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If a wife sees no value in keeping the laws of family purity, and wants to stop going to the mikva, what are the halachic ramifications for the husband?

The answer that I'm looking for is what consequences (I hate to think in terms of sin and punishment) do each spouse incur upon themselves if she stops going to the mikva and they remain married, and continue to have sexual relations?

That's the straight halachic question.


If you want more background, and for the sake of anyone else in a situation similar to ours, I'll include some background here, but the bottom line is the question I asked above.

I was not always observant, but became observant before we got married. My wife has never particularly felt connected to the laws of family purity, but has gone to the mikvah since we got married for my sake, because I felt that these laws are important.

We have been married almost twenty years, we don't want to get divorced. But she is fed up with the total one-sidedness of the whole situation. It's called "family purity," which suggests mutual responsibility, but the truth is, the onus is completely on her, except for the fact that I have to abstain from sex as well as her.

She feels that these laws were developed by men, long ago, and that it's a huge burden. She has tried to find something positive in it, but finds the entire experience overwhelmingly negative. Neither her emuna, nor mine, to be honest, is particularly strong. I cannot honestly say that I keep as many mitzvot as I possibly can, but I am comfortable with my level of observance. So we both feel that it is kind of hypocritical that I am asking her to keep carrying the burden of all that is required of her halachically, in addition to the physical discomfort of having a period in the first place, to keep the laws of family purity, while I have to do nothing, when I am actually the only one who feels any benefit. This situation is exacerbated by the fact that I don't make a huge effort to keep all the mitzvot that I possibly can, and considering that my faith is not so strong in the first place. I am not, nor have a I ever wanted to be, or tried to be shomer negia.

So what are the halachic ramifications for me if she stops going to the mikva? I can honestly say that I will not divorce her for this, nor will I abstain from sex with her because of this, so that's not the answer that I'm looking for. I'm trying to determine the consequences that each of us incur upon ourselves if she stops going to the mikva and we remain married, and continue to have sexual relations.

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    Yitz, welcome to Mi Yodeya and thank you for bringing your question here. I really hope the two of you can find a solution to this that you're both comfortable with. – Monica Cellio Apr 16 '15 at 21:59
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    Yitz, I'm sorry to hear about your troubles. Regardless of what you learn from responses to your question here, I suggest that you consult a rabbi and/or marriage counselor for help with resolving the situation, as an experienced professional who talks to (and preferably knows) you and your wife would be best-equipped to help you find the best way forward. Your question indicates that you have a good idea of the bottom-line halacha that a rabbi might quote you, but someone with the right experience and wisdom may be able to help you in unanticipated ways. – Isaac Moses Apr 17 '15 at 13:06
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    @CashCow, I'm pretty sure that a post-menopausal women remains in nida status due to her last menses until she immerses one last time. – Isaac Moses Apr 17 '15 at 13:21
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    As a practical matter, keep in mind that there is a birth control pill (Lybrel and its generics) which eliminate periods. So if you're done having kids, then persuade her to go to the mikvah one last time before she starts taking a continuous combination birth control pill, and then you may avoid sinning from then on, even though she never goes to the mikvah again (assuming there is no "breakthrough bleeding" that would require immersion.) – Kordovero Sep 1 '15 at 0:39
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    Why not think a bit more creatively? It seems that the issue in this particular case is the imbalance even more than the halacha. Why not offer to go to the mikvah yourself on the same day that she does? Why not offer to lay tefillin or something else that is challenging for you more consistently? Is there a different mikvah in the city that would provide a more positive experience? – SDK Jul 25 '16 at 13:48
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Halachically, you transgress a biblical commandment if you knowingly have relations with a niddah, and the punishment is karet. See this answer, which cites Rambam Laws of Prohibitions on Relations 4:3. According to Rambam Issurei Biah 1:1 (h/t DoubleAA), punishments for forbidden relations apply to both except in a special case not applicable here.

By the way, the talmud on Ketubot 72 includes this case in a list of reasons for which a man may divorce his wife and not pay her ketubah. I know you don't want to get divorced; I'm just pointing it out as a possible consequence for other couples. (I don't know what later sources have to say about that, and one shouldn't go only on one daf of talmud.)


Having said that, I'm going to respond to the rest of what you wrote. By your report, your wife resents the niddah laws because they place the burden entirely on her -- what does she get out of this, beyond that it makes you happy? While spouses should always try to do things that bring each other happiness where possible, she's feeling burdened. It's not fair. I totally get that.

You care about her doing this and you both care about having a happy marriage. So what can you do to make this feel less one-sided? Halacha might not demand anything of you, but in the interests of infusing some positive feelings into the marriage for both of you, I suggest you think about ways to make mikvah night special for her. Not as a bribe for going to the mikvah, but as a kindness that you do for somebody you love at a time when she's feeling burdened. You'd take some of the load off if she were sick, or stressed by work/school/kids/family, or just feeling down, right? So take some of the load off from this source of aggravation too.

What that looks like depends on the two of you, but, for example, maybe it would help if you cooked her a nice dinner that night (or took her out)? That's just one idea. Do something nice for her. From her perspective she's doing something nice (not required) for you, so if she feels like she's receiving some kindness too, maybe that'll help her feel better about it.

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    Note too that sleeping with a Niddah, being a Karet-level sexual offensive, is actually not to be preferred even on pain of death. – Double AA Apr 17 '15 at 4:58
  • Are there not Rabbinical prohibitions in place as well which include their own punishments for transgressing? – Lee Apr 17 '15 at 13:53
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I am impressed by the gravity of your inquiry and your care in the matter in that you are seeking real answers to a complicated question. May Hashem help the two of you and anyone else in need of this post.

First let's address some issues your question raised in this case, and then let's address the Halachic ramifications.

The OP states that your wife is wishing to stop practicing mikveh observance, in part, because: "She feels that these laws were developed by men, long ago, and that it's a huge burden." Also she said: "...she is fed up with the total one-sidedness of the whole situation. It's called "family purity," which suggests mutual responsibility, but the truth is, the onus is completely on her,..."

1.) One-sided onus:

There is a famous Jewish Law in all matters of ritual observance which says that "Eyd Echad Ne'emaan B'Issurim" (One witness is believed regarding permitting the potentially forbidden). (see Talmud Gittin 2b and elsewhere)

The reason I can go to your house and eat food as your guest (without personally supervising the Kashrut) is because I may trust you. In fact, the entire Kashrus industry relies on the testimony of single witnesses in factories and farms as far flung as the Pennsylvania countryside to Hong Kong.

So where in the entire Torah does it say that Hashem lets us believe the testimony of one witness? What case did Almighty G-d deem fit to represent the fact that you may utterly trust your friend's word without question in matters of spiritual life and death? Was it a case of kosher meat, a temple sacrifice, or the observance of Yom Kippur? What is the paradigm used by the Holy Torah to teach that we owe each other love and loyalty to believe a person when they tell us something?

It is the fact that a man must, by Torah Law, trust his own wife concerning the laws of family purity.

Vayikra (Levit.) 15:28 "If she ceases her flow, she must count seven days for herself and afterwards she can be purified."

The words "for herself" mean that she purifies herself privately and is believed. (Talmud Ketubot 72a) This is the source in the Torah that a single witness is privately believed. (according to Tosfos Gittin 2b)

Therefore, we now see the reason the Torah made most of the family purity process dependent on the wife's private observance. This is to obviously elevate the wife in the husband's eyes as being responsible and trustworthy. Imagine if the husband were commanded to oversee the process?! His OCD behavior and oversight of the wife's every move would certainly insult her and destroy the trust of the marriage! Instead, the Torah has the husband sit back and tell her that he trusts her. Now she is honored and the marriage grows.

2) These laws were developed by men?

R’ Zeira- B'nos Yisroel (daughters of Israel) were machmir (strict) on themselves that even if they only saw tipas dam k’chardal (a drop of blood like a mustard seed) they wait 7 nekiyim (7 clean days). (see Talmud Niddah 66a)

The Halachic system of Israel is not the result of the dictatorship of a few men. It is the published agreement of our people as a whole. Here, the above law of family purity was passed by the women of Israel on themselves. Once they did so, all of us keep it as Law.

3) Mutual Responsibility?

First of all, men abstaining is certainly a shared responsibility. But, there is also a list of laws to keep in family purity called "Har'Chakos". These laws involve both the man and woman learning a set of behaviors during Niddah. It is his responsibility. He also is required to learn and follow the private family calendar, as well as be involved in bringing questions to a Rav (she can too). All this must be done in cooperation. Furthermore, while she is preparing, he should be pitching in with the kids or other chores. The OP mentioned that they did not adhere to shomer negiah. Did the OP know of the laws of Har'Chakos; that during Niddah, shomer negiah and a host of other laws apply?

4) Burden?

This is subjective, but I would ask that anyone claiming the purification process is a burden, really sit down and think it through before making that claim. Is checking for blood a few times, counting 7 days, and grooming oneself for a bath, really called "burdensome"? For equality sake, we can have the husband trim his nails, take a soapy shower, and go to mikvah too in preperation to meet his wife that night. :)

5) Long Ago?

Why is it a problem that these laws came from long ago? If someone invented them now, would you feel that they are more authentic??!

It has long been held by modern and non-religious communities that simply because a law is ancient, it must be wrong or changeable etc. In Judaism, we adhere to that which is authentic. So, the older its source, the better. Niddah Law is written in the Torah.

6) The OP says: "I cannot honestly say that I keep as many mitzvot as I possibly can.." as well as: "...while I have to do nothing.."

A woman's body is so intricately involved in the mitzvah of family purity that most of the technical observance falls on her. However, men have similar things. A man puts on Talis and Tefillin on his arm and head every day and davens with a minyan. A woman does not do that. Is his praying and tefillin a one sided burden on the man? Judaism has trade offs with gender roles. However, when looking at the whole picture, it is all a shared responsibility to run a Jewish home.

PENALTY FOR HAVING RELATIONS WHILE SHE IS NIDDAH?

The penalty is Kar-eys (cutting off of the soul). The source is Vayikra (Levit.) 20:18. It says that both the man and woman who willfully engage in intercourse while she is a Niddah will be "cut off".

Rav Saadia Gaon, Rashi, Tosefos, and others all hold that a basic aspect of Kareys is to die young (before your time). The Riva says before 50 - 60 years of age. In addition, there is a possibility of punishment in the afterlife as well.

For an idea of how bad Kareys really is, we can look at the Talmud and see that in Tractate Kerisos 2a, there are 36 crimes in the Torah that are punishable by Kareys.

Here are a few: Idolatry, adultery, various forms of incest, passing one's children as a sacrifice to Molech the fire god, Sabbath breaking, violating Yom Kippur, etc. Niddah is one of them.

It should make someone take pause to consider that Niddah is in the same category as the above listed crimes.Violating Niddah Laws has the same weight as violating the other 35 listed. Wow. We need to Halachically avoid this at all cost.

Finally, it seems that in any marriage, one spouse should never tell the other spouse that they are not worth as much as an equal in the marriage. If one spouse makes more money than the other, should that spouse have a separate bank account for the extra $ to hoard it away from their partner? If I happen to cook and my spouse can't or vice versa, should the cook threaten to stop cooking because the other spouse just "eats" and "consumes"? If you have been doing this for 20 years correctly, why change it?

Based on the OP, it seems you should go to an expert on Jewish law and mystical concepts who will help you understand the meaning behind the Niddah status. Once you know what it is, then you are able to live by it with proper enthusiasm.

Much Success,

Dovid Kenner

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    David, a belated welcome to Mi Yodeya, and thanks very much for this extensive and well-written answer! Would you please consider editing it to further emphasize the part that directly addresses the actual question. It's fine to comment on the background story, too, but that ought to be subordinate to the actual answer. Also, as a matter of style, we tend to leave signatures out of questions and answers, since the author's identity is linked at the bottom anyway. I look forward to seeing you around! – Isaac Moses Apr 17 '15 at 13:19
  • Love the answer, to address @IsaacMoses ' point, perhaps re organize the answer and insert a break between the actual answer and the background details. – Baby Seal Sep 2 '15 at 17:14
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You might explain it to your wife like this:

Judaism makes the most important things in life mandatory rather than optional. It is not optional for a Jew to pray. It is not optional for him to have children. It is not optional for him to give charity, to love people, to study, to eat, to drink, to rest, to fear G-d, to remember the past, and to look every now and then at the sky above.

For the things that would seem expendable for being overly self-indulgent--rejoicing, resting, prayer, sex--Judaism sets fixed times. We must rejoice on holidays. We must rest on Shabbos. We are commanded to meet G-d in prayer three times a day. We stop everything to do these, regardless of our schedule, our feelings, and the literally endless exigences of competing obligations. Because we stop, we do not waste our lives. The most important things in life are given their place. We use our short time on Earth wisely.

Judaism seems to me adamant that sex with one's spouse--with its exquisite pleasure as well as its procreative potential, mystical significance and inherent holiness--is one of the essential elements of a good life. Therefore sex is on the agenda, literally. Like Shabbos, Rosh Chodesh, holidays, davening and most every other time-bound obligation in Judaism, its scheduling follows natural rhythms. In this case, the arbiter is not planetary movements, but a much smaller, though equally ecological system: the cycle of the wife's body. As with the other mitzvos, we bind the natural shifts with their meaning to us through rituals. In this case, the ritual is the wife's immersion in mikvah. After that, couples make literally every effort to ensure that the night is a special one: This most important thing in life happens, without fail.

I wish your wife could see it this way. And perhaps your wife should visit a new mikvah every month until she finds one where the holiness is palpable to her. Maybe it is in the snow or in the ocean. Maybe the secret for her will be to escape from rules, from niggling supervision and from arbitrary social norms. Maybe she needs to see it more as connection with G-d. I am confident that once she does, she will not depart from this mitzvah.

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someone in a similar position as you asked Rabbi Zev Leff.

Is it proper for one spouse to force the other spouse, a baal teshuva, to comply with all the halachic requirements of niddah? —Anonymous, New York (question #1761)

here is his answer

summary: the religious spouse should explain that it is of paramount importance and cannot be compromised on due to the severity of the punishments incurred (karet), but one should seek the guidance of a Rav to see how this can be explained and worked out peacefully if possible.

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@Monica has already thoroughly answered your question. I feel that she has done justice to your predicament.

I do want to address just one statement that I think speaks volumes:

She feels that these laws were developed by men, long ago, and that it's a huge burden. She has tried to find something positive in it, but finds the entire experience overwhelmingly negative. Neither her emuna, nor mine, to be honest, is particularly strong. I cannot honestly say that I keep as many mitzvot as I possibly can, but I am comfortable with my level of observance.

Based on Genesis chapter 2, that Man and Women were created as one, that means essentially that you and your wife are cut from the same cloth. While your level of observance has increased, you may feel that she hasn't grown in the same way as you. I want you to know that she seems to be negative for a particular reason. That means it's your issue as well as hers.

You are both partners in building a home together, and this aspect is an aspect of kedusha.

Your wife is only a mirror reflection of you in the sense that she has feelings, thoughts, and beliefs that mirror your own, and that together you need to work to grow and build each other into a deeper, more fulfilled relationship.

What worries me is that you don't have a deep, nurturing relationship with your wife, independent of your 'religiousness'. I think Monica was on the right track, but I think you need to take your wife out once a week, just you and her, no-one else, and have a date-night - a date where you just talk and build that connection.

Your wife has some issue with the religious experience. It is manifesting in this particular area, but it needs to be dealt with for you to move forward. It is legitimate, it is probably painful for her. I would point out that her perspective of a bunch of old men deciding rules long ago, is just a protection mechanism for dealing with the issues she has.

Your wife sounds like she has a painful experience of Judaism or at least Taharas Mishpacha - and that should be addressed in a very careful, sensitive manner - she has every right to feel that pain, and it needs to be properly addressed. If she was hurt in anyway, or felt vulnerable etc. She must be helped. There are literally thousands of women who do not have the same experience and enjoy the mikvah. Something is amiss.

In order to help you grow and build this so that you can continue to develop together, I would suggest that you start being shomer negia. It doesn't have to be all or nothing, it can be a little thing and starting with something small. This will help your wife see that you're serious about this aspect of Judaism.

I would also improve on two other areas. Shabbos and Kashrus. Your Shabbosim should be memorable, enjoyable experiences - do you make some of the courses? I would be involved in making the fish, preparing the Shabbos candles, and making sure that every meal has singing, and lively, enjoyable conversation. Make sure to clean the house for Shabbos.

The last thing is Kashrus, this is often also very hard for people. But take on something small, like going to a class once a week with a Rabbi on the laws of Kosher.

Now, I know you said that you're comfortable with your observance. That's the thing. Judaism is always about growth and moving beyond your comfort zone. But you don't have to go overboard. You can do a few little things here and there that make your experience and your wife's experience of Jewish things fun, good and memorable.

To summarize.

  1. Take your wife out once a week to a restaurant. (perhaps even give her a gift) Make sure to listen to her and talk to her and build that relationship

  2. work on shomer negia (do something small and subtle)

  3. Make your Shabbos table more memorable with stories and singing, involve yourself in making an extra course - like baking the fish, and prepare the Shabbos Candles.

  4. Go to a Jewish class once a week.

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In my opinion, you have identified the problem when you said:

She feels that these laws were developed by men, long ago, and that it's a huge burden.

and:

So we both feel that it is kind of hypocritical [...].

Ultimately you and your wife would have to answer these two questions to your own satisfaction, including whatever moral standard you choose for yourselves. Remember that HaShem looks at the heart. The other questions are not so crucial as their answers will follow once you have fully addressed these.

I say this because from my experience, it is easy to ask many questions about what we should do and what are possible consequences for certain actions, while overlooking the real question of why we want to do something. And without being sure of our intentions, the same two problems you have pinpointed will simply recur again and again in different forms. If, on the other hand, both of you are certain that what you are doing is right, then doing it would be an indescribable joy, the gladness of your heart, not a burden.

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    The question asks "what consequences each spouse incurs upon themselves" in the described situation. Your interesting answer does not address this direct question. I am voting it down. – Avrohom Yitzchok Apr 17 '15 at 11:09
  • @AvrohomYitzchok: Yes, I may not be answering the surface question, but I am addressing the real underlying problem. Unfortunately people in general do not wish to answer the underlying question, because it goes deep, all the way to the issue of desires of the heart. When people ask for the halachic ramifications, it is almost always not a matter of just finding out for the sake of knowledge. I hope that I have directly answered the asker's real concerns, and for that reason I don't care if everyone else disagrees. – David Apr 17 '15 at 13:54
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    @AvrohomYitzchok: By the way, there is clear evidence that the asker himself is not looking for a straight halachic answer, despite the question he asked. In his own words, "I can honestly say that I will not divorce her for this, nor will I abstain from sex with her because of this, that's not the answer that I'm looking for.", which shows that he already has committed to certain things, and hence there is a deep reason he is still asking for halachic opinion. – David Apr 17 '15 at 14:00
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    David, welcome to Mi Yodeya! Please take a look at this tour for an overview of how Mi Yodeya is different from other Internet fora. In particular, on a Q&A forum like this one, engaging with someone you don't know, you are inherently not well-equipped to identify or address the asker's deep-seated real concerns. That's what dialogue with a rabbi who knows him is for. – Isaac Moses Apr 17 '15 at 14:01
  • @IsaacMoses: I agree with you in general. In this special instance I am certain that I can at least help the asker to identify the real questions he would need to ask, even if I cannot help to answer them since as you said I do not know him. This is also why I did not answer either of the two questions that are the true concerns. But thanks for your comment! =) – David Apr 17 '15 at 14:34

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