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There are various harchakot (separations) that a husband and wife must observe when she is a niddah.

When I learned these halachot before I got married I learned that the husband and wife may not eat together when she is a niddah without setting some kind of object on the table to serve as a heker or reminder. I also learned that this rule only applies when the husband and wife are eating together privately but does not apply when other people are present. This book (written by someone I know and reviewed by R' Doniel Pransky, Rosh Kollel of the Atlanta Scholars Kollel [someone I trust]) confirms that exception.

My question is, why does this particular harchaka not apply in public? What is the difference between eating together without a reminder and all the other harchakot such as passing something from one spouse to the other (which we don't do even in public)?

  • Consider the harchaka of not eating milk and meat at the same table. Multiple people also works there (according to some, at least; your rule isn't universal either). – Double AA Feb 16 '17 at 15:14
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    As @DoubleAA, mentioned, not all opinions hold that this doesn't apply in public. But if I recall correctly, the whole concept of Harchakos is based on not doing things that might cause the couple to be intimate during Niddah time. Eating together is considered by some to cause closeness between the couple, while eating in public isn't an 'intimate' form of sharing a meal. – Salmononius2 Feb 16 '17 at 17:38
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    @Salmononius2 Is passing something in public considered an intimate form or passing? Why wouldn't public-ness help there too? – Double AA Feb 16 '17 at 17:38
  • @DoubleAA I'm not quite sure I understand what you're saying in your first comment. Are you saying that those who hold multiple people works by milk and meat at the same table would also hold that passing is also permitted in public? – Daniel Feb 16 '17 at 17:44
  • @DoubleAA Apparently, yes. I would guess the reason being the only people involved in the action of passing are the husband and wife, while a public eating involves more than just the two of them. For the record, I believe that a 'public eating' is something like a Shabbos meal, larger cafeteria table, etc. (where multiple people are joining in the same meal). If the couple would go to dinner at a restaurant (barring other reasons that might not be recommended), that would still be a 'private' meal if it was a table for two. – Salmononius2 Feb 16 '17 at 17:46
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(Note: All sources were found and learned through the Sefer Mareh Kohen on Hilchos Niddah)

Eating together, per the Rosh, is something that engenders closeness between the couple, and during the days of Niddah, certain actions are prohibited in order to limit the closeness between the couple. This specific Harchokah seems to be unique in the sense that, according to some opinions, once the couple are no longer eating alone, the Harchokah no longer applies (this seems to be, for lack of a better word, a 'subjective' application by the Poskim of what is considered 'engendering closeness').

It seems to be that regarding this Harchokah, some Poskim have concluded that having other people around lowers the amount of 'Kurvah' of the action to permit it. Note that by the Harchokah of sitting on a swinging bench, the Rama also says that having someone sit between them removes the Harchokah.

Regarding the reason why handing an item in public is different:

The Machzor Vitri brings down that Rashi was careful to not hand anything to his wife during Niddah, although no reason is given in that work. In later works, two reasons were given: The Bais Yosef says that the reason was to avoid accidentally touching his wife, while the Rashba gave the reason as it engenders a feeling a closeness between the husband and wife (note: @mevaqesh noted that the Rashba in Toras Habayis (7:2) gives the reason as preventing touching. Unfortunately, the Mareh Kohen does not source where the Rashba says this opinion, although he does attribute it to the Rashba).

The Shulchan Aruch (as it was written by the Bais Yosef), brings down the reason of accidental touching as the reason for this Harchokah. As a result, this Harchokah would apply in all scenarios, regardless of who is around at the time. This also seems to be the accepted reason for this Harchokah.

Interestingly, even if you held that the reason was according to the Rashba, you might still not be allowed to hand an item directly to your wife who is a Niddah in a public setting. With regards to eating at the same table with your wife who is a Niddah, the Rashba is the most stringent of opinions, and holds that even if people are sitting between the couple, a Heker is still needed on the table. It may be a case of conflicting opinions for one to hold like the Rashba for handing items, but not for sitting at a table without a Heker (although that is quite debatable).

  • According to this a man ought be able to toss something to his wife's hand in public since neither reason applies. – Double AA Dec 3 '17 at 0:47
  • @mevaqesh You're right, I looked up the sefer Toras Habayis on HebrewBooks, and the Rashba over there gives the reason as touching. Unfortunately, the Sefer Mareh Kohen does not give a source for the Rashba, although he does attribute that opinion to the Rashba. I'll leave that in my answer, but will also edit in the Rashba from the Toras Habayis. – Salmononius2 Dec 3 '17 at 1:08
  • @DoubleAA If throwing is prohibited because you might accidentally touch, why would it matter where you were when you threw it? – Salmononius2 Dec 3 '17 at 1:17
  • Why would throwing be prohibited because of accidentally touching?? There's clearly no risk of touching when throwing. Ever heard of a pitcher accidentally touching the catcher during the pitch? – Double AA Dec 3 '17 at 1:19
  • Just FTR if you had asked me an hour ago who was the Rishon who prohibited throwing because of Kirvah not touching, I would have said I think it's the Rashba. Now I see the Shulchan Arukh cites Maharam, but there might be something more to this Mareh Kohen. – Double AA Dec 3 '17 at 1:27

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