A Woman's View Print
The Laws of Family Purity; A Jewish Thermostat by Miriam Biber
The Laws of Family Purity; A Jewish Thermostat by Miriam Biber

Volume 1 , Issue 1

The Midrash tells us that the Jews accepted the Torah at Mt. Sinai in the fashion of ?Na'aseh V'nshma, ? ?We will do and we will hear. ? Meaning. first we will keep the mitzvos and then we will hear the reasons behind them. Yet human nature being what it is, when people with their own intellect are un?able to understand the purpose of a mitzva, they are less likely to keep it with the same whole heartedness. Perhaps that iswhy mitzvos commonly seen as being archaic or irrelevant (God forbid) by the secular world, are more easily accepted when science or some other academic field provides validation that the practices are in fact--healthy or psychologically sound. Although a Torah adhering Jew does not predicate his observance on the intellectual understanding of a mitzva, medical or psychological ?proofs? of the benefit of a commandment often help to enhance and strengthen one's observance.

The Reasons Behind Family Purity

A case in point are the Laws of Family Purity. These are halachas (Jewish Laws) which govern the amount and type of physical contact a couple can have with each other. Commonly misconstrued as being repressive and unnatural, there is in fact theory and research in the field of marital satisfaction which validates these laws as being a method of maintaining a stable marital relationship. Let's take a closer look.

?Family Systems?

One of the current approaches. called ?Family Systems? theory, views the marital dyad as consisting of two separate individuals who are nonetheless an interconnected system. There is an optimal emotional distance, that is strived for, to ensure that the system functions at its best. An analogy of the marital relationship which helps to illustrate this concept is a tightrope. There is an ideal distance separating the two poles at which the rope can sustain the greatest amount of weight. If the poles are too far apart, the tension is too great and the rope snaps. If the poles are too close the rope sags, preventing it from holding any weight. So too with a married couple. When the partners become too distant the relationship dissipates. If the partners lose too much interest in each other and devote their energies primarily to other people and activities, then the relationship will not last. On the other hand, if the couple becomes too close and are overly involved with each other at the expense of other parts of their lives, then the relationship becomes stifling.

The Thermostat of Relationships

The degree of closeness maintained between partners naturally varies at different points in the relationship. Most people believe that keeping the closest relationship possible at all times, is ideal; both the Torah and human experience teach us otherwise. People do not have the emotional resources to tolerate an intensive relationship all of the time. Instead, research in the field suggest that a couple operates as if there is a thermostat gauging the emotional distance between the two individuals. When things get too ?hot? (emotionally close) the thermostat shuts off. Each partner, often unknowingly places barriers in the relationship to allow him or herself to gain distance from the other person. Constructive or healthy distancing techniques include becoming more involved in outside interests or activities. However, since this process usually occurs without our awareness, a more destructive distancing technique, that of fighting is often invoked. One outcome of an argument is that both partners back away from each other, allowing each to have more personal space and privacy.

Torah Sets the Thermostat

The Torah, recognizing the essential nature of human beings provides a framework for couples to naturally come close and move apart again. The Torah tells us that a couple may not have any physical contact around the time a woman is menstruating. (Please bear in mind that the purpose of this article is to discuss the psychological aspects of the Laws of Family Purity. A rabbi should be consulted for a complete explanation of these complex laws). During this part of the month when the couple cannot express their affection in a physical way, there is obviously a greater emotional distance between the partners. It is a time when each has more opportunity to channel their energies into other outlets.

Newness and Vitality

After completion of this phase, the woman then immerses herself in a mikvah (ritual bath) and the couple can once again express their love in a physical way. Naturally the couple is now at their closest point. After spending that time apart, the couple is reunited, creating a bonding which is stronger and more intense then had they never been separated. Hence a newness and vitality has been injected into the marriage. Yet this level of intensity can not be maintained. Without the separation imposed by the Laws of Family Purity, the tension and anxiety created by maintaining such a close relationship might develop into friction and fighting between the couple. In contrast, the knowledge that the couple only has a circumscribed amount of time together until they will be forced to separate circumvents arguments and helps to maintain a close and loving relationship during that time.

The Road to Peace in the Home

So rather than being an archaic and old fashioned system, it is being suggested that the Laws of Family Purity are in fact, a psychologically sound method of maintaining equilibrium in the marital relationship. It is not an easy task to have long lasting Shalom Bayis (peace in the home). Nonetheless, keeping the mitzva of Family Purity is the first step towards ensuring a harmonious and eternal marriage.



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