Monday, June 2, 2008

Practical issues of Jewish marriage - edited

Following my last post on Jewish married life, I received a question from a reader, asking me what happens if the woman ovulates early, during the period when she cannot be intimate with her husband - thus causing the couple to miss ovulation and reducing or eliminating their chances to have children.

Normally, the cycle of separation and reunion in physical intimacy should enhance the couple's chances to have children: the first, most filled with passion, days of the couple being back together should fall right around the time when the woman ovulates - 12-14 days after the beginning of her period. That's indeed what happens most of the time.

However, there are cases when the woman's period is long, and the ovulation happens early; there are also cases when a woman might experience staining during the seven days after her period ends, forcing her to start the count again. Or sometimes a woman's periods are simply very irregular. This might make the couple miss out on ovulation, and cause difficulties in having children.

The first thing to determine is whether a woman rightly considers herself forbidden to her husband for the length of the period they separate. Not every stain is enough to render the woman impure; sometimes, a woman might mistakenly consider the stains at the last couple of days of her period as equal to bleeding, when in fact it isn't so, and a rabbi's counsel can tell her that.

However, if it turns out that relations are indeed forbidden, no rabbi could give permission to resume them before the right time of purification. In the past, all a woman could do was pray to God to alter her monthly cycle in a way that would permit her to have children. After all, we must remember He makes no mistakes, and if He set the woman's cycle the way He did, without allowing for the means to change it, maybe having children just wasn't in His plan for that particular couple.

Today, with the advances of medicine, it is possible to know just when the woman ovulates, and it is also possible to stabilize her cycle and alter her ovulation with the help of certain medications. I never researched deep into the matter, but I know there are doctors who specialize in this problem of Jewish women. So today, with the knowledge God chose to reveal to us, this problem can usually be solved.

***

P.S.: Due to several responses I received, I feel the need to clarify: the only reason I approached this topic in the first place was because many readers asked me questions about it and expressed sincere interest. What I gave here is a short, generalized description of married life in a Jewish home. A detail I forgot to mention: Orthodox Jews usually sleep in two beds that are joined together when it can be done, and moved slightly apart at the appropriate time of the month.

My purpose is not to convince you to follow Jewish practices if you aren't Jewish. I never said that only Orthodox Jews have good marriages, or that it's impossible to enjoy your physical relationship with your husband if you are permitted to each other all the time. There are also periods in the life of a Jewish couple when husband and wife are permitted for an extended time, for example when the wife is pregnant. When a woman reaches a post-menopausal stage, physical contact is naturally permitted all the time as well.

Abstaining because husband and wife aren't permitted to each other is not like depriving each other of physical intimacy when there is no justified reason to do so. The latter often signifies rejection and is deeply offensive; the former doesn't mean lack of affection or desire, just like being on a trip away from your spouse doesn't mean there is lack of desire. We consider it a sin if a husband deprives his wife, or a wife deprives her husband, when they are permitted to one another!.. There is no such thing as remaining celibate for spiritual reasons in Judaism.

A woman during "that time of the month" doesn't become an outcast. Her relationship with her husband doesn't include physical contact, but they can still talk, laugh together, support each other, and be beloved friends, while anticipating the time when they can get back together. A woman doesn't and shouldn't stay away from other women; she doesn't "spread" her condition, she doesn't carry a sign saying "impure", and in fact, no one but her husband is supposed to know which time of her cycle she is currently at. It is all between her husband, herself, and God Almighty.


Finally, for obvious reasons, I decided to leave myself and my husband out of the discussion, and only talk about general principles.

This "P.S." grew longer than I expected, so I will finish. Take this simply as a glimpse into another culture. I could spend hours shouting myself hoarse about why ritual impurity doesn't equal "dirty", "shameful" or "humiliating", but currently I have no time to do so. I can only tell you this: I'm a married Orthodox Jewish woman, and I'm blissfully happy. I feel loved, cherished, respected, and desired. I'm blessed with countless privileges and feel my rights are taken care of, by God's Law.

31 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi Anna-
This is very informative! I've read a bit more about it from various places on the internet so I've managed to glean an understanding of many of the principles behind it. I am a bit curious about some aspects of how Jewish life is managed in terms of posessions. You mentioned needing three sets of cooking utensils to keep a kosher kitchen and I'm guessing that you need two beds-or do you get beds that pull apart? I also read that in some cases, Jewish women are advised to have diffrent coloured garments for different times of the month. Are there creative ways to practice these aspects of your faith fully while still maintaining a simple level of posessions? I don't mean for this question to come across as a criticism. It is by no means intended that way-its just that I already have trouble finding places to store one set of pots and pans!
-FPK

Jaime said...

I have been finding this series very informative so far!! Thanks for sharing such delicate matters in such a... not-icky way!

A Wonderful Life! said...

Anna,

What happens when a woman finishes menopause. Is it then permitted to have sexual relations whenever you want?

Stephanie

Kathryn said...

To be honest...I thought that EVERYONE avoided relations during that time of the month! :) Shameful? No...but who feels like being intimate during that time anyway...I've always thought of it as God's little vacation for women!

Anonymous said...

For Wonderful Life:
Yes, after she count 7 "clean" days.
FTS

ruizbe82 said...

Thank you for this glimpse inside the Orthodox Jewish marriage. :) It's quite interesting to see how these rules are played out in real life.

How are you feeling? I remember you mentioned a little while back that you were feeling weak, and well, I just hope you're getting better. Have you found out what's making you feel ill?

::big hugs::

Anonymous said...

I sincerely hope that those of you who were criticizing the Jewish way of life (for Taharat haMishpacha, or ritual family purity, is at the very center of Jewish life), calling it patriarchal or shaming or antifeminist or whatever, are not Christians. Don’t Christians believe that the entire Bible is the inspired Word of God, too? If it is, that means the portions of Scripture discussing ritual purity laws were given by the LORD to His people, right? So why is it so awful to follow these laws? Certainly I’m not suggesting that Christians need to follow this practice, because it was a law specifically laid out for the Jews, but they should at least respect people who are doing as the LORD has required of them. I can't speak for those of other faith traditions, but that's pretty unacceptable behavior for Christians.

Kathryn – Yes, I would say that most couples probably abstain from intercourse during menstruation, but I doubt most of them abstain for the seven days after menstruation stops as well. Jewish women are ritually impure from the time menstruation begins until the woman has had seven “clean” days in a row, so they generally abstain for at least 12 days but oftentimes more. This is approximately half of the menstrual cycle, and it would be most unusual for a couple not observing family purity to abstain for that time span, I would think.

USAincognito said...

Anna,
I am learning so much by reading your posts about Orthodox Judaism. Really enjoying it, too! :) Thank you for taking the time to let us see how another culture lives!
USA

Anonymous said...

I wondered when I read your post this morning of you would get the kind of responses you described - I'm sorry to see, now that I have a moment to check back, that you did indeed.
There is no validity in being legalistic with regards to how other cultures and religions regulate such sensitive matters. I myself have faced condemnation for my religious practices; the bottom line is, what is between me, my husband, and The Lord, excludes everyone else - and their opinions!
Anna, I liked very much how you wrote this post without any focus on one particular couple - your ability to handle such an intimate topic in a public forum is impressive. You also have a wonderful strength and grace, to follow what you believe. Thank you for allowing us to get a glimps into another culture, and to learn about another part of the world.

Take care,
Melissa
Canada

Sarah R said...

I really didn't think anyone was criticizing Anna or her husband for their beliefs. We're just asking questions because we know very few Orthodox Jews. I for one, love reading about her life. Please continue to teach us, Anna!

Heather said...

Anna-
I am so sorry if people are being rude or making critical remarks towards you or your husband. It has been very gracious of you to share your life with the rest of us. I find it very fascinating as it is something that I never knew about. Thank you for sharing.
Heather

Anonymous said...

Hi Anna,

Thanks for sharing this information, and specifically for clarifying. I admit, when I read your previous post it made me sad for Jewish women because it sounded to me like you were being shunned by your husbands for a normal bodily function. But in today's post you clarified that it isn't that way at all, and it sounds like a husband treats his wife with just as much love and respect as usual. The paragraph that begins, "A woman during that time of the month doesn't become an outcast" was especially helpful in making me understand your point of view.

Thanks again, and I'm sorry if some of us who live in a different culture were a little negative. I'm so thankful you are willing to share your way of life so I can learn more about other people, and be reminded that the way I think isn't the only right way! That's something we all need to be reminded of from time to time. ;)

Susan

Kate said...

Dear Anna,

I have both undergraduate and graduate degrees in Religion, and up until now I have been ignorant of Orthodox Judaism family practices. Thank you so very much for sharing with us!

Your friend,

Kate.

Julie said...

I really enjoyed this. Its interesting to learn how others live out their beliefs.

Jia said...

I really hope you aren't getting any hateful emails or comments. I am not Jewish therefore I am finding this very informative and interesting. I just love traditions and though I don't particularly practice this one, I can understand it's purpose for you. Beautifully written as always.

Jia

Kirsty said...

What happens if a husband and wife accidentally touch -- bump into each other coming around a doorway, say -- during the woman's niddah period (am I using that word correctly)?
Sorry to hear about the negative responses you've been receiving lately. I'm intrigued by the concept of ritual impurity and would love to hear more about how it plays out in day-to-day life sometime. Men can become impure as well, can they not? How far is it to the local mikveh, and what is it like?
--Kirsty

Jan Hatchett said...

Dear Mrs. T.,
Thanks for your candor in discussing these issues. I am so glad that you have found that following your faith has enhanced your life. I feel that way, too about my faith.

Don't be concerned about people's comments. Often, I am afraid that people don't realize how critical they come across to others. I think it's wonderful that we don't all need to be just alike.

I hope you will feel comfortable continuing to share about your life and culture.

Jan

Mrs. Parunak said...

Thank you for being willing to explain such intimate things. I have actually been wondering about this very issue for some time. It's nice to finally know how it all works.

Andrea said...

Mrs. T (I just like writing it :) This subject is truly fascinating! Please do not be discouraged by the naysayers or critics!!! Keep up the good work. I am so glad that you are truly happy with your life!!

I caught a tv show called "Say Yes To The Dress" that is filmed in a bridal salon in Manhattan. They even had a woman there that specialized in designing dresses for Observant Jewish brides!! It was fascinating to watch the dress being tried on and some of the guidelines. Her dress was beautiful, but not a beautiful as yours :)

Please do not be discouraged by people that are small minded. I love reading your blog and as a Christian I find the Jewish cultural amazingly interesting!!

Andrea

Anonymous said...

Very interesting. I have often wondered if these rules were part of the reason Sarah, Rachel and Hannah struggled to conceive.

Mrs Amy said...

I think you handled this in a wonderfully discreet manner as well as being informative, it was something I knew very little about (well I know very little about most othrodox Jewish practises!) Thank you for sharing something that is obviously a very private matter.
Blessings
Amy

Anonymous said...

I have learned more and more about traditional Jewish culture by reading your blog, Anna, and I'd like to thank you for that! I love learning about different cultures and you're very informative. Yet again, you amaze me - tackling such a delicate issue in such a graceful manner!

Keep on teaching us, Anna! Hope you're having a great start of week. :)

W

Anonymous said...

This is the anonymous from above. My chastisement was not for the comments that were published, but for the comments that I suspect were not published because Mrs. T found them too rude or upsetting to publish them. Certainly my acrimony was not directed toward women who were simply curious, but toward those who were critical of Anna's right to make choices she believes are consistent with God's will and His Law. Sorry if anyone misunderstood or if there were hurt feelings. It was unintended.

Anonymous said...

I hope my comment on the last post (about impurity) was not seen as insulting, it really was not meant to be, and I apologise if it was. It is not a concept I am familier with and so it confused and concerned me a little. Your edited post has helped me understand a little better, and the concept of separate beds that can be together or apart as needed sounds very practical.

You certainly sound wonderfully happy in all your posts, even those in which you are tired or sick. I am very grateful for sharing such personal details of your life to help us all understand.

Talitha

Jessica Denise said...

I read an article about this practice once, and it sounds great. I can imagine the passion of coming together after that period is over. It really sounds like a lesson in self-control and that's something that most people need to learn more of, I think.

Harespring said...

There's a lot to be said for deferred gratification. Like saving up for a holiday or some other treat. How enjoyable is any pleasure if it is 'available on demand?' I sometimes think very rich people must be bored stiff!

HomeschoolingMomto3 said...

Anna,
I think you did a lovely job explaining this. You were very sensitive and modest in the way you explained things. I find things about Jewish culture very fascinating. Thank you so much for letting us in on a little part of your life. :-)

Anonymous said...

Anna,

thank you so much for sharing with us, the posts were very interesting and explained very well.

-Rachelle

Gina Marie said...

Does a Jewish woman have to plan her wedding around her cycle, so that's she able to touch her husband on their wedding day?

Gina

Mrs. Anna T said...

Gina,

Yes, indeed! Orthodox Jewish brides plan their weddings around their cycle. Of course, it can always move a little, especially in the pre-wedding excitement, and not all women have a regular cycle at all.

The wedding can still take place if the bride couldn't immerse in mikveh before it, but of course she and her husband won't touch each other at all, and they will spend their wedding night separated from each other (which isn't so for a couple whose marriage was already consummated). Some brides are so terrified of this prospect that they choose to take the Pill before the wedding and alter their cycle.

Andrea said...

Thanks for such a neat insight into Judaism! I don't understand a lot of it (obviously because I'm not religiously Jewish). Ever since finding out though, that my family were Polish Jews before the Holocaust, I've been very interested in this "lost" part of my family tree.

I personally think, as a newly practicing NFPer, that the "time away" is indeed a lovely vehicle in which to enhance a couple's monthly reunion. It allows my husband and I to focus on what we need to focus on - if I am hormonal, he is able to minister to my emotional/mental needs. When I am physically available, then we can focus on being physically/mentally/emotionally intimate - I find that if he realizes what is going on with my cycle and understands it, he has a greater understanding of how I operate and why I may react or think the way I do at certain times of the month. It certainly has enhanced and helped our marriage and understanding each other! God's will and laws ARE perfect! :)