ben niddah

Posted by eden at 12:20 AM on December 02, 2005

You know, I thought I had something specific to say about this topic, but the more I read about it the less coherent I get. All I can say is, I'm struggling with it.

For those unfamiliar with the term, a "ben niddah" is a child conceived while the mother was a niddah. I don't have access to a Bar Ilan CD right now, so I can't give you a comprehensive list of sources. I'll quote an excerpt from an article by Rabbi Weinberger (that appeared in the Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society) instead:

all the Rishonim agree that a ben-niddah is more likely than another person to diverge from the path of Torah observance and acceptable ethical behavior because of the qualities inherited from his parents.88 They, therefore, concur that it is preferable to avoid marrying an individual who is known to be the child of a niddah.
Why do I care about this? I'm not entirely sure. It's not any more upsetting than the law that a Yisrael may not marry a Mamzer.

In fact, it should be much less upsetting. The majority of gedolim in my circle have dismissed the ben niddah concern nowadays. But the reasons they have come up with for doing so seem so strained. To paraphrase some examples from the same article:

The Steipler Gaon: The concern regarding a ben niddah's character is merely statistical. If an individual shows good character, he is obviously an exception and the warning can be ignored.

Another opinion cited by the Steipler Gaon: The blemish of ben niddah is hereditary for an infinite number of generations, not just one, and in fact all of us are likely to have it (or some other blemish) somewhere back in our lineage. So we're all on equal ground and have no reason not to marry each other.

Rav Moshe Feinstein: In many cases we can't be certain the mother was truly a niddah mide'oraita, because maybe she went swimming after her period in a body of water that qualifies as a mikvah, and thereby became tehorah. (Rav Moshe does not discuss the fact that she would most likely have been wearing a tight-fitting bathing suit at the time.)

In the case of a firm halachic concern, these kinds of apologetics would impress me; it would show how far rabbis will stretch credibility in order to find a way to be lenient. But the thing is, this ISN'T a question of halacha. It's a question of "pagum" (taint):

What is the definition of pagum? The Beit Shmuel quotes the Oarchei [sic] Moshe:

He is tainted and his family is not meyuchas  [genealogically pure] and it is proper to keep a distance from them [in terms of marriage]. Nevertheless, he is not pagum in terms of any actual issur and [if it is a girl] she can marry a kohen.

So, how do you feel about the concept of taint? Personally I have a violent reaction to it: I find it reeks of mysticism, superstition, irrationality, unfairness. I believe very strongly in judging potential spouses on their own merits.

I do think his or her family background is important insofar as it may affect your own marriage, and there's certainly statistical evidence for some of these effects: for instance, that abused children can be more likely to become abusive parents, or that being the child of a bitter divorce can set a negative example for conflict resolution in a future marriage. Maybe the concept of ben niddah is just the ancient equivalent of that kind of research? It seems to me more like saying that someone is fated to display certain traits, but then again, fate used to be considered more of a science, too.

But I still can't help noticing how much this reminds me of everything we go to such lengths to deny about niddah status: That it is not derived from a superstitious fear of women's blood. That it is not a state which reflects negatively on anyone, but a natural, normal, and expected part of the life cycle.

And I guess maybe I'm a little extra touchy about ben niddah now that I've learned some rabbis cite it as an additional reason (besides the primary issue of obtaining sperm via masturbation) to forbid artificial insemination or in vitro fertilization while a woman is a niddah. Gee, that rules out a whole line of treatment for early ovulation, right there.

None of the rabbis I follow, obviously. And again, this shouldn't bother me any more than the fact that some communities consider yichus of paramount importance. In fact there's probably some overlap: bias against marrying a ba'al teshuva, for example, might be based partly on the fact that he is most likely a ben niddah.

But it does bother me. Maybe because this is a belief that affects not just how those people view me and my husband, which I could care less about, but how they will view my future children. That's personal. That's very personal.

Comments

On December 2, 2005 at 06:52 AM, Someone said:

What about that concept that if a woman goes to the mikvah even once in her lifetime it affects the entirity of her life and same that if a woman goes to the mikvah even once when she gets married? I know this is a concept that Chabad promotes (and I've also read about it in Rivka Slonim's book). I don't know the halachic background for this decision, but maybe there are some chabadniks out there who know the source?
For a lot of BTs this argument is a life savor.

On December 3, 2005 at 08:27 PM, Desde said:

The first time I saw this concept, it was in an article about shidduchim, and a apparently well-respected shadchan said she tries to only match frum (observant) from birth singles with other frum from birth singles, because ba'alei teshuva, in her words, "aren't Kosher children." Needless to say, as a BT myself, I was both flabbergasted and very very angry. Luckily for me, my husband, an FFB himself, had no such hang-ups.

Other than that, I hadn't thought much about it. Given the rationale quoted above, though, eden, I would have to say that no child is going to inherit bad character traits from parents who observe T"H in all its intricacies, even to the point of halachic infertility, and therefore have to resort to procedures like IUI and IVF that may result in conception occuring while technically still a niddah. But I wouldn't make a point of mentioning that fact to anyone either, and I certainly would never let on that there was a possibility of giving my children the title of "ben niddah" if they were conceived in that manner.

I read the reference in Total Immersion to mean that the spiritual effects of mikvah can be retro-active. I don't remember a reference in the other direction, (going forward, if you continue to menstruate but no longer visit the mikvah) but it's been a while since I read it.

On December 4, 2005 at 01:22 AM, eden said:

"...I would have to say that no child is going to inherit bad character traits from parents who observe T"H in all its intricacies, even to the point of halachic infertility, and therefore have to resort to procedures like IUI and IVF that may result in conception occuring while technically still a niddah."

Thank you, Desde, that was a kind thing to say.

As for not mentioning it... yes, clearly it's not something I'd wave around for no reason. On the other hand, I hate that I have to act as if I'm ashamed of something my rabbi paskened was perfectly okay for me to do! And leaving my own needs out of it -- I really value the opportunity to educate other women who might not know about this option for treating halachic infertility. Of course they'll have to ask their own shaylah, but they might not even know to ask, otherwise.

Sigh. I guess for now I'll stick to doing that via the anonymity of the web...

And yes, I'm very angry about the bias against marrying ba'alei teshuva too - I was going to stress that more in my original piece, but decided I didn't have much hard data to back it up. But wow, your story of the shadchan confirms my worst suspicions. What are we encouraging ba'alei teshuva for, if they're not going to be "good enough" for us to marry? Are we creating some kind of Jewish caste system?

Ugh.

On December 4, 2005 at 01:31 AM, eden said:

I forgot to say: Someone, I'm not sure I fully understand the rationale you mentioned, but I feel the same way about it as I do about the ones I quoted above. It's wonderful that they came up with it, because it comforts a lot of people. But it also tacitly accepts that there would be something wrong with a ben niddah otherwise.

Maybe I'm expecting too much from rabbis to dismiss a statement in the Gemara, but I do wish - since it's not a question of issur v'heter, but more like "sage advice" - someone could have the guts to just say "we don't think like this anymore."

On December 4, 2005 at 01:13 PM, Avigayil said:

I think the rationalizations are the best that you're going to get, and I'm sure that they were made (in large part)for the benefit of baalei teshuva. OTOH, to dismiss them by saying "we don't think like this anymore" could be interpreted by some as "sex with a nidda is not such a big deal anymore." Great rabbis of the previous generation such as the Steipler and RM Feinstein were extraordinarily careful with what they said because they were aware of the impact of their words. I think we would be in a much better place if rabbis still were today.

From a personal perspective, I am FFB, but I highly doubt my grandmother ever went to the mikvah. (Her mother certainly did not.) I think when I was younger this reality dawned on me and I was slightly embarrassed (but in the normal way that you are embarrassed of your family when you are younger.) Now the whole thing strikes me as inconsequential and doesn't bother me at all. The ones who are concerned about this are mystical and superstitious across the board and they would be even if Rav Moshe had said "we don't think like this anymore." Besides, I doubt I would be marriageable to Satmar chasidim even if my grandmother had gone to the mikvah.

On December 5, 2005 at 01:18 AM, eden said:

"The ones who are concerned about this are mystical and superstitious across the board and they would be even if Rav Moshe had said 'we don't think like this anymore.' "

You're probably right... and I also think you're right that rationalizations are the best I'm going to get. There are probably many reasons that Gedolim were reluctant to outright dismiss the words of a Gemara. But I can't quite believe it's for this reason:

"OTOH, to dismiss them by saying 'we don't think like this anymore" could be interpreted by some as "sex with a nidda is not such a big deal anymore.' "

For one thing, sex with a nidda would remain an issur karet; I can't imagine anyone would think that's not a big deal, ever.

But also, I just can't think of another parallel to this phenomenon, where the gravity of a particular sin is bolstered by a warning that you should not marry the child of that sinner. For instance, we don't say that when the father doesn't have a bris milah (which is a chiyuv karet too).

...or do we? I don't even know, maybe that's yet another reason some people don't want to marry ba'alei teshuva. Oy, I give up.

On December 5, 2005 at 05:02 AM, syba said:

I can't find the exact quite right now, but I read recently about this issue, and the conclusion was that if the child was a ba'al teshuva it was fine to disregard any concerns over the ben-niddah status as the teshuva would have erased any ill effects. I also just reread the halachos of shidduchim in a fairly comprehensive book of halachah-l'maaseh (practical law) and found no mention of this topic, and a lot of discussion of issues such as character traits, etc.

From all the poskim you have quoted, it seems to me that this is more an issue directed at the parents, a form of warning as to the possible ill effects on the next generation of conceiving while niddah. It is similar to other issues we are warned about, such as the effects of our attitude and thoughts at the time of conception. These too are said to affect the child. But of course, no one other than the parents themselves can know what their thoughts were, and similarly no one knows for sure if the mother was or was not a niddah. So, while in no way discounting the possible ill effects of either inappropriate thoughts or niddah status on the child, there is really no point trying to use this as a basis for shidduchim, which may have been the point the Steipler zt"l was trying to make in urging an examination of character traits rather than parentsl niddah-status...

On December 15, 2005 at 03:20 PM, Dulcie said:

I wish I could come up with something positive to say about the line of thinking Eden describes here. My first reaction is something more like "gee whiz, rabbonim, way to make me run screaming away from all manifestations of t"h!"

But it occurs to me that there are plenty of statements in the Gemara which all rabbinic Jews effectively pasken against today, and plenty of statements which we interpret in a non-literal or even anti-literal fashion. Since I prefer not to cast aspersions on the Amoraim, I will settle for asserting rather weakly (as various people already have) that No Doubt They Meant Well -- and that by "ben niddah" they may have been trying to express ideas about how parents' values are often passed on to their children.

But, yeesh. On the plus side, anyone who would worry about my niddah status at my children's conception is quite definitely someone who I don't want as an in-law.

On December 15, 2005 at 08:10 PM, ruby said:

I think ben niddah is a spiritual reality: the way a person's life begins is significant. But teshuva is also a spirtitual reality. My own life began with an forbidden relationship, though not the one we're discussing here. I think my choices as an adult are more significant than the conditions of my conception. But those circumstances have a reality of their own.

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