Legal document: T-S 10K15.1

Legal document T-S 10K15.1

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Maimonides' decree on menstrual purity. Dated 1487 Seleucid = 1175/76 CE. See Eve Krakowski, "Maimonides' Menstrual Reform in Egypt," JQR (2020), 245–89.

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Eve Krakowski, "Maimonides' Menstrual Reform in Egypt," Jewish Quarterly Review 110, no. 2 (n.p.: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2020), 245-289.

Build up, build up, clear the way! Remove a stumbling block from my people’s way.

 

We, the scholars living in Egypt at this time, say: When we were brought together in this region from distant lands and scattered regions, we and the native scholars we found here joined together to (act as) guardians. Then we began, separately and together, to investigate the condition of the community, as He enjoined: As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep.

 

As we observed each of the people’s circumstances—so that we might bring back whomever had turned from the right way, explain the way of truth to whomever knew it not, repair the breach for any who had erred, fortify any whose strength had weakened from enduring his burden, and bring joy to the upright in their uprightness; so that we might increase uprightness, as he, may he be exalted, said metaphorically, ‘I will seek out the lost one and bring back the one driven away; I will bind up the broken and strengthen the sick, and the fat and the strong I will destroy’—we examined our increasing sins and found that a great sin had spread among most of the community, sparing only a few individuals. 

 

Namely: we found that Jews throughout all of Egypt had become lax about immersing for menstrual purity in mikveh water and counting seven clean days, and that they practiced a heretical practice by relying on washing in drawn water, believing that this causes purity and makes the menstruant permitted to her husband. Worst of all, most of them rely on complete heresy and [a word] that God did not say, namely that the menstruant has a woman who is not menstruating pour what they call “pure” water over her, thinking that if she were to pour the water over herself, she wouldn’t be purified and permitted to her husband. This concept is what they have come to call sakb [pouring]. Some of them perform this sakb at twilight, in accordance with the belief of the heretics. 

 

When we, all the sages and scholars and great elders, saw this great sin, this wide breach, this chronic leprosy that had spread in the skin of religion, and we learned the scale of this evil, ugly practice, which constitutes heresy and widespread, public sexual transgression—which obliterates the word of truth and annuls the words of the scribes [divre soferim], which is worse than annulling the Torah, as they said, may peace be upon them, (One who says) there are no tefilin in order to violate the Torah is exempt (from punishment, but one who says that tefilin include) five compartments in order to violate the words of the scribes [divre soferim] is liable; and we have found that they, peace be upon them, took complete caution against cleaving even in the smallest matter to heretical practices and commanded caution against anything that might lead to belief in any of their heretical innovations, or to inclining toward any of their interpretations, as the sages said, “Take care with your words, lest you be exiled to a place of bitter waters, and the students who come after you drink and die”—we realized and recognized that if (we) were lax or indifferent about this, all of Israel who came after us (would drink) and die.

 

Therefore, having confirmed their practice and our knowledge of the scale of this sin, we were required to warn them and inform them of what we knew and to exhort them, as he, may he be exalted, said to his prophet: Son of man, I have made you a watchman over the house of Israel. When you hear a word from my mouth you will warn them from me. We knew that if we weakened in warning them or failed to instruct them or languished in enjoining them to reform (their) practice and repair this breach, we would consign ourselves and them to great ruin, because the sin of sexual transgression cannot be borne nor pardoned nor neglected, as he, may he be exalted, guaranteed, saying, the land will not vomit you out when you defile it, as it vomited [out the nation that preceded you]. And we would be blamed for their sin, all [of us] liable for their blood, as he, may he be exalted, said, If the watchman should see the sword coming and not blow the horn, and the people not be warned, and the sword come and take any of them—he will be taken for his sin, but I will seek his blood from the watchman.

 

Therefore we warned them in the synagogues and the study halls and informed them of all these goals; and that the menstruant’s status remains the same before she enters the bathhouse and after she enters the bathhouse. Even if she washes herself in all the waters of the world, she remains menstrually impure until she immerses in mikveh water, necessarily. We explained to them the requirement to count seven clean days and forbade them the aforementioned sakb, informing them that it is a great sin and heresy that causes immersion to be forgotten among Jews, because they assume that these [and these] purify—as the [sages], may their memory be blessed, did regarding a pure [man] whose head and most [of his body] come into drawn water. We informed them that any woman who performs sakb, even in the midst of the day and even if she immerses in mikveh water afterwards, [follows] evil ways  and is an evil woman who sins a great sin—for as long as they maintain this heresy, they degrade immersion and revert to saying, “These and these purify.”

 

After we had proclaimed this matter in public for years, we saw that the plague held before him and only a few had turned to good—and that this neglect came mainly from the women, because they held onto heresy and immersion was hard for them. Therefore we saw fit, we the sages and the judges and the rest of the scholars who sign below, to make this decree and enact it: 

 

Every Jewish woman who does not immerse in mikveh water after counting seven clean days according to the laws of the daughters of Israel, or who performs the aforementioned sakb—this woman may be divorced without a dower [ketubah] and retains no (right) either to a dower or to any marriage contract [ketubah] stipulations, whenever it’s confirmed that she committed any of these three sins: if she stopped immersing, or (waited) less than the seven clean days, or (performed) sakb even with immersion. Every widow who comes to claim her dower in court after the date of this decree may not take a single penny until she has been made to swear as an extension of her widow’s oath that she immersed for menstrual impurity from the time of this decree onwards, and that from the date of this decree she had sex only after immersing in mikveh water after counting seven clean days, and also that she did not perform the aforementioned sakb in any manner after this decree. Whenever she acknowledges in court that she has not immersed in mikveh water, or not counted seven clean days, or performed sakb after this decree—she loses her dower and all (her) dower stipulations. Likewise anyone who divorces, the judge should say to the husband, “Know that if she didn’t immerse in a mikveh, or didn’t count seven clean days, or performed sakb—she has no dower.” If the husband claims that she did any of these aforementioned things—namely, she didn’t immerse in a mikveh or she didn’t count seven clean days or she “poured”—but he is unable to establish this with proof, she may likewise not collect her dower until she has sworn a binding oath on a Torah scroll that she immersed for her menstrual impurity after seven clean (days) and that she had not performed sakb in any manner. After that the husband is required to pay (her) dower. 

 

We resolved that this decree should be read in synagogues in public to serve as a warning to all, so that any (woman) who married would know that she was married only on these conditions; that she had (rights to) a dower only on the condition that she not walk in the ways of the heretics and not violate the law of Moses [dat Moshe]; and that she would not require a warning each and every time—rather, this warning would [apply] generally to everyone in Egypt, great and small. 

 

We the signatories obligated ourselves to pass judgement in Egypt only according to this decree. We will neither change nor undermine nor suspend nor repeal it. Likewise we obligate all who come after us to judge according to this decree, to strengthen and reinforce it and repair the fallen fence of the law of Moses [dat Moshe]. They should take pity on the law of Moses, the greatest of all prophets, not on women’s dowers. 

 

Because we fear that an immoral judge may arise after us, who will negate this decree or undermine it and act against its dictates, collecting a dower for a widow without this rider oath regarding immersion and counting the seven clean days and sakb, or for a divorced woman whose husband made a claim against her before he has made her swear—we have passed a great and severe ban on any judge who should arise in all the land of Egypt and not judge according to the decree; and on any sage or scholar who should teach in contradiction to this decree. This will be the law in all the land of Egypt until the days of the Messiah. 

 

We have resolved that every judge in the land of Egypt must judge according to this decree from the month of Sivan, 1487 [ May/June 1176] and after. It is all true. One who breaks a fence, a serpent will bite him. As is said, Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching.