– Author: Rav Jeremy Koolyk
At the conclusion of the tahara process stands the all-important tevila, immersion in a kosher mikveh or spring. Without this crucial step, a woman retains her nidda status indefinitely. One of the halachic requirements of immersion mentioned in the Shulchan Aruch is that she must recite a beracha on it. Does this ruling include every case of immersion? Does a woman whose status of nidda is not min hadin, but rather a result of uncertainty or custom, also recite a beracha? When deciding whether or not to make a beracha in other cases of uncertainty, poskim often employ the rule of “safek berachot l’hakel,” we are lenient not to recite berachot in cases of doubt. If so, when a woman immerses because of custom or doubt, should she not recite a beracha? In order to answer this question, we will examine two topics: Dam tohar and ketamim.
Dam Tohar: Berachot on Minhagim (Customs)
On a Torah-level, a woman who gives birth experiences yemei tumah, a seven-day period of tumah after the birth of a boy or a fourteen-day period of tumah after the birth of a girl. This is followed by a period call yemei tohar, a period of purity. Any blood seen during these days (thirty-three days for a boy and sixty-six days for a girl) does not prohibit relations between husband and wife (although she may not eat kodshim or visit the Mikdash). Thus, after a woman becomes pure from the original birthing process and seven or fourteen days have passed, subsequent blood seen during the yemei tohar does not prohibit the couple.
However, the Rema records a widespread minhag (custom) from the time of the Geonim to treat all blood seen during yemei tohar like regular nidda blood. The result is that women nowadays treat blood seen after the yemei tumah as prohibiting them. In other words, women who have become pure from the initial birthing tumah and subsequently see blood during the yemei tohar treat themselves as having nidda status as a matter of minhag. When such a woman subsequently immerses to remove her nidda status, does the minhag to act as a nidda justify reciting a beracha on the tevila? Or would we say that since the immersion is neither biblically nor rabbinically mandated and is only a matter of custom, perhaps a beracha is unwarranted.
To answer this question, we must address the following more general question: Is it ever appropriate to recite a beracha on the performance of a minhag? This question is subject to a machloket Rishonim. The Rambam holds that a beracha is never recited on a minhag. He derives this from the statement of the Gemara that the fact that one does not make a beracha on beating aravot on Sukkot indicates that it is merely a minhag of the prophets and not a bona fide enactment. This is also the opinion of Rashi that no beracha is recited on a minhag. According to these Rishonim, a beracha is not said prior to the recitation of Hallel on Rosh Chodesh since reciting Hallel on Rosh Chodesh is only a minhag.
DICT yom tov lower case no caps. Sheini too? Check volume and note it
Rabbeinu Tam, on the other hand, maintains that berachot are warranted even for customs. He proves his position from the fact that we make berachot on Yom Tov Sheini shel Galuyot, which nowadays is only considered a Yom Tov as a matter of minhag. The minhag of beating the aravot, he claims, is the exception in that it does not receive a beracha, not the rule. According to Rabbeinu Tam, a beracha should be recited prior to Hallel on Rosh Chodesh.
With regard to Hallel on Rosh Chodesh, the Shulchan Aruch writes that the prevalent custom in Eretz Yisrael and the surrounding areas was to follow the opinion of the Rambam that a beracha should not be recited before Hallel. The Rema records that the Ashkenazic practice is to follow the opinion of Rabbeinu Tam and recite a beracha before Hallel.
FN 13 vol caps or lower case. Decide
Applying this dispute to reciting a beracha on tevila for a woman who is not definitely a nidda, we might expect those who follow the opinion of Shulchan Aruch and those who follow Rema to differ on this issue. Indeed, the Chatam Sofer writes that since Ashkenazic custom is to recite berachot on minhagim such as Hallel on Rosh Chodesh, women should also recite the appropriate beracha when immersing as a matter of custom. Presumably, the Chatam Sofer would agree that Sephardic Jews who generally follow the rulings of the Shulchan Aruch should not recite a beracha in this case.
Not all Ashkenazic authorities agree with this analysis. Rav Yechezkel Landau writes that it is obvious that women should not recite a beracha since the immersion is only a minhag. While this would seem to run counter to the Ashkenazic practice of reciting berachot on minhagim, Rav Ovadia Yosef explains that even within the opinion of Rabbeinu Tam, there is ample room to distinguish between early customs which date back to the time of the Talmud, such as reciting Hallel on Rosh Chodesh, and customs which developed after the time of the Talmud, such as the Geonic minhag to treat blood seen during yemei tohar as nidda blood. While the former merit reciting berachot, the latter do not.
This issue remains contested even among the more modern poskim. Many rule that a beracha should be made, as was the custom in the times of the Chatam Sofer. Rav Ovadia Yosef, however, rules that she should immerse without a beracha.
Ketamim and Berachot in cases of Safek (doubt)
On a Torah level, only a woman who emits uterine blood accompanied with a sensation (hargasha) is considered a nidda. The Sages instituted that even a woman who finds a blood stain (ketem) without a hargasha is considered a nidda on a rabbinic level. In fact, a woman who finds a stain is considered a nidda even though it is possible that the blood came from a location other than the uterus, as long as she does not have a strong reason to attribute the blood to another source. In essence, she is treated as a nidda even though, ostensibly, there is a safek (doubt) if she should be prohibited at all. Should such a woman make a beracha, or should we apply the principle of “safek berachot l’hakel” since her immersion is only to remove a doubtful status of nidda?
The Gemara in Shabbat sheds some light on the question of whether a beracha is recited in cases of doubt. The Gemara contrasts two rabbinic mitzvot: Lighting Chanukah candles and separating tithes from demai (produce acquired from someone who is not trusted to have separated tithes himself and which may therefore have the status of tevel, non-tithed produce). Why, wonders the Gemara, must one who lights the Chanukah candles make a beracha while one who separates tithes from demai does not recite a beracha? Two answers are offered:
אביי אמר ודאי דדבריהם בעי ברכה, ספק דדבריהם לא בעי ברכה… רבא אמר רוב עמי הארץ מעשרין הן.
Abaye says: Rabbinic mitzvot of certainty require a beracha, but rabbinic mitzvot of doubt do not require a beracha… Rava says most amei ha’aretz (common folk who are not trusted on tithes) do indeed separate tithes.
Rashi explains the positions of the two Amora’im. Abaye distinguishes between those rabbinic enactments which were instituted as a matter of certainty (vadai dedivreihem) and those which were instituted to solve a matter of doubt (safek dedivreihem). In general, rabbinic mitzvot require a beracha before their performance, which is why one recites a beracha before lighting the Chanukah candles. However, rabbinic mitzvot which were legislated to account for a doubt, such as the requirement to tithe demai, which was only instituted to account for the possibility that the produce did not have the Torah-mandated tithes separated from it by the non-trustworthy original owners, do not require a beracha. Rava, on the other hand, thinks that even mitzvot which were instituted to account for a doubt require a beracha. Demai is an exception to this rule because the majority of people who are not trusted on tithing really do, in fact, tithe. Since in all probability the produce is already tithed, the status of demai barely even rises to the halachic level of safek (doubt), and the requirement to tithe demai is in fact just a stringency (“chumra be’alma”), therefore exempting it from a beracha. According to Rashi, then, whether one makes a beracha on a safek dedivreihem is subject to the dispute between Abaye and Rava. Since the halacha almost invariably follows the opinion of Rava, it would seem that one should make a beracha on a rabbinic mitzva enacted based on doubt.
The Ramban takes a very different approach. According to the Ramban, Rava agrees to Abaye’s general principle that safek dedivreihem does not require a beracha; he just disagrees with Abaye’s classification of separating tithes from demai as a safek dedivreihem. It may be true that the reason for the rabbinic enactment was because of its doubtful status of tevel, but once the Sages instituted it, it became an enactment of certainty akin to the mitzva of lighting Chanukah candles. Rava therefore explains that because most people really do tithe their produce, the rabbis sought to differentiate the tithing of demai from the tithing of real tevel by exempting it from a beracha. The Ramban’s position is thus that both Abaye and Rava agree that one does not make a beracha on rabbinic mitzvot enacted based on doubt. Their dispute is a local one about whether demai is exempt from a beracha because it is considered safek dedivreihem (Abaye) or for a special reason, despite its designation as vadai dedivreihem (Rava).
The approaches of Rashi and Ramban are also reflected in a dispute between the Ra’avad and Rambam. The Rambam rules that a beracha is not recited on a rabbinic mitzva instituted based on doubt. The Ra’avad objects; that ruling, he claims, is consistent with the opinion of Abaye, but since the halacha follows Rava, one should make a beracha on a safek dedivreihem. The Ra’avad clearly interprets the Gemara in the same vein as Rashi, namely that Rava rejects Abaye’s premise that one does not recite a beracha on a safek dedivreihem. The Magid Mishneh posits that the Rambam interpreted the Gemara as did the Ramban, which led him to the conclusion that even Rava would agree that a beracha is not recited on a safek dedivreihem.
Returning to Hilchot Nidda, the Malbushei Tahara writes that whether a woman should make a beracha on her immersion after seeing a ketem is contingent upon the opinions of the Rambam and Ra’avad. Since there is an underlying doubt as to the origin of the stain, the woman’s status as a nidda can be considered a safek dedivreihem. Thus, according to the Rambam, no beracha should be made on the immersion while according to the Ra’avad, a beracha should be made on the immersion. Malbushei Tahara concludes that since it is evident from various places in Shulchan Aruch that the halacha follows the opinion of the Rambam, a woman immersing after a ketem should not make a beracha.
Other Acharonim, however, disagreed with the Malbushei Tahara, maintaining that a woman should make a beracha upon immersion after a ketem even according to the Rambam. Rav Tzadok HaKohen of Lublin suggests a novel explanation that there is no specific mitzva for a nidda to go to the mikveh; rather, there is a general requirement for anyone who is tamei to immerse in a mikveh in order to become tahor. Whether a woman is considered nidda because of Torah law, doubt, or custom is a question of the status of her tumah. However, he claims, once she is declared temei’a, for whatever reason, she now has a Torah obligation to immerse in order to become tehora. The tevila is not considered an immersion based on doubt or custom, but rather a legitimate tevila de’oraita, and thus it is most appropriate to make a beracha.
Although this explanation certainly justifies the beracha, it relies on the major assumption that there is a Torah-level obligation to immerse for a woman who is only a nidda by dint of rabbinic law or custom. It is possible, however, to justify the recitation of a beracha even if one is unwilling to accept this considerable assumption. Rav Shlomo Kluger defends the recitation of a beracha by challenging the classification of a woman who sees a ketem as a safek dedivreihem. It is true that the reason that the Rabbis decreed a status of tumah on such a woman is because of the mere possibility that the blood came from the uterus. However, once the decree was issued, her status of nidda became one of certainty, regardless of the true source of the blood. Thus, the treatment of a woman who sees a ketem as a nidda is not considered a safek dedivreihem, but rather a vadai dedivreihem. Even the Rambam, then, would agree that a beracha is appropriate in such a case, just as it is in all rabbinic enactments based on certainty.
In practice, many Acharonim rule that a woman should make a beracha on immersion after seeing a ketem unless even her status as a woman who saw a ketem is uncertain.
This exploration enriches our understanding of important fundamentals within both the realms of Hilchot Berachot and Hilchot Nidda. The issue of whether a woman may recite a beracha on tevila after seeing blood during the yemei tohar has been shown to be dependent on the larger issue of whether it is appropriate to recite berachot on minhagim. The matter of whether a beracha is recited on immersion after seeing a ketem is connected, for some, to the dispute of the Rishonim in Hilchot Berachot about whether a beracha is made on a safek dedivreihem. For others, the essential understanding that ketamim represent a rabbinic decree of certainty leads to the conclusion that a beracha may be recited according to all opinions.
 Shulchan Aruch, y.d. 201:1
 y.d. 200:1
 The obligation to recite almost all berachot is rabbinic in nature; therefore, in cases of doubt, one need not make a beracha (safek derabanan l’kula). It follows, then, that one may not recite a beracha in cases of doubt, since reciting an unwarranted beracha involves invoking the name of Hashem in vain, a possible violation of the mitzva of Lo Tisa (Shemot 20:6). See, for example, Teshuvot HaRambam 124 and Mishna Berura 167:49.
 Vayikra 12:1-8
 y.d. 194:1
 Some Rishonim (Ra’avad, Ramban, Sefer Ha’Eshkol) maintain that this stringency is in fact included in chumra D’Rabbi Zeira (Nidda 66a) and is therefore a rabbinic prohibition dating back to the time of the Talmud. According to that approach, a beracha upon the tevila from dam tohar is certainly required (see, however, Yabia Omer, vol. 4, y.d. 12:12). The Rema, however, follows the opinion of the Rambam and other Rishonim that this stringency is merely a minhag. See Badei HaShulchan 194:20.
 Hilchot Brachot 11:16
 Sukka 44b
 Cited in Rosh, Berachot 2:5. See also Rashi, Sukka 44a, s.v. minhag.
 See Ta’anit 28b.
 Cited in Tosafot, Berachot 14a, s.v. yamim; Talmidei Rabbeinu Yona, Berachot 8a in the pagination of the Rif; Rosh, Berachot 2:5
 Beitza 4b
 See, however, Shulchan Aruch, o.c. 671:7, where he rules that a beracha should be recited on the minhag of lighting Chanukah candles in shul, ostensibly contradicting his earlier ruling in Hilchot Rosh Chodesh. See Bi’ur HaGra there and Responsa Yabia Omer, Vol. 7, o.c. 57:3–5 for possible resolutions. See also R. Dvir Azulai’s Divrei Ani, pp. 462–463.
 o.c. 422:2
 y.d. 191
 Note that not all Sephardic communities accepted the position of the Shulchan Aruch with regard to Hallel on Rosh Chodesh. It was the custom of many, including Moroccan, Tunisian, and Turkish Jews, to recite a beracha before Hallel on Rosh Chodesh. See Peninei Halacha, Zemanim 1:12, footnote 16.
 Although Teshuva Me’ahava 1:68 (cited in Pitchei Teshuva, y.d. 194:2) writes that Rav Landau was uncertain when this question was posed to him, Rav Landau himself writes in Dagul MeRevava, Tinyana, y.d. 194:1 that it is obvious (“pashut”) that a woman may not make a beracha in this situation. Both the publication of Dagul MeRevava Tinyana and the date on the responsum written by Teshuva Me’ahava occurred after Rav Landau’s death, making it difficult to ascertain which represents his conclusion. Rav Ovadia Yosef (Taharat HaBayit, Vol. 1, p. 17) assumes that he was originally uncertain and later decided that a beracha should definitely not be recited.
 Yabia Omer, Vol. 4, y.d. 12:12; Taharat HaBayit, Vol. 2, p. 16
 Aruch HaShulchan, y.d. 200:1; Badei HaShulchan 194:24; Shiurei Shevet HaLevi 194:6; Rav Mordechai Eliyahu, Darkei Tahara, p. 164. See also R. Eliyahu’s Teshuvot Ma’amar Mordechai 2:13 as to when it is appropriate for Sephardic Jews to deviate from the opinions of the Shulchan Aruch.
 Yabia Omer, Vol. 4, y.d. 12:12; Taharat HaBayit, Vol. 2, p. 15.
 See Pitchei Teshuva, y.d. 183:1 for possible definitions of hargasha, as well as the first shiur in this volume together with the accompanying essay.
 Shulchan Aruch, y.d. 190:1
 For example, if she passed through a meat market or has a wound on her body which is prone to bleeding, there may be significant grounds to assume that the stain came from somewhere other than her uterus. See Shulchan Aruch, y.d. 190.
 Shabbat 23a, s.v. Rava
 Chiddushim, Shabbat 23a, s.v. ha
 Hilchot Megilla V’chanuka 3:5
 Ibid. See, however, Lechem Mishneh there.
 y.d. 200:1
 The Badei HaShulchan 200:5 writes that in cases where it is patently obvious that the stain originated from the woman’s body, even the Malbushei Tahara would agree that a beracha should be recited.
 See Shulchan Aruch, y.d. 28:3, 265:3, o.c. 17:2, 67:1, and Magen Avraham, o.c. 685:3.
 Teshuvot Tiferet Tzvi 2:19
 Based on this logic, Rav Tzadok claims that a woman could make a beracha on tevila even if a posek ruled leniently but the couple nonetheless wished to act stringently.
 Tuv Ta’am V’da’at 296. See also Rav Hershel Schachter’s Kuntrus B’inyanei Ketamim (4), printed in Be’ikvei Hatzon (siman 28), where identical logic is used in explanation of the Aruch HaShulchan, y.d. 200:1.
 Aruch HaShulchan, y.d. 200:1; Pitchei Teshuva, y.d. 194:2; Shiurei Shevet HaLevi 200:10; Taharat HaBayit, Vol. 2, pp. 538–540
 The Aruch HaShulchan notably writes that a woman should make a beracha on immersion even after seeing a safek ketem. The Shiurei Shevet HaLevi and Taharat HaBayit, however, write that if a posek cautiously rules stringently on a ketem, the woman should not make a beracha on the tevila. See Teshuvot Pe’at Sadecha 1:103, who claims that even the Aruch HaShulchan would agree to this and that his opinion about safek ketem does not refer to a real case of doubt, but rather to an instance where no strong grounds exist to attribute the stain to somewhere other than the uterus.
 This article focused on two areas in which reciting the beracha on tevila is not a foregone conclusion, dam tohar and ketamim. For discussions of other such areas, including tevila after dam betulim, suspected dam chimud, hargasha with no blood found, and tumah caused by a woman claiming she was a nidda and then retracting, see Taharat HaBayit, Vol. 2, pp. 538–544; Shiurei Shevet HaLevi 200:10; and Badei HaShulchan, Bi’urim to 200:1.