When I first started this Torah project, the question shocked me each and every time. At one point I was keeping track of how often it was asked, as well as what percentage of the questioners were women and what percentage were men. When the count was high but about evenly-split between men and women, I stopped caring and simply lost track.
The question: "Can you write the Torah when you’re menstruating?”
Maybe that’s unfair. The Torah itself is a little obsessed with blood. Recently, I was writing a section of Leviticus that deals with a woman’s state of impurity following birth and the associative blood. She is considered in a state of tum’ah (generally translated as “impurity,” though Everett Fox in his infinite wisdom refuses to go this route and translates tum’ah as “tum’ah”). The new mother’s state is likened to that of her niddah, her menstrual state.
Blood comes up quite a bit in the Torah, and not just women’s blood. Moses turns the water of the Nile into blood. The priests sprinkle blood on the altar. Someone with a skin disease gets sacrificial blood placed on his ear, thumb, and toe.
So what about blood in connection with the Torah scroll? Well, we certainly wouldn’t want any blood to get on the Torah. Beyond problematic, that would just be yucky. But what about this holy object being touched–and perhaps even worse, written–by a woman in an “impure” state? There seems to be a widespread but mistaken belief that women are not permitted to touch the Torah because they might be bleeding. And perhaps in some communities this is the case. However, the shulchan aruch is clear on the issue:
Any impure person, even [a woman in] a niddah state…may hold a Torah scroll and read it. The words of Torah do not contract ritual impurity. (282:8)The Torah is immune from my blood! Yay!
I calculated how long the Torah would take me to write if I did take a menstruation vacation every month. About 19 months instead of 14. And if I needed to wait seven white days following my period,* the Torah would take about two years. I can envision the gallery sign: “Scribe will be away from the gallery from Monday, June 21, until further notice. She will likely return Friday, June 25, but she’ll let us know that morning if she’s spotting. Thank you for visiting!”
* Couples that abstain from sexual relations during a women’s menstrual cycle wait anadditional week before the woman goes to the mikvah, at which point relations are resumed.