The Eden Center advises women who experience OCD to seek out a therapist who is trained in and specializes in treating OCD. That being said, here are some tips that can help mediate the learning and practice of taharat hamishpacha and preparation for mikveh for someone who does struggle with issues around OCD.
As a kallah teacher for over twenty years, I meet many people. I chat a bit with my kallahs to get a feel for their personalities. I explain that there are different types of people; some people have more careless personalities and they have to work to be scrupulous in halakha. And others are overly scrupulous by nature and need to be make sure they don’t get too carried away. People are quick to laugh; some tell me that they tend to be overly scrupulous. But sometimes what people consider “being very careful about halakha” is actually a manifestation of clinical OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder).
Here is a sampling of the types of struggles people have shared with me over the years which are manifestations of OCD in the realm of niddah:
- generalized anxiety and unhappiness about doing the mitzva because it causes so much anxiety.
- excessive time deciding if there is color on the bedikah ((internal check) cloth
- inability to determine if the color is a problem or not
- tremendous agony that maybe there was a color that I misjudged
- desire to check and recheck the bedikah cloth, even after throwing it out or asking a shaila (question for an halakhic authority)
- tremendous concern after I asked a shaila that maybe the rabbi was wrong or I didn’t properly convey the shaila or that I didn’t point out the speck for the Rabbi to firmly and conclusively say is ok
- dread of chafifa preparation because it’s going to take me too long and I’ll be mired in uncertainty
- excessive time preparing
- inability to feel that I’m sufficiently prepared/clean
- focus on a particular issue and worrying that is a problem (cuticles, nail polish, a scab etc.). If reassured that one is ok, then the anxiety moves to a different area
- not sure if dipped sufficiently despite the “kosher” call; feeling that maybe the hair didn’t go all the way under or the eyes were closed too tightly even though the attendant said it was okay
- finding specific things, like a speck of polish or wax in one’s ear after returning from the mikveh that might be a problem and returning to the mikveh to immerse again because of feeling that they have invalidated the tevila (immersion)
- A more generalized worry that maybe there are things that invalidated the tevila
- not sure if I felt hargasha (feeling that determines the beginning of menstruation)
- not sure if spotting is spotting or flow
- feeling like maybe I should do a bedikah – or repeatedly performing one – to see if I’m niddah
As a kallah teacher I realized that I need to help women with OCD to be able to keep niddah in a more compassionate way, without triggering OCD reactions. Therefore I pass on the guidelines I heard from a Rav who was directing a dear friend of mine who suffers with OCD. 1
Some things are very specific: Don’t look at the bedikah cloth for more than 30 seconds. By 30 seconds make a decision: Is there color or not? If yes, take no longer than another 15 seconds to decide if it’s a shaila or not.
If it’s not a shaila, put orange colored soap on it and throw it out. If you worry about it after, go back to the decision you made, and remember you made an appropriate decision.
In mikveh prep, not more than 20 minutes in the tub. Not more than an hour in total. Less is fine.
Other guidelines I give deal with the compulsive thoughts: thoughts that go round and round are not a halachic issue. This is OCD. To ease this a person can say to herself, “My kallah teacher told me this is NOT a halachic issue, this is my OCD/anxiety. Halachically I am fine.” I know this is so difficult because we are taught throughout our lives to be careful about halakha and mitzvot, and especially how serious niddah is. These kinds of messages ironically make it very confusing to people with OCD, who experience so many doubts and concerns because they care deeply about niddah and take it seriously, and have a very hard time teasing out the difference between scrupulousness and OCD. I have found that it eases (though does not remove) some of the anxiety if one shifts the focus of one’s thoughts from the technical halachic issue to noting that this is OCD anxiety.
OCD sufferers often get tense because niddah is an issur karet (prohibition with a punishment of excision). I emphasize that it is extremely rare — and even difficult — to violate a d’oriyta (from the Torah) and therefore they never will be liable to karet. I personally feel that it essential to explain the concept of מיעוט שאינו מקפיד, meaning that if something doesn’t cover the majority of the body and the person doesn’t really care about it, then it is not a chatzitza (separation).2 It turns out that most of the “chatzitzot” that OCD sufferers agonize over are nowhere near a d’oriyta violation — and it is likely that it is not even required d’rabanan that we have to remove them. I am not sure why this is not commonly taught, but we do a grave disservice to OCD sufferers by not being clear about this halakha!
A kallah with OCD needs to have an understanding halakhic person to turn to. I prefer to send a kallah to a Rav or yoetzet that I know has experience with niddah OCD. I also tell my kallahs how important it is to let the Rav know that there is OCD or anxiety when asking a shaila, so that he has the proper framework and perspective to give psak.
In short, niddah can be very challenging for a person with OCD. To help yourself (or a kallah you are teaching), I recommend 1) be clear about what the halakha is, 2) learn to identify when thoughts are OCD, 3) learn to talk to yourself and soothe yourself when being tormented by compulsive thoughts and 4) carry through with the mitzvah despite your discomfort and uncertainties, and remind yourself that you are keeping the Torah appropriately and courageously. Chazak V’Amatz!
1 It’s important to note that men also can have niddah related OCD. The husband may want to check on his wife’s bedikot. He may may feel uncomfortable unless a Rav is consulted. He may have anxiety that his wife is not careful enough about certain things.
2 D’oriyta, if the chatzitza covers the majority of the body AND the person is makpid, it must
be removed (רובו שמקפיד עליו).
D’rabanan, the chatzita must be removed in two situations:
– if it covers the majority and the person is NOT makpid (רוב ואינו מקפיד)
– if it covers a little and the person IS makpid (מיעוט ומקפיד).
Jessie Fischbein is the author of the book Infertility in the Bible. She homeschools her children and teaches Chumash at MSH in Valley Stream, NY. She has been a kallah teacher for over twenty years.