The Tradition of Sleeping in Separate Beds in Jewish Marriages
Religion is a complex thing and there are many rules to observe. In many religions, sex is only permissible within the constraints of marriage. It is no different in Orthodox Judaism and although sex between a man and his wife is considered to be perfectly normal and not just for the purposes of procreation, there are some rules that must be observed. Most notably, this includes the rule of ‘separation’.
The Law of Niddah – Separation in the Bedroom
Niddah is virtually unheard of outside the Orthodox community. The Law of Niddah relates to the separation of husband and wife at certain times of the month and is generally practiced only by those living within the Orthodox community. Laws of ritual purity are described extensively in the Torah, but because non-Orthodox Jews rarely continue their religious education after bar mitzvah, the subject matter is not often discussed outside of the Orthodox community. The Niddah law is one of many laws relating to ritual impurity, but it is the only one still observed in the modern world.
What is a Niddah?
A ‘Niddah’ is a menstruating woman and observing the Niddah law means that a husband and wife must sleep in separate beds when the woman is menstruating. This period of separation must continue until seven days after the woman has stopped menstruating.
According to the Torah, separation begins at the very first sign of blood and must not end until the evening of the seventh ‘clean day’. In practice this means that a married couple must sleep in separate beds for a minimum of twelve days every month until the wife is either pregnant or has reached menopause and is no longer menstruating. In the Torah, it is stated that a married couple must only abstain from sexual intercourse during Niddah. However, rabbis have extended this observance to include all forms of close physical contact and therefore married couples must sleep in separate beds for part of the month.
On the evening of the seventh day after she has finished menstruating, as soon as possible after nightfall, it is traditional for the wife to undertake a ritual purification in a kosher mikvah pool. The mikvah pool is intended to cleanse a person of ritual impurities rather than being a way of ensuring physical cleanliness. In fact a woman needs to have thoroughly bathed before entering the mikvah pool to ensure she is physically clean.
The Ancient Institution of Mikvah
Mikvah is an ancient tradition dating back to the times of the two Temples. Jews who were ‘impure’ in any way were required to purify themselves through immersion in the mikvah. Today only the law of Niddah remains in common use.
In many modern homes, sleeping in a double bed is standard practice for married couples, or indeed any couple who are living together as man and wife. But in observant Jewish homes, the situation is very different. Rather than having one double bed, a married couple will have two beds instead. This allows them to sleep separately and practice the concept of family purity.
The Benefits of Sleeping in Separate Beds
Surprising as it may sound, there are many benefits for couples sleeping in separate beds.
- Fertility – Abstaining from sexual intercourse for a few days prior to ovulation can increase a woman’s chances of conceiving a child. This period of abstinence helps increase the husband’s sperm count.
- Strengthening the marriage bond – Having unrestricted access to your spouse can soon lead to boredom and apathy. By contrast, being forced to sleep in separate beds for a minimum of twelve days every month, with nothing other than affectionate physical contract allowed, can help to keep the bonds of love alive by vanquishing over-familiarity in the bedroom. Couples can learn to communicate their feelings of love and tenderness in other ways, so when they are finally allowed to share the marital bed once again, it will feel like the wedding night all over again.
- Spiritual fulfilment – Observing the law of Niddah is often an elevating and ennobling experience because of its religious significance.
- Better quality of sleep – Most people sleep a lot better when they are not sharing a bed with another person, even if they happen to love that person very much. Sleeping with a heavy snorer, a restless sleeper, or an insomniac can prevent the other partner from enjoying a good night’s sleep, so maintaining two separate beds in the family home is not always such a bad thing!
Before the Wedding
The bride to be must begin observing family purity before she enters marriage with her groom. She is required to start practicing family purity four days before the wedding and special attention must be paid to her personal preparations.
The Wedding Night
It is sensible to plan a wedding so that the wife-to-be is not menstruating on her wedding night, but where this is impossible there are strict rules to be observed that take into account the law of Niddah.
If a bride to be is in a state of Niddah on her wedding night, the wedding ceremony will need to be modified so that Niddah law continues to be observed. Whereas a bride and groom would normally be placed in seclusion after the wedding ceremony, this part of the ceremony is omitted, or if it is allowed to take place, the couple must be chaperoned at all times.
In some Jewish traditions, the groom also has to undergo his own mikvah. To some, this is considered to be a good thing as it allows him to confess his wrong-doings while he is immersed in the cleansing water of the mikvah pool. If for some reason he cannot reach a mikvah pool, the next best thing is to undertake some intense study of the Torah to purify his soul.
Irrespective of whether a Jewish man and wife observe the tradition of sleeping in separate beds, they are expected to act with kindness and affection towards each other at all times.