By Rabbi Binyomin Forst
Brooklyn, New York, 1997
Reviewed by Rabbi Yerachmiel Morrison
The unforgettable Ponevezher Rav, Rabbi Yosef Kahanneman, z”l, once remarked that the frigid mikveh waters of Europe in which the Jewish mothers immersed gave their children the strength to overcome flames of fire. It is to the laws of mikveh that Israel’s strength and resilience are so often attributed. Certainly these mitzvot demand a sense of discipline and fortitude that is without parallel.
While the challenge involved in the observance of kashrut and Shabbat have been somewhat lessened in recent times, this age of unbridled hedonism seems to be directly antithetical to the entire function of the laws of family purity. Additionally, the obligation to observe these laws comes only with adulthood and marriage, so we cannot rely on force of habit to ensure even a minimal commitment.
It is therefore not surprising that in recent years an impressive body of literature dealing with the laws of niddah has emerged in the English language. One such work is The Laws of Niddah by Rabbi Binyomin Forst, part of the ArtScroll Halachah Series published by Mesorah Publications. There is much in this work to render it notable and, perhaps, even unique.
What establishes the uniqueness of this work within the corpus of English literature devoted to the treatment of this difficult subject, is its detailed treatment of the laws, the halachot of niddah. More, it offers insight into the inner workings and underpinnings of the halachah.
This pattern is evident throughout this work. The author is able to marshal an impressive array of halachic sources, followed by a detailed and erudite discussion on the various opinions and practices presented. What should be made quite clear is that this is not an easy work that provides a simplified summary of the niddah laws. This is a serious work and to gain maximum benefit therefrom, it should be studied rather than merely read. The layman who has little or no background in Talmud studies may find much of the detailed discussion rather bewildering and he could find himself somewhat puzzled by, what might seem to him, the arcane paths of halachic analysis.
However, one would be doing oneself a grave disservice were one to ignore this work merely because of its complexity and depth. There is much to commend it to everyone, including those who have not had the advantage of extensive yeshivah education. By carefully selecting the chapters to be read, the reader can gain a working knowledge of the basic principles involved. It is such an approach which the author himself advocates in his preface, in which he grades the complexity and depth of the chapters of the book. One is thus able to use this book to successively gain more advanced levels of understanding of the niddah laws.
The author repeatedly warns the reader against subsuming the role of authority in the niddah laws and acting as posek. Even so detailed a work as The Laws of Niddah cannot provide the training and expertise necessary to perform such a role, despite the temptation to do so. The real value and function of this work lies rather in its detailed analysis of the laws and its highlighting of problematic areas. The reader will gain the knowledge needed to know when to ask a sheilah [halachic question] and, most important, how to ask a sheilah.
Of particular usefulness are the chapters that deal with the highly complex subject of vesset — setting the date in which the onset of the niddah status is anticipated and the observances of that date.
All in all, the author must be commended for a scholarly and profound contribution to the genre of sophisticated halachic works penned in the English language. The serious reader who is willing to devote the time and effort to study this work and utilize it appropriately, will find an invaluable aid in the proper observance and understanding of these laws. The Laws of Niddah assuredly will make a noted contribution to ensuring that the Jewish home remains a bastion of spiritual purity, enriched and ennobled by the faith and fervor that these laws have impressed upon the hearts and minds of our people from generation to generation.
Rabbi Morrison is a rabbinic coordinator in6 the Kashruth Department of the Orthodox Union.