Peoplehood, Religion, Sex & Gender

Tainted Love Child: The Baal Teshuvah’s Status as a Ben Niddah in the Haredi World

There are many aspects of the haredi (ultra-Orthodox, as opposed to Modern Orthodox) baal teshuvahs experience that aren’t properly understood by the recruits of the movement. One of the many considerations that need to be understood better and earlier in the teshuvah process is the status of ben niddah, or child of impure menstrual blood. This is a child born to a woman who had not immersed herself in the mikvah, or ritual bath, prior to sexual relations, as is commanded by Jewish law.
Of course, the vast majority of liberal and secular Jewish women do not go to the mikvah prior to resuming sexual relations, and therefore most children of liberal and secular Jewish backgrounds are designated as “b’nai niddah.” In fact, the term BT (baal teshuvah) is today essentially synonymous with “ben niddah,” and this may be why the term baal teshuvah is employed more frequently in the haredi world for designating a newly observant member of the community than in the Modern Orthodox world. A BT does not just come from a different background as a haredi FFB (“frum,” or observant, from birth), but is also of a different status than an FFB. This is because there are negative personality characteristics associated with such a classification according to many ancient rabbinical commentaries.
Bnai Niddah are “corrupt and sinners.” They have a genetic disposition to do evil. They are prone to brazenness and rebelliousness, and do not treat great rabbis with the proper respect they deserve. Baal teshuvahs are not properly deferential towards great rabbis just because they were brought up with and retain vestiges of a liberal democratic approach to life and society. It is because their mother did not immerse in the mikvah, or at least, the BT’s unfortunate world view is exacerbated by the unclean bloodstains of menstruation on their souls.
These are considerations for haredim to not only refrain from marrying BTs, but also to refrain from marrying their children, as such a pagam (defect) is considered to be hereditary. Among other issues, there is enough of a discrimination problem that Beyond BT, a support website for established baal teshuvahs, openly discusses whether or not a baal teshuvah should hide his liberal/secular background.
So how does the haredi world continue to gain BTs who must accept his/her defective position in this quasi-caste system?
First of all, the b’nai niddah issue is delayed in terms of its explanation and understanding to haredi recruits. A BT is usually already well on his way into haredism before his status as a ben niddah is revealed to him. At that time, dismissive disclaimers from the “gedolim” about the status of b’nai niddah that are offered to the Baal Teshuvah to soften the blow. These disclaimers are offered every time the issue of ben niddah is brought up.
But are they truly dismissive?
As Mayim Rabim notes,

The majority of gedolim in my circle have dismissed the ben niddah concern nowadays. But the reasons they have come up with for doing so seem so strained. To paraphrase some examples from the same article:
The Steipler Gaon: The concern regarding a ben niddah’s character is merely statistical. If an individual shows good character, he is obviously an exception and the warning can be ignored.
Another opinion cited by the Steipler Gaon: The blemish of ben niddah is hereditary for an infinite number of generations, not just one, and in fact all of us are likely to have it (or some other blemish) somewhere back in our lineage. So we’re all on equal ground and have no reason not to marry each other.
Rav Moshe Feinstein: In many cases we can’t be certain the mother was truly a niddah mide’oraita, because maybe she went swimming after her period in a body of water that qualifies as a mikvah, and thereby became tehorah. (Rav Moshe does not discuss the fact that she would most likely have been wearing a tight-fitting bathing suit at the time.)

But how many exceptions are there? And how many women happen to go skinny dipping at just the right time? And are most haredim really willing to claim that somewhere along their yichus (lineage) something probably went wrong somewhere? Publicly, through marriage of a child to a ben/bas niddah? Even according to many who feel this is an issue that can be worked through, each subsequent generation will have to do so. Ben Niddah is the gift that keeps on giving.
So for the masses of haredim, the status of a “ben niddah” is a reality, even if it is not quite halachically mandated in terms of prohibition of union. They may be technically allowed to marry baal teshuvahs, but it is hardly advised. The relatively left-wing ultra-Orthodox and candid Rabbi Homnick once told a group of us how a child whose mother went to the mikvah was much more desirable to haredim even in terms of adoption.
It appears that The Gedolim (rabbinical leaders of the non-Chassidic haredi world) are not really dismissing the status of b’nai niddah, but only downplaying its role in the public discourse, which since the haredim are heavily in the recruiting business, makes a lot of sense strategically. A separate, lower class of Jew is still being created, but the lines are blurred just enough that its exact role and meaning can be obscured if one wants to see it through such a myopic lens, both in terms of the baal teshuvas themselves, and for normative haredim who seek marriage with them or their offspring (the latter situation arises more frequently than the former).
It is important that the issue of ben niddah is understood by liberal and secular Jews and their families when they are entering or considering entering haredism, not after the fact. They need to understand that in the eyes of many, they are not only second class citizens (forever) because they grew up in a secular or liberal environment, but that this status is justified by the circumstances of their creation, and should not be assuaged by the facile non-dismissals of the status of the baal teshuvah/ben niddah by select haredi leaders which many kiruv professionals, most of whom are haredi, will offer when pressed on the issue.
These are the best responses they have to offer.

87 thoughts on “Tainted Love Child: The Baal Teshuvah’s Status as a Ben Niddah in the Haredi World

  1. Will the shots against the haredi ever cease (I guess not since they haven’t, at least on this site). Since the article raises theoretical problems with the BT’s marriage to a FFB, the question is whether in practice the children of BT’s have any problem marrying FFBs (the actual returnees, for all sorts of reasons including plain old sociological ones are likely to marry each other in any case, so that generation is not likely a problem). And the author of the article admits that the non haredi orthdox will not have a problem with second generation marriages. So returnees should be warned, according to the author of this article,that if they wish to be join the Satmars their children might not be able to marry FFB Satmars – but is that true, did the author talk to any Satmars, or is he just attempting cover his antipathy towards the hassids by raising issues that never culminate in probems in any case? Now if we want to talk about real problems, let’s talk about anti Jewish Jews like Finkelstein or Chomsky who give cover to anti Semites and anti Israelis leading to our death and destruction – that’s not a theoretical problem, it’s right now right here – where’s that thread on Jewschool?

  2. incorrect, please face the fact that this is not a site for the likes of you.
    To the heart of the matter – it is interesting to note that none of the people on BeyondBT even acknowledge the “ben niddah” factor. This means that either (a) they’re too embarrased to say the shem hameforash or (b) they just don’t know.
    (Just because you dress the part don’t mean you know the part).
    Thank you Kelsey!

  3. the temple was freaking destroyed because of SINAS CHINAM and your going to use this time to rip on other jews?
    congrats you one of many people who are PERSONALLY keeping meshiach from coming

  4. First not all ffb’s adhere to Ben Niddah. Some marry off their kids to wealthy BT children. Of course this is not better.
    Also the ben niddah concept is not so different from the scientific theory of the G-d gene.

  5. SO YOUR PT IS…
    ” I’M JUST SAYING YOU SHOULD KNOW BEFORE HAND”
    C’MON
    YOU KNOW THAT MOST BT’S DONT AND SHOULDN’T MARRY INTO FAMILIES

  6. TO FINISH MY PT…
    THEY DONT MARRY INTO FAMILIES THAT CARE.
    SO THIS IS AN ANTI-KIRUV ATRICLE WRAPPED IN A PSA
    THIS SITE IS FOR CUTTING EDGE YOUNG JEWS
    BUT SINCE WHEN IS ANTI- KIRUV COOL.
    ITS NOT.

  7. Amit,
    The topic HAS been discussed on BeyondBt in the past (see a long comment in this thread http://www.beyondbt.com/?p=292 ) and quite extensively in the comment thread here: http://www.beyondbt.com/?p=86
    I find it curious that my friend DK discounts the writings and positions of two of the most prominent halachic decisior in the last half century (the Steipler and RMF) as if they were minor voices. It is also worthwhile pointing out that Rav Sternbuch, the head of the Rabbinical Court of the Eidas HaCharedis (DK can vouch for his prominence in the Charedi world) has also ruled that there is no problem for an individual to marry a ben niddah who has become a BT.

  8. David Linn,
    I was not discounting the Steipler nor RMF, but rather interpreting what they meant. For instance, I don’t really think that RMF was claiming that we should all believe that most liberal Jewish childrens’ Moms all went skinny dipping in the ocean prior to their conception. So we have to deal with that.

  9. If you actually read the Teshuva of Rav Moshe Feinstein, you would see that he specifically mentions swimming pools and the fact that the woman would have been wearing the clothes usually worn during swimming. åàó ùäéúä ìáåùä áäáâã ùìáåùåú äðùéí áòú ùøåçöåú…

  10. DK
    According to your expert halachic opinion does wearing a bathing suit make ones going to the Mikvah invalid D’Oraisa? Let me refresh your memory.
    A woman can go into a Mikveh with her bathing suit. Any clothing can be worn into a Mikveh, as long as the water still reaches the body. (Shulchan Aruch YO”D 198:46)
    So what RMF was saying that M’Doraisa there was a valid Tevillah if she went swimming and it doesn’t mean she went skinny dipping. Why do you have to mislead to make your point?

  11. “incorrect, please face the fact that this is not a site for the likes of you” Amit. Wow – why don’t you just say it Amit – no place for you, Jewboy.

  12. incorrect– are you claiming antisemitism on a site this Jewish? or did I misread you?
    besides, Amit makes a good point– that the chances of you finding posts you agree with here doesn’t seem to be that high. but that’s not news, is it?

  13. Actually, Rebecca, I agree with about 50% of the responses to posts here – and as to Amit, I was trying to figure out what he meant by “the likes of you”. Doesn’t that sound like “we don’t want your kind around here, N…”. Since the only identification I have on this site is that of a believing Jew, I assume that’s “my kind” that’s being referred to.

  14. So am I off or is this just telling us that ultra-Orthodox groups follow rules that are not based in any sort of logic or modern thought? Huh…no kidding.
    (but seriously now) incorrect, you are welcome where ever you want. Come on over anytime. And Fran I dig your point too.

  15. From the perspective of a liberal Jew who would never dream of trying to become haredi, and thus who has no desire to meet haredi standards for shidduchim and who has absolutely no idea whether he is himself a ben niddah, I still think that the opinions of both the Steipler Gaon and Rav Moshe are clever ways of getting around this issue. One may nitpick and ask further questions of both of them, of course, but the gist seems to be: this issue is not a big deal in practice.

  16. Stacey and “not dk”,
    Most adults do not go swimming on a regular basis in any given year. Additionally, as Rabbi Leibes noted, “many women do not immerse themselves completely in the water and if they do they often wear tight-fitting, bathing caps which constitute a barrier between the person and the water.”
    David Linn,
    The Steipler seems to be saying you can marry a BT, but he does not seem to be saying you must, but only that if you see no problem, then you don’t have to worry about it. However, he concedes that most Jews who are ben niddah will be corrupt and sinners.
    As for Rabbi Sternbuch’s heter, that the fire of the Torah burns away the bad traits, great. But why didn’t the Steipler and RMF say that? Why didn’t others who have been silent on the issue, or perhaps, not so silent, just not so public?
    As you yourself said in the comments section of a thread on this heter (#s 24 and 27) http://www.beyondbt.com/?p=86, you don’t understand how R. Sternbuch’s assertion that the “fire of the Torah” can burn out the bad character traits works. Either do I, as this seems quite unique, as Torah study does not usually affect halachic born status. I am willing to wager that most FFBs aren’t quite sure “how it works” according to Rabbi Sternbuch either.
    Additionally, in threads on Beyond BT, in a discussion about ben niddah specifically, while you have mentioned that there are rabbis with the positions as above, you yourself conceded that for many FFBs, there remain “halachic distinctions” between themselves and BTs/bnai niddahs.
    So we both know that large swaths of the haredi world do not rely on Rabbi Sternbuch.
    Sam wrote,
    “One may nitpick and ask further questions of both of them, of course, but the gist seems to be: this issue is not a big deal in practice.”
    Just the opposite — the issue is not a big deal in theory. In practice, it is quite a big deal.

  17. Z asked “since when is anti-kiruv cool”? and the answer is: “when it is done to save people from becoming self-loathing, ignoramuses”.

  18. Amit,
    That’s sweet.
    DK,
    If any of those rabbonim that hold that such a marriage is permissible held the other way, isn’t it true that you would chastise them and point out that they could find a way around it if they wanted to?

  19. David Linn wrote,
    “If any of those rabbonim that hold that such a marriage is permissible held the other way, isn’t it true that you would chastise them and point out that they could find a way around it if they wanted to?”
    I admit that. But the fact is, they can only do so much. And the ben niddah thing is bigger than marriage. The issue isn’t RMF, The Steipler, or Rav Sternbuch. They are confined by the Rishonim.
    The issue is that when secular/liberal Jews enter haredism, there are entry problems. One problem is the quasi-caste system of ben niddah. Obviously, some us would consider Modern Orthodoxy a more appropriate avenue for BTs than haredism for Jews from liberal and secular backgrounds. However, if they are given full information when entering (and their families, if underage), then that’s their choice.
    But this does not appear to be the case. Not for OS, Neve, Aish, or even our friends at NCSY, who work with and even for these (and other) haredi institutions, and recruits teens to NCSY proper from our public schools through their front, the JSU.
    People have a right to know. Before. Not after.

  20. Should they offer a disclaimer as follows:
    If you decide not to walk out of here and not become religious and then if you decide to become more religious and then if you decide to become more than modern orthodox and then if you decide to become “charedi” and then if you decide to marry someone who is not a Baal Teshuvah and then if that person is concerned about the issue of Ben Niddah and then if that person does not follow the advice and psak of the numerous rabbonim who rule that one does not need to be concerned about this issue then this person will not marry you.

  21. David Linn,

    How about this for NCSY and JSU’s websites: Warning: Most of our post-high school programming affiliates for Jews from liberal backgrounds institute a quasi-caste system. Until blogs started, pretty much all of them did! Isn’t it funny how that worked?”

    And for the haredi institutions, how about this: “Why go to India when you can experience a quasi-caste system in your own faith?”

  22. I’m not particularly familiar with this whole ben niddah thing. I was always under the impression that a non-Jewish person who converts to Judaism is considered 100% Jewish (putting aside the issue of what constiutes a valid conversion). Are converts somehow exempt from ben niddah, while born-secular Jews who become BT aren’t?

  23. DK- as I’m sure you know, ben niddah is only one of the issues that BTs face when trying to marry someone FFB. But I actually have a question (for those more knowledgeable of halakha than I): I was under the impression that there is a heter given, that showering can count as mikveh, not initially, but b’di eved. That grandfathers in all of the bnai niddah, as not being so.
    Did I make this up?

  24. Amit, I would think I’d be more likely to be jewed by the Haredim than gypped–if you must use ethnic slurs.
    That said, I’m still a little confused. You’re saying a convert can never be 100% kosher in haredi eyes no matter how commmitted to the conversion (s)he is?
    BZ, perhaps by “more than modern orthodox” David meant “futuristic orthodox.” Like Shabot.

  25. Exactly haredim are more likely to gyp me than jew me?
    Exactly coverts can never be 100% kosher?
    Or exactly you meant futuristic orthodox?
    Or all three?

  26. Haredim…. if my daughter joined them I would rend my clothes and sit shiva.
    But then, she’s a daughter of a Reform convert, so the chances are mighty slim….

  27. A while back, I posted a long comment on BT that surveyed the views of RMF ZTL and R Sternbuch on this and other issues. There is no question that if you read their views, that RMF ZTL and R Sternbuch both are saying that one should not consider Ben or Bas Nidah as a factor in either considering or refusing a potential shidduch. The fact that there are some who place “value” on the same, regardless of their hashkafa, has no validity on the Psak Halacha.

  28. I don’t think most haredim see this issue the same way as Steve Brizel. Considering that Steve Brizel is not haredi but right-wing Modern Orthodox, this would hardly be surprising.

  29. DK the sites never had the disclaimer. Isnt it great that you make up stuff that proves your point?
    I can do that too.
    It once said on the kvetcher that he hates all jews.
    SEE HE HATES JEWS!
    (see how easy that was)

  30. I love Jewschool and I agree with most of what’s posted here, but I have to say that DK’s anti-kiruv crusade annoys the tar out of me. I don’t remember if I’ve heard DK’s experience and he may have had a horrific one, but I have a number of BT friends who are so happy with their paths and their lives. And as someone raised with a liberal reform background in the south I’ve benefitted tremendously from learning and worship options in the kiruv community that have allowed me to grow into my current conservadoxyishness. Look there is plenty to be stereotyped and criticised in every community, but I don’t think the narrowness of perspective is warranted in a lot of DK’s posts.

  31. Even a perfunctory glance at the heterim is enough to see that all of them are heavily qualified and caveated. They give as much comfort as a reassurance that a disease in remission may never break out. Those seeking reassurance will be comforted; wary ones will understand.
    However, all this may be observed in practice much less strictly than one may suspect. An overwhelming majority of today’s hareidim are of relatively recent vintage, their European post WWII forebearers may have been not so frum at least for a time. Also, people seeking shidduchim soon come to realize that nobody is perfect in any case. The search for yichus is most unrelenting within narrow yeshivishe elites and, of course,hard-core chassidic “aristocracy.”

  32. Are converts somehow exempt from ben niddah,
    Yes
    while born-secular Jews who become BT aren’t?
    Yes

  33. That said, I’m still a little confused. You’re saying a convert can never be 100% kosher in haredi eyes no matter how commmitted to the conversion (s)he is?
    That is incorrect. A convert can never be a ben niddah. So called FFBs cannot make that claim.

  34. Mmmm, surprised no one has brought up the secret ceremony where the second son of every Bobav couple is secretly wedded to a special tree, which is then given a special name (usually Laurel) – if that child later marries a woman named Laurel, all their grown children are required to go to the Mikvah every day, or else THEIR children are cursed to have green skinned grandchildren – this is a little known custom from that community, I’m sure everyone will now want to discourse on how is would be unfair for BT’s to join that haredi community without being warned that there is the possibility that green great great grandchildren may be forthcoming!

  35. Being a ben-niddah and a ger simultaneously is impossible. Ben-niddah presupposes a Jewish marriage in which certain laws are not followed.
    Aren’t there situations where chazakos are appropriate? For example, the mamzer issue is often dodged with a simple proclamation of chazaka. And the Rabbinical Assembly issued a takanah on this very issue. Don’t you suppose that the same treatment be reserved for this very obscure class?
    “incorrect” – because NONE of the rest of the site are believing, Torah-true Jews?

  36. I think the “chazaka” in the case of nonobservant parents would be to assume that the kid is a ben niddah, not the other way around.

  37. Being conceived out of tahara leads to contempt for the Rabbinic Authority, huh? I, for one, am granted new insight into the dismissive frowns that Orthodox rabbis would give me when I would raise difficult questions about the Torah. No wonder they could’t elaborate why they felt so justified in their assumptions! How can anybody living in something like the modern world feel safe telling someone “of course you’d say somethig like that! your parents concieved you in impurity!”
    Lord, please help us find better uses for our religion/magic than in breeding obedient children!

  38. Why is everybody so perturbed by the idea that religion may hold some people, such as bnei nida, to be tainted from birth? After all, no one here is similarly overwhelmed by the plight of the mamzerim, who are similarly born with a taint through no fault of their own. It all depends on whose ox is gored…

  39. Relax, people. I just asked my rav about this and he said, “A person who is a ben / bas Niddah, their morality is determined by who they are and not the circumstances of their birth. Every Neshama is pure.”
    The whole caste thing is not releveant here, and torah Judaism has no caste system.

  40. I am horrified at the plight of the mamzerim. So are most halachik authorities. And by that I mean, it is very hard to have someone declared a mamzer in Israel.
    for example: in israel it is illegal to get a paternity test without a court order, EVEN IF the presumed mother and father want it. Imagine a situation accurate paternity would prove a mamzer status, but the parents don’t care. The state intervenes to prevent it. As a result, the state more or less mandates that the man married to a pregnant woman remain the father, even if all three (the married couple and the outside man) know that it’s not true.
    I would prefer other, more honest measures to reflect our concern for the stigma of the mamzer though.

  41. Juenny,
    The same enlightened declaration can be made about mamzerim, and yet their status is doublessly inferior. My point is simple: How can you be amazed that bnei nida acquire an inferior status through no fault of their own if it is certainly true of mamzerim – a well-known fact?

  42. A literal reading of the Mishnah (Yevamot 4:13) would suggest that a ben niddah is a mamzer, though that’s not how the Gemara reads it.

  43. I’m happy we’ve all become such Torah scholars. Does any of this reflect on real behavior? Doubt it.

  44. BZ- that would be connected to two questions, which are somewhat related.
    1. Is nidda an issur erva
    2. Even if it is, do such issurim create mamzerim?
    Although the opinion of Rabbi Akiva – and the mishna- though we don’t pasken according to them is that the answer to question 2 is positive, the answer to quesiton 1 is more questionable.
    Juenny – Its nice that your rav is a member of the haredi propoganda machine as well.

  45. “does it affect real behavior?”
    It might vary. I’ve only seen it have impact, again, in the face of any percieved rebellion, as an easy internal mechanism for dismissing criticsm of the Daas Torah. Which might be very useful in a deep way, but not likely to come up without dissent to have to ignore.

  46. Incorrect,
    I does have an impact: Hard core hareidim are careful about yichus, along with other issues that assert their exclusivity. It need not be a setback for other people. They are better off staying away from that type in any case.

  47. Juenny– problem is, all the people out there who disagree with your rabbi, and who do think it matters. And (I dislike saying it, but) the texts that enable those views.

  48. The halachic status of a “ben niddah” is not something i have ever heard of b4 and it sounds more like a talmudic saying but i know many bts who married ffb and vice versa the caste thing u have in ur head is weird. the main barrier between a ffb and a bt is differing backgrounds not this ben niddah thing- and whoever compared this to mamzerus is an idiot niddah is not an ervah unlike the various forbidden relationships. i like the quote from j.b. below. and yes chassidim generally marry chasidim.d-uh. also i someone u want to marry has a problem w/ a secular background u can do better than that person-lying about ur past is a dumb idea and is dishonest

  49. I am an ordained Orthodox rabbi who learned in Haredi yeshivot for a several years. I have never heard the term “ben niddah” before seeing it on this blog.
    I will readliy acknowledge that Baalei Teshuva can be marginalized within the Haredi community, but that is true to almost the same degree of people who grew up Modern Orthodox before turning Haredi. While there is, I trust, a textual source for the term Ben Niddah, this phenomenon is more of a social than a directly theological one. It is an outgrowth of the insular Haredi attitude that sees anyone who differs from the Haredi norm (Haredim included!) as Other.
    To present this as an institutionalized anti BT policy is a misunderstanding.

  50. Did I say that? Does not sound familiar.
    If I did say it I was describing some very tiny insignificant extreme of the haredi world. This is certainly not normative behavior.
    Beyond that, it is great to hear from my man Kelsey. Been awhile. Don’t wait eighteen years again. Call home: all is forgiven.

  51. I only recently found out about this topic and that I am in a ben niddah status.
    I totally agree with the author of the article. Those soul-makers who promote kiruv should explain this subject from the very beginning to potential baal-tshuvos who may eventually join the chareidi communities and find themselves racially impure.
    I am a former Soviet Jew and have a daughter of a marrying age who was born in US when my wife already used to go to mikveh and who considers herself an American and FFB. However, this fact is of zero importance to the community I am in, as dates that she is being offered are mostly of some sort of losers and even these is extremely difficult to find.
    I understand that there is Shulchan Aruch which says that it is worth to stay away from a ben niddah in terms of yichus (marriage), but this point should be clearly articulated to a potential baal t’shuvah from the very beginning.
    Now I feel purposely, almost criminally cheated.

  52. According to your expert, the halachic opinion does wearing a bathing suit make ones going to the Mikvah invalid?
    A woman can go into a Mikveh with her bathing suit. Any clothing can be worn into a Mikveh, as long as the water still reaches the body.
    I’ve benefitted tremendously from learning and worship options in the kiruv community that has allowed me to grow.

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