Title: Nishmat HaBayit: Contemporary Questions on Women’s Reproductive Health
Addressed by Yoatzot Halacha, Edited by Rabbi Yehuda-Herzl and Chana Henkin
Maggid Books, Nishmat, OU Press
I have been a kallah teacher for over twenty-five years. Something I remind a kallah is: don’t hesitate to call me. Either the question is basic halacha and I know the answer right away, or it will be too complicated for me and I’ll tell them they need a Rav. Either way, it won’t take too much of my time, and there is no inconvenience. I remember well the beginning years of my own marriage, being somewhat overwhelmed by this whole new area of halacha. These laws can frame a marriage with holiness, where separation and rejoining fosters rhythms of connection between a couple. These laws also accompany some of the most emotional and painful aspects of life and can be associated with tremendous stress and agony. Many Rebbeim and teachers strive to educate and guide couples so that they can appreciate the wisdom and beauty of these laws, and this book is a glorious addition to the existing resources.
Nishmat HaBayit: Contemporary Questions on Women’s Reproductive Health is designed and organized so that anyone can benefit from it. It ranges from basic to complex in a way that is well-suited for beginners, while also having content that will interest experts. Each siman has three parts. It starts with the shaila, the question, followed by a practical answer. This will likely be excellent new information for those who have similar questions, and a familiar recap for experts. This is the same style of question and answer that can be found on the Nishmat website, yoatzot.org. I frequently search their questions and send a link when people are looking for succinct, clear answers to basic niddah questions.
This sefer discusses contemporary questions on women’s reproductive health. But it is so skillfully structured that it covers many major areas of niddah. The range of shailos admirably and comprehensively deals with the gamut of menstrual and reproductive situations so that if you read the whole book cover to cover, you will have a good sense of a large portion of hilchos niddah.
But if you don’t want to read it cover to cover, you can flip through it. Find the question you are looking for as it becomes relevant to your situation or if a case is of interest to you. You can look in the index and look up a specific topic. It is extremely user friendly, easy to find the relevant question, and the answer is clear and explicit. It is the kind of sefer that you can browse the table of contents, think “Hmmm, that’s interesting. I wonder what the answer is?” And then you can turn to the page and satisfy your curiosity instantly, out of context, without having read any other part. At the same time, if you do take the time to read it from beginning to end, it absolutely, piece by piece, builds on itself so that you will vastly expand your understanding of this entire area of halacha in a logical progression.
The greatness in this sefer, in my opinion, lies in the third part of each siman, “Halakhic Expansion.” This part is easily skippable if you are just looking for the practical answer to your question or a halachic overview. But, if you want to take a deeper look, understand the principles behind the question and the answer, study the reasoning and the sources and the basis, then this section is for you. If you want to read extensive analysis, then you can get a sense of the halacha in a much more profound way. I marvel at how much of a deeper understanding this section brings to the table in each siman. For years, for example, I have been clear about what is not hargasha, but somewhat muddled about what is. But after reading the relevant siman, I finally understand the different opinions and the reasoning behind the different answers I’ve gotten to different questions I’ve asked my Rav over the years.
The footnotes themselves are masterful. They add entire dimensions to the sefer. They cite the Mishna, the Gemara, the rishonim, and many achronim and contemporary poskim, as well as so many that go more into depth and explain many subtleties and nuances. Again, this is easily skipped over if you want to read more superficially, while it is a treasure trove for someone who wants a more in depth study.
Another very important thing that this sefer does is take the time and space to clearly explain the medical aspects as they intersect with halacha. In addition to making a point of explaining medical facts throughout the sefer, there are five medical appendices. Written by someone with both medical and halachic training, they cover the female reproductive system, pregnancy, labor and childbirth, miscarriage and contraception. As the introduction explains, this book “is not intended to be a sefer pesak, but rather to foster awareness of the halachic challenges experienced by observant women, and to organize the halacha for the benefit of those who are learning, with the aim of strengthening proper observance of halacha and alleviating the grief which clouds the lives of many couples.”
There are thirty-three simanim that deal with questions about contraception. In the last thirty years there have been so many medical advances in this field. There are many different types of contraception, each having their own halachic ramifications. I am deeply impressed by how the halacha is explained and how it is traced back to comparable situations in the Gemara cited by classic and contemporary poskim. I am deeply impressed by how halacha has responded to this situation and how it is presented in this sefer. I anticipate that there will be updates and new volumes to keep up with medical advances and medical breakthroughs.
In my own lifetime and my own reproductive journey, I had numerous late-term pregnancy losses with many complicated medical and halachic difficulties. I would have loved to have had a resource like this, and I am thrilled it is here for this generation of couples. This sefer discusses the most basic to the most complex situations and invites the reader to engage at a personal level of comfort, interest, and experience.