ג׳ בסיון ה׳תשע״ב (May 24, 2012)

Nidda 3a-b: The Background to Shammai’s Ruling

On yesterday’s daf we learned that according to Shammai a woman is rendered ritually unclean as a only at the time that she discovers that she is menstruating. The Gemara on today’s daf offers several possible explanations for Shammai’s lenient ruling:

  1. Since it is not clear that the woman became ritually unclean prior to the moment that she realizes that she is menstruating, we assume that her last established status (her hazakah) remains in effect until the moment that we know her status has changed. Hillel would argue that since we are certain that her status has changed, the hazakah is no longer relevant.
  2. When a woman begins to menstruate she feels a sensation in her body. Since this woman did not feel any sensation prior to this moment, it is only at this time that her status changes. Hillel would argue that she may have felt a sensation and mistakenly attributed it to an urge to urinate (which would not change her status).
  3. If she had truly begun to menstruate, she would have seen blood immediately. Hillel would argue that the vaginal walls may restrain the blood flow.
  4. Rava suggests that Shammai’s reasoning is that a restrictive ruling would discourage normal sexual relations in marriage. If we rule that a woman must always suspect that she is menstruating even before she sees any blood, couples would be reluctant to risk the possibility of engaging in sexual relations, lest the woman is a nidda. Hillel would argue that this restriction is clearly limited to rules of ritual defilement and not to the prohibition against sexual relations with a nidda.

In a discussion of Rava’s suggestion, the Maharik writes that the dispute between Hillel and Shammai only exists when there is just a possibility of limiting marital relations. All agree that would not establish rabbinic decrees to lessen marital relations under ordinary circumstances, and that later authorities may not institute stringencies that would lead to such restrictions inasmuch as Judaism views martial relations as a central and positive element of a healthy marriage.

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