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April 5, 2019 / Comments (0)

Family Purity and the Outdoors

This week’s parsha, Tazria (Leviticus 12:1–13:59) continues the exposition of our purity laws. In this portion, there’s purity after pregnancy, and tzaarat, which is often mistranslated as “leprosy,” handing during, and purity in the wake of.

For many people, these aren’t exciting portions, and they may even be challenging to those who see these things as anachronistic. Many don’t like the stigma of uncleanliness associate with a new mother. Others may find sending someone with tzaarat outside of the city to be troubling.

In The Kosher Backpacker, I reluctantly discuss purity laws, because for observant Jewish women, this can be one of the barriers for a deep and enriching outdoor experience. Why should a woman be denied the enjoyment of a multi-day paddling trip?

As in many instances of Jewish life, mikveh immersion is one of those practices that has taken on a life of its own. We’re far from the Midrash annotating the component of Adam’s t’shuvah, by sitting in a river flowing from the Garden of Eden. At The Kosher Backpacker, we do encourage an entrepreneurial and informed DIY approach to wilderness Judaism, and we can put you in touch with a rabbi or yoetzet prior to your trip.

On the East Coast, the ocean always can be a substitute for a mikveh, as can any river that doesn’t originate from rainwater. Most authorities agree that even if a river is swollen with rainwater, it still can be used as a mikveh, though we recommend finding a part of the water that is not moving.
Here in Maine, leeches might be a dealbreaker.

At a mikveh, you will have a shomeret or balanit, usually a woman who can help you. On a wilderness trip, you might not have a Jewish woman over the age of 12 to help you. In those cases, some authorities permit a husband to help you. The Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 198:40) says “…and if she has no one to watch her, or if it is night, she should tie her hair to her head with woolen threads or with the band that is on her head.” So while the halachah for most would be that a Jewish woman should observe immersion, there is an option for when there is no one available.

In Israel, it is also now the law that women may be allowed to immerse alone upon request.

We have more about this in the book, The Kosher Backpacker. We plan on producing helpful apps for the Apple Watch and for iPhone/Android phones that will help you remember your day counts for niddah.

On a less religious note, here’s some good news: bears in North America are not attracted to the smell of menstrual blood.

Last modified: April 5, 2019

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