NIDDAH


NIDDAH (Heb. נִדָּה; "menstruous woman"), seventh tractate of the order Tohorot in the Mishnah and in the Babylonian Talmud – the only tractate of the order with Gemara. The tractate deals with the ritual uncleanness of a woman which is caused by menstruation or other fluxes, and is based chiefly upon Leviticus chapters 12 and 15:19ff.

The Mishnah consists of ten chapters. Chapter 1 discusses the determining of the onset and duration of menstruation in those with regular and irregular menses. Chapter 2 continues that topic and deals with the source and colors of the blood causing uncleanness. Chapter 3 discusses the uncleanness of a woman following miscarriage, abortion, and childbirth. Chapter 4 deals with the untrustworthiness of Samaritans and Sadducees with regard to menstruation; menstruation in the case of heathens and after childbirth; difficult confinements; and menstrual regularity. Chapter 5 deals with caesarean births; the moment that uncleanness commences; and the different ages and stages in the development of a male and female child. Chapter 6 continues this theme; deals incidentally with a list of cases in which the presence of one factor presupposes another although the reverse is not true; and deals with doubts about the source of bloodstains. Chapter 7 discusses the uncleanness of the blood itself; cases where its origin is uncertain; sources of uncleanness that have dried out; and, once again, with the untrustworthiness of Samaritans in regard to uncleanness. Chapters 8 and 9 continue the subject of doubtful stains or flows of blood. Chapter 10 continues this theme and deals with the duration of menstruation and borderline cases.

It is possible to discern several strata in the Mishnah. Thus 2:6 may predate the schools of Shammai and Hillel, and Akavya b. Mahalalel. Moreover, several earlier mishnayot are interpreted in later mishnayot: Thus Mishnah 1:1 is explained in 1:2, 1:3 in 1:4–6, and 2:2 in 2:3. Mishnayot 5:3–6 form a distinct group, which gives the various ages, from one day to 20 years, at which laws become applicable for males and females. These laws are irrelevant to the subjects of Niddah and were incorporated because the first Mishnah states that a female child has the potential of becoming a niddah from the age of one day. Similarly mishnayot 6:2–10 consist of various laws which have as their common theme that wherever A occurs B will be found, but not the reverse. These follow 6:1, where the formula occurs with regard to the niddah. A. Weiss claims that most of these grouped mishnayot are of ancient origin, and that the editor collected and condensed most of them from older mishnaic sources (Al ha-Mishnah (1969), 31). The end of Niddah contains supplements to various mishnayot in the tractate; for example, mishnayot 9:8–10 are supplements to 1:2; mishnayot 9:1 and 10:1 supplement 1:7; and mishnayot 10:2–3 supplement 4:7 (see further Ḥ. Albeck, Shishah Sidrei Mishnah, Seder Tohorot (1959), 377f.).

In the Tosefta, Niddah, containing nine chapters, is the fifth tractate in the order Tohorot. It includes original legal and aggadic passages, such as a section on birth control which is debated in 2:6. Another passage sounds like a version of the Jonah story and tells about a ship that was caught in a storm; the passengers prayed to their own gods, but a little boy reproached them: "How long will you delude yourselves? Pray to the Creator of the ocean," i.e., to the God of Israel (5:17). Another group of beraitot tells of several reforms of existing customs, some of which were instituted for the dignity of the poor and women (9:16–18), such as the decision to give the same simple burial to both rich and poor alike. Only three chapters (and a fragment of a fourth) of the Jerusalem Talmud to Niddah are extant. It is placed after Nezikin and contains very little aggadic material. In the Babylonian Talmud there is Gemara on the whole tractate. Because of its practical importance the tractate is much studied and much space is devoted to it both in the various codes and in the responsa literature. It contains aggadic material, one noteworthy view being (16b) that while a man's physical qualities are preordained, his moral character and spiritual outlook are left to his free choice. There is also a vivid description of the wonderful life of learning and joy that the embryo enjoys in his mother's womb. Before birth he is made to take the oath: "Be righteous and not wicked, and if all the world tells you 'you are righteous' consider yourself wicked" (30b). Another passage reports 12 questions and answers on law and aggadah that the Alexandrians asked Joshua b. Hananiah (69b–71a). The Mishnah was translated into English by H. Danby (The Mishnah, 1933), and J. Neusner published a translation of both the Mishnah (1991) and the Tosefta (2002). The Babylonian Talmud was translated into English in the Soncino edition by I.W. Slotki (1948), and the Jerusalem Talmud by J. Neusner (The Talmud of the Land of Israel; vol. 34 – Horayot & Niddah, 1982).

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

Ḥ. Albeck, Shishah Sidrei Mishnah, Seder Tohorot (1959), 375–8; A. Weiss, Al ha-Mishnah (1969), 31, 57. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: Epstein, The Gaonic Commentary on the Order Toharot (Hebrew) (1982); S. Lieberman, Tosefet Rishonim, vol. 3 (1939); J. Neusner, A History of the Mishnaic Laws of Purities (1974–77), vol. 15–16; idem, From Mishnah to Scripture (1984), 81–88; idem, The Mishnah Before 70 (1987), 197–214; idem, The Philosophical Mishnah 3 (1989), 35–46; idem, Purity in Rabbinic Judaism (1994), 67–68; T. Meacham, A Critical Edition of Mishnah Niddah with Introduction, Notes on Text, Interpretation and Redaction, and Studies in Legal History and Realia (Hebrew) (Ph.D. Dissertation, Hebrew University, 1989); idem, in: Introducing Tosefta (1999), 181–220.


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