One of the most frequently misunderstood aspects of Jewish law is also one of its most private. These are the laws euphemistically known as Taharat Hamishpacha, the laws of family purity, and they determine when a husband and wife may or may not “be together.”

The laws of family purity center around the woman’s menstrual cycle. When a woman has her period, she enters a state that is most commonly translated as tamei “impure.” It is, however, a poor translation because it appears negative. The impurity of a menstruating woman is connected to her proximity to death, or, in this case, to the fact that the bleeding represents life not created. (For more on pure and impure, please click here).

There are many laws regarding a woman who has the status of being t’may’ah (a female who is tamei), and not having relations during this time is one of them. While many of the issues of purity/impurity today are moot points without a Temple in which to be purified, the prohibition of having relations during menstruation is a separate commandment in and of themselves and so remain in force.

For a married couple, this usually means that the husband and wife refrain from intimacy for at least 12 days of each month, from the start of her cycle until she is assuredly no longer bleeding (depending on situations such as pregnancy, nursing, irregular cycles, etc.). There are numerous practices used to help couples maintain these laws, such as sleeping in separate beds during these days and avoiding affectionate touch that might lead to forbidden relations.

NOTE: As with all Treats dealing with halacha (points of Jewish law), one should consult one’s local rabbi for practical application.

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