Abstaining in Anticipation of Menstruation
Since having sexual relations while the woman is Niddah is a very serious
infraction of Torah law, safeguards are taken to prevent this from
occurring, even inadvertently. In the daytime or nighttime period when a
woman expects to menstruate, the couple abstains completely sexual
intercourse. The nature of the separation and the way to determine when
menstruation is expected will be discussed in this chapter.
1. At the time menstruation is expected the couple must abstain from
having sexual intercourse. Other expressions of physical affection and
even sexuality are permitted during the day or night when menstruation is
expected. (Needless to say, once menstruation has commenced all physical
contact is prohibited.)
2. If the woman is expecting her period at night she should not fall
asleep with her husband in the same bed as she might menstruate while she
is asleep unawares and inadvertently remain in the same bed with her
husband–which is now forbidden as she is niddah.
3. This period of abstention is on the full nighttime or full daylight
period when menstruation is expected. 5. Even if the exact time of the
expected menstruation falls in the middle of the daytime or nighttime
period the couple must abstain from sexual intercourse from the beginning
of the period.
4. A woman who has a regular menstrual cycle i.e. who menstruates on a
predictable day, need only abstain from sexual intercourse for one
daytime or nighttime period a month. A woman who does not have a
predictable menstrual cycle might have to abstain for two or three
daytime or nighttime periods. The details of how menstruation becomes
predictable and which days to abstain will be discussed in detail in the
5. This period of anticipatory abstinence is figured from the time of the
onset of the previous menstruation even though the woman continued to
bleed for several days. For example: If a woman usually menstruates in
the afternoon, thirty five days after her previous menstruation, she is
to expect her next menstruation (and abstain from sexual intercourse)
from the morning, 35 days after the onset of her previous menstruation.
This is true even though the bleeding from her previous menstruation
lasted several days. She is only to abstain in anticipation of the onset
of menstruation for one full daylight (or nighttime) period. If she did
not menstruate then sexual intercourse is permitted in the evening.
6. If a woman began menstruating around sunrise and does not know if she
started before or after sunrise, the couple should abstain only in the
daytime of the next expected menstruation, as she was definitely bleeding
in the day of the previous period. Similarly, if she began menstruating
around sunset and it is not known if it started before or after sunset,
the couple should abstain only in the evening of her next expected
7. However, if the woman menstruates for a very short time–bleeding from
just before sunrise and continuing partly into the day, then ceasing on
the same day–the couple must abstain from the night of the next expected
menstruation until the time in the day when she usually stops
menstruating. After that time full sexual relations may resume provided
that she has checked herself and she has not menstruated.
8. Since the practice of abstinence in anticipation of menstruation is
rabbinic, and not biblically mandated, if there are uncertainties the
tendency is to be lenient, although in uncertain cases the rabbi should
9. If a woman did not remember the number of days between the onset of
her last several menstruations but she does remember the (hebrew) date of
the onset of her last menstruation, the couple must abstain from sexual
intercourse on the day (or night) of the thirtieth day from the onset of
her last menstruation. Our rabbis have considered 30 days to be the
average time between menstruations.
10. A woman who has no fixed period must separate on:
I the thirtieth day from the onset of her last menstruation,
II at the time of the interval between the last two periods,
III and on the day of the Hebrew month that her last period occurred.
(Occasionally two or more of these times might coincide.)
The interval of the last two periods is figured as follows: for instance,
if she saw today during the day and thirty two days ago even if it was at
night, she next separates in another thirty two days during the day.
This is further discussed in the chapter on fixing periods.
11. A woman who is more than three months pregnant is considered not to
have a period and no separation is required at the time she would have
expected her period. 5. However, for the first three months the couple
should keep the abstention in anticipation of menstruation even though
she knows she is pregnant.
12. A woman who is nursing within 24 months of the birth does not have to
have this anticipatory abstention from sexual intercourse. Even if she
had a fixed period before giving birth. Even if she stopped nursing she
is still assumed to be free from bleeding for twenty four months. However
in our times, where “the nature has changed” and women generally
menstruate immediately upon cessation of nursing, the couple should
adhere to the laws of anticipatory abstention.
13. An elderly couple, where the woman has ceased menstruating
regularly, does not need to abstain in anticipation of menstruation.
Even if the woman does menstruate occasionally it is considered a
happenstance and does not require the couple to abstain, unless she saw
three consecutive months 7.
14. If the husband is going away on an extended trip (for business or
pleasure) the halacha suggests that the couple should spend some
physically intimate time together before they are separated. This applies
even if it is the evening when the woman is expecting to menstruate 8.
The rabbinic decree of separating in anticipation of menstruation was
never meant to apply to such a situation. (This does not apply if it is
the woman who is travelling.) If the couple is travelling together they
must keep the anticipatory abstinence laws even if they will be in a
place where they cannot be physically intimate.
15. Upon returning from a trip, it is a misvah for the couple to share
physically intimate time. However, if he returned on the evening when she
was anticipating menstruation, they may express their closeness with
words and embraces and other physically intimate behavior, nevertheless
the couple should abstain from sexual intercourse. If she was expecting
her period while he was away he should ask her if she is niddah before
resuming physical relations with her, as it is possible that she did not
immerse because he was away.
16. A bride who expects her period her wedding night, may still have
relations with her husband, as long as she did not start menstruating.
The rabbinic decree was not intended to apply to this situation.
17. A woman (with a regular period) who was supposed to immerse on the
night when she expects her period (for example, if she had seen a stain
seven days prior), should immerse in the proper time, but refrain from
sexual intercourse. Other forms of physical intimacy are permitted,
provided they will not cause the husband to “spill his seed.” If the
woman does not normally have a regular period, full physical relations
are permitted, even if it is one of the three times where the woman
normally would have abstained.
18. A woman travelling eastward to a different time zone on the day when
she expects her period should preferably wait until nightfall in the
place where she travelled from before resuming full sexual relations. For
example, if she travelled from New York to Israel (a seven hour time
difference) and the period of separation is during the day, the couple
should abstain from sexual intercourse during the day and an additional
seven hours into the night.
19. If at the end of this period of abstinence in anticipation of
menstruation the woman has not started bleeding, she must do an internal
examination to be absolutely sure that she has not started menstruating.
This should be a thorough examination (in all the folds and crevices)
done with a white checking cloth. If the cloth is free of any reddish
tint she is pure and may resume having full sexual relations with her
20. This checking should be done towards the end of the separation
period. It is preferable to also check at the beginning of the period of
abstinence as well.
21. A woman who has a fixed period may not resume full sexual relations
with her husband until she has checked herself. This applies even if many
days have passed since the period of abstinence in anticipation of
22. It is preferable that a woman not bathe or go swimming at the time
she expects her period. This is because she might menstruate while she is
bathing without her realizing. If she did bathe she should check herself
23. At the end of this period of abstinence from sexual intercourse the
husband may not resume full sexual relations with his wife until he asks
her if she has examined herself. However, if she is proficient in these
laws and comes to lie with him after the time of expected menstruation he
can assume that she examined herself and was not niddah. This applies to
a woman who has a fixed period or is the thirtieth day for one without a