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I know* it is quite common among observant Jewish couples to use hormonal methods to prolong, shorten, and/or reschedule the woman's cycle to make taharas hamichpacha timing align better with conception times as well as, l'havdil, vacation plans and other matters of convenience.

I am very committed to Jewish law as a whole. I know that the prohibitions surrounding niddah are most stringent, as is the need not to compromise sholom bayis. I know that, for all intents and purposes, we accept these strictures--including their later refinements and extensions through rabbis and by custom--as G-d's law.

However, hormonal contraception, while its benefits probably exceed its costs to the world at large (and thus, perhaps, it is so thoroughly recommended by physicians) is not.without.risks. Instinct and research tell me that these risks should be particularly concerning to a population--namely, Ashkenazi Jewish women--with a very high incidence of BRCA gene mutations.

Furthermore, as someone who is a woman and who talks to women (not all of whom are hysterical malingerers), I have heard a lot, a lot of reports from women who say the Pill wreaks havoc on their emotions, some of whom have suffered significant depressions as a result. There is of course a selection bias involved in what one hears. Still, when one hears enough, the idea that the Pill is a perfectly benign measure--practically a medical free lunch--becomes disrupted.

My question has two parts: one philosophical and one halachic. They concern the potential legitimacy of cutting corners in rabbinic elements of taharas hamichpacha law in situations where the alternative would be to take a hormone-altering medication.

Halachically, I would wonder if there are not issues of v'nishmartem me'od l'nafshoseichem, if not sakanas nefashos, in the readiness to use the Pill to circumvent problems created by the observance of taharas hamishpacha. I understand from the comments here that sex with a niddah is either a death or karet-level offense; still, if it is "only" kareit, there may be a great deal of halachic leniency to prioritize health--especially when we are dealing with a drug that is only about fifty years old, and which is by definition disruptive to the female body's most basic engines.

Philosophically, is it not insanity to alter the healthy workings of a body Hashem has made--moreover, at some non-negligible risk to that body and that life--in order to uphold laws--holy ones, to be sure, but also laws that have passed through centuries of human alteration and arguably random historical influence--we convince ourselves are valued by G-d? The Law, we think and hope, is G-d's--but isn't the body, and, indeed, life itself, even more undeniably so? If we return to first principles, which in theory we should never have absconded from, there seems to be something highly unnatural and essentially destructive about messing with G-d's priceless gifts in the name of received tradition.

Our own mesorah and Law usually do a brave and brilliant job of acknowledging this truth, for example, through Halacha's religiously-unusual emphasis on pikuach nefesh. But I feel there is some lacuna here; something has been forgotten where it concerns this matter.

"It cannot be and is not G-d's will that human intelligence do violence to itself, that man slay this endowment and bring it as his Isaac to G-d. But G-d also does not desire that man be so pleased with what G-d has bestowed on him that he forget the source of the gift and use it to establish his sovereignty [...]" (8)

(from The Body of Faith: God and the People of Israel, by Michael Wyschogrod)

To me, by condoning this use of hormonal medication, we are doing both things.

What are the halachic and/or philosophical justifications for doing so anyway? And does anyone disagree with these?

* This from talking to people (and from reading a lot of Jewish women's health sites and forums). If anyone can provide statistics or other facts that might cast the frequency of this practice into doubt, I'd be eager to hear them.

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    No one says you have to take pills. If people want to they do, just like most other foodstuffs. Rabbis will just tell you what is forbidden by Halakha (eg. pig). If you want to know what's unhealthy ask a doctor. – Double AA Jul 6 '16 at 19:22
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Monica Cellio Jul 8 '16 at 20:05
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    Here's a source indicating some people do this to accommodate their vacation plans, seemingly with some rabbinic approval (otherwise, why would the Yoetzet or rabbi answering the question have indicated approval?). On the other hand, The Laws of Niddah by Rabbi Forst seems to express some hesitation about the medical/philosophical implications of doing this (pg. 447 - I can't say for sure, though; I just saw this snippet). – Fred Jul 8 '16 at 20:12
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    Siach Nachum 95 – Double AA Jul 8 '16 at 22:05
  • To clarify the halakhic question, why would pikuah nefesh apply to allow for leniency in hilkhot niddah - couldn't you just avoid the pill? || On an unrelated note, once I've got your attention, would you mind addressing this outstanding query query regarding your intent, to allow for an answer? – mevaqesh Nov 20 '16 at 20:23
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If I understand correctly, your argument goes something like this:


A.) The Halacha is to always wait (>=5) + 7.

B.) Doing so on a natural routine can be inconvenient, e.g. for vacations.

C.) People use the pill to deal with it.

D.) Using the pill this way is:

 1. A cancer risk.
 2. Unnatural and therefore against God's will.
 3. Emotionally messy.

You therefore want to change A. We believe that ultimately, we submit to the will of God, therefore the stronger argument would be to change C!

As for your points about using the pill:

  • Cancer risk. Ask your doctor. Or take it to health.stackexchange.com. This is not the place to debate it.

  • Unnatural and therefore against God's will. We believe God wants us to use medicine to alleviate suffering. (Now perhaps a drop of humility is in order, and sometimes it's good to take a step back and ask if the artificial solution is really working better -- e.g. 50 years ago a lot of folks were sure that baby formula was better than breast milk. But we are not Christian Scientists or Amish!)

  • Emotionally messy. Here you are right. These days, any moreh hora'ah or yoetzet worth their salt will ask about past side effects of the pill (or family history) before recommending it, or keep an eye out for problems while it's being used. Unfortunately some people (or their well-intentioned, but poorly-educated rabbi) just read the Artscroll that this is the way it's done, and then suffer.

(Rabbi JD Bleich is on the record, for instance, of thinking that hormonal manipulation to avoid a nidah status at the wedding is probably not worth it.)

Update: Rav Moshe Feinstein is quoted similarly, not in favor of pre-wedding cycle manipulation. Mesoras Moshe vol. 1, Yoreh Deah #100. (This is written by his secretary, not himself, so take it with a grain of salt.):

Taking pills to not be a chupas nida.

And someone called up and asked if it's worthwhile that his fiancee take pills to arrange her cycle, to avoid a chupas nida [i.e. nida at the wedding]. Rabenu replied that he is not in favor of this idea, as the pills are dangerous and mess up the cycle. And to go into all of this just because of a chumra of not having chupas nida isn't worthwhile; something that our ancestors didn't worry about, as they were not makpid concerning chupas nida [to require a different wedding date], we should not be bigger tzadikim!

  • Where did Rabbi Bleich say that? Seems kind of surprising, as Chupas Nidah is a BIG deal. – רבות מחשבות Mar 7 '18 at 16:30
  • @רבותמחשבות it's a yutorah mp3; if I recall correctly in his series on Siddur Kiddushin. – Shalom Mar 8 '18 at 2:13
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    @רבותמחשבות See added source. – Shalom Mar 11 '18 at 3:00
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    "as the pills are dangerous and mess up the cycle" is hard for me to take seriously nowadays, based on what I know about birth control, but an amazing source nevertheless. I would note that virtually everyone I know would find a Chupas Nidah embarrassing/mortifying (very easy for others to tell in many cases), as well as a tremendous hassle with the Yichud issues (having a child sleep with them for a while), as well as the other potential areas of concern והמבין יבין. As far as I am aware, many if not all Taharas Hamishpacha guides/poskim are very much in favor of pills nowadays – רבות מחשבות Mar 11 '18 at 5:04
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    if necessary to avoid Chupas Nidah, which is why my surprise is much greater about Rabbi Bleich than Rav Moshe (if not also because Rav Moshe insists that being a Niddah is not something to be embarrassed about. See Rabbi Neuberger's notes in here korenpub.com/maggid_en_usd/the-laws-concepts-of-niddah.html for an interesting take on that Rav Moshe. Thanks for the research, though. – רבות מחשבות Mar 11 '18 at 5:08

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