Michal was returning from a work conference in Carmiel when a vehicle crossed into her lane and smashed head on into the car. Luckily, she was wearing a seat belt, the airbags had deployed and help arrived quickly. After almost a week in the hospital, she was prescribed pain medicine and discharged home to her husband’s care with 4 broken ribs, a spleen laceration and multiple pelvic fractures. Two days later, she got her period and called in a panic realizing that her husband could no longer touch her. “How will I care for myself over the next twelve days? Will my four-year-old son be able to help me dress? Who will hold my hand when the pain medicine wears off?”
When a woman is sick, she may require her husband’s touch for assistance with activities of daily living such as getting dressed, getting up from a chair or walking with assistance. But she may also need his physical touch to relieve pain or anxiety. We are slowly beginning to discover the power of human touch to heal the mind and body.
Touch has been shown to cause faster growth in premature babies, reduce pain, decrease autoimmune disease symptoms, lower glucose levels in children with diabetes, improve the immune system in people with cancer and increase wound and fracture healing, and reduce stress. Wounds take a day longer to heal when the patient has quarreled with her partner, and in less-happily married couples, wound healing takes two days longer.
The mechanism by which touch improves health is not known. Current clinical trials are assessing the impact of touch on halting cancer progression. Although these studies may take many years to mature, several prestigious hospitals in the United States have begun to offer treatment with healing touch therapy. Yet, not all touch is equal. The greatest reduction in pain occurs with a partner’s touch when compared to the touch of a stranger. While a stranger’s touch provides momentary comfort, a spouse’s touch can communicate love, compassion and intimacy nurtured by years of caring and closeness and thus more profoundly impacts health and well-being.
Perhaps one of the greatest challenges in niddah is the prohibition of touching or even passing objects from hand to hand to prevent touch. Observing these prohibitions is even more difficult when a spouse is ill. Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 195:16 very clearly states, “If a woman is sick, and she is a niddah, her husband is forbidden to touch her in order to attend to her, such as to lift her up, lay her down, and cover her.” Shulchan Aruch’s restriction on all touch when the wife is ill sounds unequivocal. Let’s explore the parameters of th