Kenneth Cohen

Family Purity

The two Parshiot of Acharei Mot-Kedoshim, are connected in their enumerating the various individuals that we are forbidden to marry or engage with intimate relations. Acharei Mot gives the warnings and Kedoshim gives the punishments. These punishments either involve the death penalty or “Karet,” being cut off from the Jewish people.

Most of the list involves relatives by birth or by marriage. The exceptions would be bestiality and homosexuality, as well as having relations with a woman during menstruation. This woman is known as “Niddah,” and includes one’s wife.

This is the source for the laws known as טהרת המשפחה, or Family Purity. The observance of these laws in addition to Shabbat and Kashrut, are the three pillars of religious observance.

The explanation given by the Rabbis for Family Purity laws, is to bring holiness into a Jewish home. The forced separation between husband and wife during menstruation, helps emphasize that their love is expressed in many ways.

There are times when it is expressed physically, but when this is not available, it is expressed by shared goals and the close friendship between husband and wife.

The additional days of separation instituted by the Rabbis, were meant to increase תשוקה, or passion. The Torah requires a seven day separation but the Rabbis added that there is a minimum of a 12-day separation.

Rabbi Norman Lamm, in his book, “Hedge of Roses,” described how the anticipation of a couple reuniting after the woman’s visit to the Mikva, created a monthly “honeymoon,” between the couple.

These laws have been copied by other cultures, as it was understood how much they added to a marriage. It also allowed the couple to better appreciate one another.

But the main reason is to create “Kedusha,” holiness in the home.A home based on Torah and Chessed, and the observance of טהרת המשפחה, will allow that home to become a מקדש מעט, a small sanctuary. It is the anchor that has kept Judaism alive during our long and bitter exile.

There is a time and place for everything. If it is the wrong time and wrong person, it is טומאה, impurity and sinful. But when it is with the right person and the right time, it is a Mitzva and the road towards achieving purity.

About the Author
Rabbi Cohen has been a Torah instructor at Machon Meir, Jerusalem, for over twenty years while also teaching a Talmud class in the Shtieblach of Old Katamon. Before coming to Israel, he was the founding rabbi of Young Israel of Century City, Los Angeles. He recently published a series of Hebrew language-learning apps, which are available at