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By Katia Aryeh
Religion brainwashed me into doing irrational and emotionally self-damaging things that I would have easily recognized as primitive and harmful were it not for my indoctrination. Of all the practices I look back on with horror, this was the worst. By removing the veil of secrecy that keeps these practices from public knowledge, my hope is that women suffering within these communities will feel empowered to leave.
There are three key tenets of Orthodox Judaism, each associated with an array of laws that must be strictly adhered to. Of the three, people are generally familiar with two: the special dietary laws referred to as Kosher; and the rabbinical laws of the Sabbath, or Shabbat, that govern the do’s and don’ts during the day of rest between sundown Friday and sundown Saturday.
The third pillar of Orthodox Judaism, family purity or niddah, is one very few people outside of that insular world are aware of. However, if broken, the laws accompanying it carry a far greater penalty in the next world than those related to the Sabbath or keeping Kosher. The laws of family purity apply to all spectrums of orthodoxy, including the modern ones that allow women to wear trousers and uncover their hair, like the sect Ivanka Trump belongs to, for example. Even the slightest deviation from these laws would compromise a couple’s standing as practicing Orthodox Jews in the eyes of a rabbinical court.
What are these laws, you ask?
The laws of family purity revolve around the color of a woman’s vaginal discharge.
You see, beginning on the days when she anticipates her period, a husband and wife are forbidden from having any sexual relations until seven days following the end of her period. Considering orthodox law states that a period’s duration is a minimum of five days, this typically spans about two weeks or longer, depending on whether her post-menstrual discharge cooperates. In short, this means that for about half of every month, all aspects of an orthodox woman’s life, relationship, sexuality, and emotional health, are dictated by her vaginal discharge.
Except for the far left minority, most orthodox sects go even further with their adherence to the ancient laws by completely prohibiting any physical contact. Couples may not sleep in the same bed, or even hand objects to each other directly (even a baby), all to prevent the increase of temptation to have sexual contact. These laws apply even after a miscarriage, during childbirth, months following childbirth, and even if a spouse loses a family member and needs a hug from their partner.
While the woman is required to count seven clean days before she may immerse herself in a ritual bath (mikvah) prior to reuniting with her husband, it’s not only a matter of days or time waiting. The woman must take an active role to ensure she is “clean” by wearing only white underwear and conducting self-examinations of her vaginal canal with special white cloths twice a day, every day, before sundown. The white cloth is inserted into the vagina so that any fluid or discharge is absorbed. The first examination of the seven days requires the cloth to be left in for about an hour, even if the woman is out of the house, and it is usually quite painful. Here is an excerpt from a website detailing very specific examination instructions (http://www.yoatzot.org/taharat-hamishpacha/?id=603):
“Insert the finger deeply but GENTLY into the vaginal canal as far as the length of your finger will allow. If this is difficult for you, try to go deeply at least for the hefsek taharah [first] examination and for one of the examinations during the seven blood-free days – preferably the first.”
If during the seven days any of the examination cloths contain even a tiny spot darker than tan, or a spot on her underwear bigger than a penny and darker than tan, she must take the underwear or cloth to a special rabbi for further evaluation. This Rabbi will then examine the color to determine if it is light enough for her to keep counting, or if it’s too dark or too red tinted such that she must begin counting the seven clean days over, even if it is day 7. Seeing a spot obviously induces massive anxiety for housewives longing for any affection from their husbands, many of whom also worry that their deprived husbands will start looking elsewhere.
Q: How do boys and girls raised in a culture obsessed with modesty accept this practice when they are made aware of what they must adhere to?
1) They are told that these special rabbis are like male OBGYNs; that there is nothing sexual about them examining the discharge, and that if someone still thinks it is inappropriate, it’s because THEY have a dirty mind and do not understand the holiness that motivates these rabbis.
2) Engaged couples are told that if husbands sleep with their wives too much, they will grow tired of them the way a person’s love of chocolate cake would dwindle if eaten for every meal. The girls are also told that without a forced physical separation, their husbands will only see them as sexual toys and will have no incentive to talk to them and connect on a deeper emotional and intellectual level.
3) To paraphrase what Sam Harris has said, one guy cutting off a girl’s clitoris is called a monster; hundreds of men doing the same is called culture.
Q: Why can’t women check the colors themselves?
A: According to Jewish law, women can’t be judges and can’t make legal rulings. Once vaginal discharge is darker than tan, a legal judgment is required. However, the minority left-leaning sect has, in recent years, certified some women to make these judgments. The center and right-leaning majority, however, does not recognize their certification because they are female judges, for all intents and purposes.
That’s right. Women encouraging other women and their daughters to painfully violate themselves for God, instead of listening to their bodies and protecting themselves. Further, these are the least extreme of the bunch! More here: http://www.yoatzot.org/taharat-hamishpacha/?id=603
Q: Is this in the Bible?
A: Yes, sort of. The prohibition for a man to not approach a menstruating woman is one of the 613 commandments in the Old Testament. Like kosher and the Sabbath, the specific laws governing the execution of the commandment are recorded various rabbinical writings considered as binding as the Bible itself.
The scope of this article does not include the vast laws that govern what the woman must do to her body on the night of her ritual bath, the emotional stresses put on the marriage and on the spouses by these laws, and how men who are prohibited from spilling their seed deal with so much celibacy (Hint: In Jewish law, a married man sleeping with a single woman who is not his wife is NOT considered adulterous. Adultery is defined by the marital status of the woman).