the colours of the various kinds of blood are the same.

There seems to have been a debate about the efficacy of this method, at least in this particular case.

The second part of the answer is here

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Here is the second part of the answer: The first part with background information is here

Finally we get to the main question. In Niddah 66a ( נידה פרק י דף סו,א ) we have:

אמר רב יוסף אמר רב יהודה 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 אדבריה רבא לרב שמואל ודרש קשתה שני ימים ולשלישי הפילה תשב שבעה נקיים קסבר אין קשוי לנפלים ואי אפשר לפתיחת הקבר בלא דם א"ל רב פפא לרבא מאי אריא קשתה שני ימים אפילו משהו בעלמא דהא א"ר זירא בנות ישראל החמירו על עצמן שאפילו רואות טפת דם כחרדל יושבות עליה שבעה נקיים א"ל אמינא לך איסורא ואת אמרת מנהגא היכא דאחמור אחמור היכא דלא אחמור לא אחמור

R. Joseph citing Rab Judah who had it from Rab stated: Rabbi ordained at Sadoth [lit. in the fields], If a woman observed a discharge on one day she must wait six days in addition to it. If she observed discharges on two days she must wait six days in addition to these. If she observed a discharge on three days she must wait seven clean days. 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. Raba took R. Samuel out for a walk when he discoursed as follows: If a woman was in protracted labour for two days and on the third she miscarried she must wait seven clean days; he being of the opinion that the law relating to protracted labour does not apply to miscarriages and that it is impossible for the uterus to open without bleeding. Said R. Papa to Raba: What is the point in speaking of one who was in protracted labour for two days seeing that the same applies even where there was the minutest discharge, since R. Zera stated, The daughters of Israel have imposed upon themselves the restriction that even where they observe only a drop of blood of the size of a mustard seed they wait on account of it seven clean days? — The other replied: I am speaking to you of a prohibition, and you talk of a custom which applies only where the restriction has been adopted. [lit. where they are stringent they are stringent where they aren’t stringent they aren’t stringent.]

There are two separate issues here; one is the enactment of Rabbi ( Yehuda HaNassi ) and the other is our subject here, what is variously called the Stringency of R. Zera, or the Stringency of the Daughters of Israel. None of the reasons behind either one are discussed in the Talmud, however later authorities provide various reasons why they might have came about. It’s not clear if these later explanations are part of an oral tradition or are simply educated guesses.

The enactment of Rabbi ( mentioned only this one time in the Talmud Bavli ), while not the subject here, deserves a little attention, if only for completeness’ sake. First off, the Soncino translation of the word בשדות may be a bit confusing, as they transliterate it as “at Sadoth”. בשדות literally means, “in the fields” and figuratively can be understood as rural areas or areas far from the centers of learning. In fact, the Soncino edition does bring this understanding in a footnote where it gives Rashi’s understanding of this enactment in his commentary to the above:

בשדות - מקום שאין בו בני תורה ואינן יודעות למנות פתח נידות מתי הן ימי נדה מתי הן ימי זוב

A place that was inhabited by unlettered people who were incapable of calculating the dates of the menstrual, and the zibah periods. ( Soncino above, footnote 32 )

When Rambam talks in הלכות אסורי ביאה יא,ג of a Rabbinic enactment to treat all of a woman’s days as Zivah days and all bleeding as suspected Zavah blood, it seems to me that he is almost certainly talking about this enactment. ( I would love to hear if someone has a better source. ) His seeming treatment of this as a general prohibition only makes sense when considered in light of his unique view that the seven niddah days and eleven zivah days strictly alternate and that the nature of women’s menstrual cycles had fundamentally changed ( וְנִתְקַלְקְלוּ הַוְּסָתוֹת ). In such a case virtually no one would be capable of keeping track of a womans niddah / zavah days, not even a learned individual, and the prohibition would in practice apply everywhere. However, if you accept the understanding of all the other Rishonim as put forward by the Sefer HaChinuch then the above enactment would seem to apply only to places populated by illiterate people and lacking Torah scholars to instruct the women in how to count.

Returning to our subject, the Stringency of R. Zera is mentioned three more times, once in the Bavli in Megillah 28b pg. 111 ( מגילה פרק ד דף כח,ב ), and another time in both the Bavli and Yerushalmi in parallel discussions in Berachoth. An interesting side note is that while the Bavli brings the stringency in the name of R. Zera, who was born in Babylon, emigrated to Israel and fasted 100 days to forget what he had learned in Babylon, the Yerushalmi mentions it only once in the name of R. Huna, R. Zera’s original teacher from Babylon. The reference from Megilla doesn’t seem directly relevant to this discussion.

In Berachoth 31a pg. 114 ( ברכות פרק ה דף לא,א ) it says:

ת"ר אין עומדין להתפלל לא מתוך דין ולא מתוך דבר הלכה אלא מתוך הלכה פסוקה 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 רבא אמר כי הא דרב הושעיא דאמר רב הושעיא מערים אדם על תבואתו ומכניסה במוץ שלה כדי שתהא בהמתו אוכלת ופטורה מן המעשר

Our Rabbis taught: A man should not stand up to say Tefillah either immediately after trying a case or immediately after a [discussion on a point of] halachah; but he may do so after a halachic decision which admits of no discussion. What is an example of a halachic decision which admits of no discussion? — Abaye said: Such a one as the following of R. Zera; for 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. Raba said: A man may resort to a device with his produce and bring it into the house while still in its chaff so that his animal may eat of it without its being liable to tithe.

What we have here in Niddah and Berachoth is two occurrences of Raba giving his opinion that said stringency does not qualify as a formal legal prohibition, but is only a local custom held in some places and not in others. In the first case he disputes with R. Papa, who was a student of his and of Abaye. In the second case he disputes with Abaye himself by giving a counterexample.

There is a principle that in any dispute between Raba and Abaye the halacha follows Raba except in six specific instances. The case under discussion is not one of those instances.

There is also an issue regarding the meaning of the phrase הלכה פסוקה. The phrase can also refer to the clarity of the matter, not necessarily it’s legal status. For example Rashi says:

הלכה פסוקה. שאינה צריכה עיון שלא יהא מהרהר בה בתפלתו

[ A matter ] that requires no discussion [ deep study ] that will not disturb him during his prayer.

In fact halacha is a very generic word and can simply mean that something is a part of Jewish tradition, for example even aggadot ( matters of Jewish folklore in the Talmud ) are called halacha in the Talmud, but they are clearly not formal rabbinic legislation. In addition, late post Talmudic customs such as Kitniyot are called halacha, although they are clearly distinct from Talmudic rabbinic legislation.

However, as mentioned at the beginning there are many authorities on both sides of this issue. Looking at some Rishonim on the side of seeing the Stringency as formally codified law:

  • HaMeiri ( ברכות דף לא ) - The sages received it from them [ the women ], and practiced what they said, and made it into an obligatory practice. ( קבלוה חכמים מהם וקיימו את דבריהם ועשאוה הלכה פסוקה )

  • Ramban ( הלכות נידה לרמב”ן פרק א ) - This stringency which was a custom among the daughters of Israel was ratified in the eyes of our sages and they made it into an obligatory practice in every place. ( חומרא זו שנהגו בנות ישראל הוכשרה בעיני החכמים ועשו אותה כהלכה פסוקה בכל מקום )

  • Rif ( שבועות דף ג עמוד ב ) - He calls it הלכה פסוקה and quotes from the above Berachot and it seems clear that he intends the phrase to mean obligatory practice.

In the middle we have the Ra’avad, who on the one hand clearly refers to it as a custom ( מנהגא מילתא היא ), but immediately afterwards calls it הלכה פסוקה. It seems from the context that his intention is not to say that the custom was formally ratified, but that in the issue he discusses the law is indeterminate and thus follows the custom.

Rashi seems to see it as only a custom - והן החמירו על עצמן - and they made a stringency upon themselves. This seems to be the case considering the above and his opinion of the meaning of the phrase הלכה פסוקה and the fact that he doesn’t seem to indicate otherwise anywhere.

Rambam is fairly straight forward, he calls it חומרה יתרה an excessive stringency and quotes החמירו על עצמן - they made a stringency upon themselves, without making any indication anywhere that it was formally codified. He says ואין לסור ממנה לעולם - and one shouldn’t deviate from this ever, however this just seems to be reminding people of the binding nature of custom, not indicating any formal codification.

Among later authorities who consider it to be a custom are Rav Dovid Ben Moshe from Novhardok, who says ( שו”ת גליא מסכת, עמ’ 180 ):

דעיקר מימרא דרבי זירא האמורה דאף טיפות דם כחרדל צריכה ז’ נקיים לא הוה מתקנות חכמים אלא בנות ישראל המה החמירו על עצמן חומרא זו מעצמן

From the essence of what Rabbi Zera said that even a drop like a mustard seed needs seven clean days, it is not a Rabbinic law, instead they the daughters of Israel made this stringency upon themselves by themselves…

Rav Kook says ( שו”ת דעת כהן סימן פד ):

ואולי עוד קלוש משאר איסורי דרבנן, שהרי הוא באמת רק מנהג שנהגו בנות ישראל, וידוע שמנהג הוא לא חמור כדרבנן ממש.

And maybe it is even weaker than other Rabbinic prohibitions, since really it is only a custom that the daughters of Israel practiced, and it is known that a custom is not as strict as a real Rabbinic prohibition.

Rav Yisroel Zev Gustman says in ( קונטרסי שיעורים, מסכת קידושין עמ’ 306 - 310 ):

ומעתה אסורה נא לעיין בענין חומרא דר’ זירא אשר מבואר דלא נעשה בתקנות חכמים אלא שבנות ישראל החמירו מעצמן בזה ולא נעשה זאת מתקנות ועד חז”ל

And now I will deviate if I may to address this issue of Rabbi Zera’s stringency as it was expounded it was not made into a Rabbinic enactment instead the daughters of Israel made this stringency by themselves in this matter and it was not made a formal enactment by the Council of our Sages.

The list could go on, but it is clear that there are respected opinions on both sides of this issue.

The last thing to address is why this stringency came about. As I mentioned before, there is no direct explanation in the Talmud of how or why this stringency came about. It is not clear if the reasons given by later authorities are based on some oral tradition or if they are just educated guesses.

These explanations fall into a few main categories more or less:

  • The inability to distinguish between pure and impure bleeding
  • inability to keep track of niddah days vs. zavah days
  • that all women should have the same count of days
  • that the physical reality relating to women’s periods had changed

I mentioned earlier that it seems Chaza”l had a method for distinguishing between pure blood that originated outside the uterus, and impure blood that originated from within the uterus, but that method became lost ( נידה כ ):

אמר רבי זירא: טבעא דבבל גרמא לי דלא חזאי דמא

The nature of Babylon caused me to be unable to distinguish between the bloods

It may be that the stringency started in Babylon due to a loss of their ability to distinguish between uterine blood and other blood, but that the land of Israel, where they apparently still had this ability, did not accept this stringency during R. Zera’s lifetime.

There are many more references to this loss of ability in the Talmud. As a result of this Rav Yaakov ben HaRo”sh posits the following problem and explanation ( ארבעה טורים, יורה דעה, קפג ):

משרבו הגלויות ותכפו הצרות ונתמעטו הלבבות, חשו שמא יבואו לטעות באיסור כרת, שמא תראה אישה בימי נידתה ששה ימים ויהיה הכל דם טוהר וביום השביעי שמא תראה דם טמא וסבורה לטבול בליל שמיני וצריכה עוד שבעה ימים - החמירו לטמא כל מראה דם אדום, וכדי שלא יבואו לידי טעות בין ימי נידה לימי זיבה הוסיפו חומרה אחר חומרה, עד שאמרו שאפילו אם לא תראה אלא טיפת דם כחרדל תשב עליה שבעה נקיים כזבה גדולה.

Due to the many expulsions, and frequent sorrows, and the shrinking of their hearts, they feared they would violate a prohibition of karet, that a woman would see during her Niddah days six days and it would be all pure blood, and on the seventh day would see impure blood and would think to immerse on the eighth night, when she really needs seven more days - due to this they declared all red blood impure, and in order that they should not make a mistake between NIddah days and Zavah days they added stringency after stringency, until they said that even if they saw a drop of blood the size of a mustard seed they will sit seven clean days like a major Zavah.

This is a good summary of the first two points above. In addition, Rav Mordchai Eliyahu mentions in his book, “The Ways of Purity”, that an additional reason was so that all women would count in the same manner:

וסיבות רבות לחומרה זאת, והחשובות בהן היא כדי שתהיה לכל הנשים ספירה אחידה, ולא תצטרך כל אחת ואחת לחשב לעצמה חשבונות מסובכים שלא כולן בקיאות בהם.

And there are many reasons given for this stringency, and the most important among them is in order that all women will have a unified way of counting, and each woman and woman won’t need to calculate for herself all kinds of complicated calculations that not everyone is versed in.

Another type of reason is given by Rambam ( הלכות אסורי ביאה יא,ג ):

וְנִתְקַלְקְלוּ הַוְּסָתוֹת - and their menstrual cycles became irregular

This would make sense in certain contexts, as it’s known that extreme mental and physical stresses, including things like malnutrition and starvation can cause women’s cycles to become extremely irregular. It may also indicate some kind of hishtane hateva argument - according to his method, how could women have ever tracked their niddah vs. zavah days unless prior to Talmudic times they had perfect 19 day menstrual cycles?

Lastly, there is an interesting hypothesis as to the origins of the Stringency attributed to Rabbi Yaakov Elman chair of Talmudic studies at Yeshiva University and his former student Dr. Shai Secunda:

As to the non-elitist Babylonian Jews, we have a report regarding the ordinary Babylonian Jewish women. Rabbi Zera reports that the “daughters of Israel had undertaken to be so strict with themselves as to wait for seven [clean] days [after the appearance] of a drop of blood the size of a mustard seed [although biblically they are required only to separate for seven days from the onset of menstruation]” (Berakhot, fol. 31a; Megillah, fol. 28b; Niddah, fol. 66a). It is clear from Niddah (fol. 66a) that this stringency was a popular practice and not a rabbinic prohibition, probably in response to a “holier than thou” attitude perceived by the populace as emanating from their Persian neighbors. It seems that Babylonian Jewish women had internalized their Zoroastrian neighbors’ critique of Rabbinic Judaism’s relatively “easy-going” ways in this regard; Jewish women did not have to remain isolated on spare rations in a windowless hut for up to nine days, as was prescribed in Pahlavi Vendidād (Elman, 2004a, p. 34; but see Secunda, 2007a, pp. 144-89).

Basically, the Jewish women didn’t want to be “outfrummed” by their Zoroastrian neighbors, as one blogger put it.

In conclusion, it seems clear from the vast majority of the sources that the stringency started as a personal stringency that women took upon themselves, then evolved into a widespread custom practiced in some communities and not in others, and then at some point after that, and it’s not at all clear when that point was, became a universal custom. The Talmud itself seems to give no real indication as to when this occurred. Much later post-Talmudic sources debate whether this custom was formally ratified or not by the Sages, and there are respected authorities on both sides of the issue. There are no reasons given for this practice in the Talmud itself, and it is not clear if the reasons given by much later Post-Talmudic sources are part of an oral tradition or are educated guesses.

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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
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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
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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
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@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
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@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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