Niddah and Illness

One of the problems we’ve encountered while keeping niddah is the issue of one or both of us being sick.

The niddah books talk about what to do when one partner is sick during niddah, and it’s pretty sexist:

When the husband is ill and there is no one else to assist him, his wife who is niddah may do what is needed to care for him. However, she should avoid [purely affectionate touching]. The rules are more stringent when she is ill than when he is, as when he is ill he is unlikely to initiate sexual contact.* When she is ill, he should be particularly careful not to touch her. 

-Deena R. Zimmerman, A Lifetime Companion To the Laws of Jewish Family Life, page 79. Based on shulchan aruch, Y’D 195:16-17. 

*The implication being, of course, that when a wife is ill but her husband is not, he will attempt to initiate sexual contact with her. Because, men, of course, are incapable of controlling their base animal urges.

This hasn’t really come up for us, mostly because we are relatively lax about touching during niddah and so of course the non-sick spouse can care for the sick spouse, even if it requires touching. Also, my husband is a big believer in the halachic theory that whenever someone is sick, you are supposed to do whatever you can to take care of them and put halacha aside. Even taking the time to make the calculation of “is she sick enough to warrant breaking halacha” is inappropriate in the situation, because your focus should be completely on the illness, not on the other halachot you might be breaking (shabbat, kashrut, fasting, etc.). Actually, we’ve talked about how this relates to pregnancy, and he’s expressed his concern that technically, a husband may not touch his wife or hold her hand while she is giving birth, and that that rule makes absolutely no sense to him. I’m glad we’re on the same page about that one, because you can bet that if there is an eight pound living being coming out of me, I will be grabbing on to my husband for dear life, and that’s just going to have to be okay.

Anyways, the point of this blog post really wasn’t supposed to be about touching while sick during niddah. It’s about being sick while not niddah. Because of the 2 week on/2 week off niddah cycle, there’s a lot of pressure to make the most of the 2 weeks on. Not just mikvah night, but the entire 2 weeks, because if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it soon enough.

But, when one or both of us are sick during the 2 weeks on, we’re not having sex. We’re just not up for it and kissing someone who is coughing is just not fun for either partner. Still, there’s that lingering thought that couldn’t we get sick just a week later, because as soon as we’re over this cold, we’re not going to be able to have sex for another two weeks.

This doesn’t mean that we effectively rape the sick spouse, as the shulchan aruch apparently thinks we might. It just means that it’s sad for us, and that the niddah gods didn’t consult with the winter cold gods to get their calendars in sync. Oh, well.