March 15, 2018 Hasidic marital purity laws
A reader asks: Why do Hasidic couples sleep in separate beds?
Because of the laws of niddah, which prohibit the couple from being together from the moment the wife has uterine bleeding until she completes a ritual bath immersion.
Before Hasidic couples wed, they are taught about the following Orthodox family purity laws. The laws are to be observed throughout the entire marriage, and they revolve around the woman’s menstrual cycle/periods of bleeding.
During the time of bleeding, the woman is considered impure, and the husband and wife must take care not to have any intimate contact. After her period has finished, the woman is made pure again through a bath immersion process in a special pool called a mikvah. Then the couple can be intimate again. You might think that this would be a monthly process for every Hasidic couple, but it is less frequent because pregnancy and breastfeeding disrupt the menstrual cycle and allow the woman to be clean for longer stretches.
As a result of these laws of niddah, Hasidic couples have two separate beds. The couple gets a wedding gift from their parents of an expensive bedroom set with two beds and a night chest in the middle. Here are some pretty jaw-dropping furniture sets from.
If seven white days pass and all is well, the woman will go to the community mikvah/ritual bath. The mikvah house is usually an elegant but unmarked bathhouse (so the kids don’t know about it, as it’s related to the naughty birds and bees). Inside, the place is comprised of lines of tiles hallways with private bathrooms for each woman to clean up, thoroughly, in preparation for entering the mikvah.
The private rooms for preparation will usually be nicely furnished with soaps, shampoos, a robe, slippers, and towels. I once drew a naked beheadgeared lady in the mirror of this bathroom, hence the unnerving second picture of the bathroom prep room.
In the Hasidic mikvah I went to, they hung a sign reminding us of all the places to clean before we are ready for immersion. I took one home (ehrm, I just did!) and photographed it. On the list of things to remember is to wash the neck, face, clean the nose, and take out dentures and contact lenses.
When all the cleaning preparation is done, say in about an hour or so, the woman presses a button to summon the attendant. You can press four buttons: emergency, ready for inspection, ready to go down, and all done. The first time the woman is ready she presses “ready for inspection,” and the attendant comes to make sure her hair (or shaven head) and nails are prepared correctly. The attendant will also often wash the bathing woman’s back, before leaving her to take a final quick shower.
The attendant then returns and escorts the patron to the mikvah.
At the end of each hallway there will be the mikvah itself, which is pretty much a pool of well water. This is where the important immersion takes place. The woman must be naked, free of anything stuck to her body, and she must go under the water at least three times. The female staffer, usually an elderly no-nonsense lady, watches over her to make sure the bathing patron is indeed completely immersed. Each time the immersion is done successfully, the mikvah lady announces “kosher!” The bathing woman also recites a special blessing.
This is how the pool looks:
After the woman finishes with the ritual immersion—about a two-hour affair—she goes home, and her husband is permitted to join her in her bed. They can now be “together.”
Bonus: some of my old cartoons:
The Get (religious divorce)