Confined For 40 Days (Chillah)

Torah Observations
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I. Introduction

There exists a belief among some that a woman who has given birth or gotten married refrains from going to public gatherings for up to 40 days. Bukharians (and Persians) call this practice chillah. When a bride or a woman who recently gave birth (within 40 days) enters the house of a relative or friend, candies are distributed among those present. Additionally, the host family traditionally gives a gift (in the middle of the meal) to honor guests like the bride and groom or the new mother. This custom serves to ward off the evil eye and symbolize the absence of envy, hatred, or competition within the household. If a bride and a woman who recently gave birth (within 40 days) are both entering the same house, they would go in and out together. This signifies the unity that exists in their hearts.

The Moroccan Jewish community also has a similar custom. After childbirth, for a period of forty days, a woman avoids comforting mourners and does not visit cemeteries. Additionally, there's a custom that two women who have recently given birth (within 40 days of childbirth) should avoid talking to each other if they meet . Is there any truth to this belief?


II. Shmirah

The Gemara (Berachot 54b ) cites a baraitah: A sick person, a woman in childbirth, a bridegroom, and a bride require protection from harm. And some say: Even a mourner. And some say: Even Torah scholars at night.

Rashi interpreted that the evil spirits would provoke the bride and groom because of their jealousy. The Ben Ish Chai cites Sefer Vayimaher Avraham , which quotes the Midrash Talpiot, as saying that the shedim (demons) have seven kings, each ruling over one day of the week. It is known that the bride and groom are symbolically referred to as a king and queen, and their reign lasts seven days. Accordingly, the shedim become jealous because the bride and groom, unlike them, rule for a full seven consecutive days. This is the jealousy that Rashi references.

The Gemara states that a woman who has given birth needs protection. According to the Ben Ish Chai , citing Sefer Kehilot Yakov, there are seven types of demons, each associated with a different kind of impurity. Since the Torah (Vayikra 12:2) states that a woman experiences a period of seven days  of ritual impurity after childbirth, these demons are thought to be drawn to her during this time. This vulnerability makes her more susceptible to harm from them.

Thus, we do not find any indication for 40 days  protection, only 7 (or 14) days.


III. Customs Throughout The World

The customs described extend beyond Bukharian and Moroccan Jewish communities. This practice, known as postpartum confinement, is observed by various cultures worldwide. Those who follow postpartum confinement practices typically begin right after childbirth. The seclusion or special treatment lasts for varying lengths depending on the culture. Common durations include one month (30 days), 26 days, up to 40 days, two months, or even 100 days.

The concept of postpartum confinement, with its various names and practices, transcends borders. In Persian culture, it's known as chillah, signifying a forty-day period of seclusion and special care for the new mother. China observes a confinement period ranging from 30 to 100 days, with lengths reflecting the desired level of focus on recovery. Similarly, India's Jaappa tradition emphasizes a 40-day confinement and recuperation period. In Korea, women traditionally undergo samchil-il, a three-week confinement marked by specific practices. Even in Latin America and some U.S. communities, the concept persists under the name la cuarentena, meaning "forty days."

Therefore, this practice extends far beyond the Bukharian and Moroccan communities, emerging as a global phenomenon not necessarily restricted to Jewish cultures. It's logical to assume that Jews living in those regions might have adopted or adapted similar customs from their neighbors.

Rav Ben Tzion Mutzafi  reports that his research indicates that this custom has roots in Muslim customs and practices. Muslims have a well-established body of laws and details governing these practices, and Jews living among them adopted similar practices. He further cites his saintly father, Rav Salman Mutzafi (who was a student of the Ben Ish Chai and Rav Yehudah Fetaya) that explains that the number 40 signifies holiness (like the 40 days Moshe received the Torah) and purity (like the 40 seah of water required in a mikveh). He further explains that those who practice the custom of attaching significance to the number 40 do so because they are connected to the physical realm (gashmiyut) and the impure shell (klipah).


IV. Halachah

Rav Ovadia Yosef  tackles this issue, writing that a wise and learned man in the Torah should avoid frivolous and baseless superstitions spread by ignorant women. Examples include the belief that a woman who recently gave birth (within 40 days) should not enter the house of a newly married couple, for fear of causing infertility for either the bride etc. Rav Yosef dismisses such notions as mere chatter of women lacking proper knowledge. He suggests the possibility that these customs were adopted from non-Jewish neighbors.

Rabbi Ben Zion Uziel  also condemned these customs as nonsense and mere superstition. He emphasized that they lack any basis in truth and should be avoided. Furthermore, he warned that such superstitions can cause conflict and discord between families. Rabbi Uziel argued that observing such practices is unnecessary, pointing out that women who have recently given birth and brides routinely visit their neighbors without any harm being caused. He concludes by stating that it is forbidden to dwell on these delusions and that these practices should be publicly denounced as futile. Sefer Omanot Nehorai (pg. 145) states that he heard in the name of Rav Bentzion Abba Shaul who expressed himself about these beliefs as “unfounded superstitions and old wives’ tales of Persian grandmothers.”

Rav Ben Tzion Mutzafi  writes that since we see that these practices find no source in the established halachic authorities nor in the recognized books of kabbalah or segulot, and only gentiles hold such fears, there is little doubt that this custom is unfounded and not derived from sacred tradition. Additionally, the book of Ma'avar Yabok (introduction) states, “Fear, sorrow, and worry empower negative forces.” This reinforces the idea that fear-based practices can be detrimental, not the actual practice. Even if someone claims to know or have heard of someone harmed by a visit from a new mother or bride, who can definitively say that's why misfortune befell them?


V. Worried Relatives

If someone has family members who are concerned (though mistaken) about these superstitious beliefs, they can offer some reassurances.  One suggestion is for the bride or the woman who recently gave birth to exchange hairpins with the other bride. Alternatively, they can simply bring candy to share. These symbolic gestures might appease any anxieties and allow the women to attend weddings or other joyous occasions without fear .

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef  even offered guidance for those who felt obligated to appease such concerns. He suggested that the bride or the new mother exchange hairpins with the other bride. This symbolic act would then allow the bride and groom to attend weddings during their own sheva berachot without causing undue worry.


1 Minhag Avotenu (Rav Eliyahu Hacohen), Vol.3 pg. 57, Yahdut Buchara, Gedoleya Uminhageya, pg 631

2  Netivot Hama’arav, pg. 136 #23

3  Berachot 54b

אָמַר רַב יְהוּדָה: שְׁלֹשָׁה צְרִיכִין שִׁימּוּר, וְאֵלּוּ הֵן — חוֹלֶה, חָתָן, וְכַלָּה. בְּמַתְנִיתָא תָּנָא: חוֹלֶה, חַיָּה, חָתָן, וְכַלָּה. וְיֵשׁ אוֹמְרִים: אַף אָבֵל. וְיֵשׁ אוֹמְרִים: אַף תַּלְמִידֵי חֲכָמִים בַּלַּיְלָה.

4  Sefer Ben Yehoyada,  Berachot 54b

ונראה לי בס"ד על פי מה שכתב הרב וימהר אברהם נר"ו מ"ע השי"ן בשם מדרש תלפיות, השידים יש להם ז' מלכים וכל אחד יש לו שליטה ביום א', ולכל א' יניקה מכוכב אחד מן ז' כוכבי לכת, עיין שם, וידוע חתן וכלה יש להם תואר מֶלֶךְ וּמַלְכְּתָא, ומשך מלכותם שבעה ימים לכך יתקנאו בהם כי הם אינם שולטים במלכותם ז' ימים רצופים.

5  ibid

מה שכתב קה"י ז"ל בשם רבינו ז"ל בביאור הסבא, דהשדים נראין ומתדמין בשבעה מינין ונחלקין לשבעה מיני טומאה, עיין שם, ולפי זה לכך מתגרין ביולדות שיש לה שבעה ימי טומאה, דכתיב (ויקרא יב, ב) וְטָמְאָה שִׁבְעַת יָמִים, ונקבה שבעה כפולים, וכשרואין אותה לבדה רוצים להדבק, ולכך אפשר שתהיה ניזקת מהם

6  For a female, it is double that, so 14 days.

7  Although the Gemara in Shabbat 129b mentions an opinion stating the womb's opening lasts 30 days, this falls short of the commonly practiced 40-day period.


9  Shu”t Mevaseret Tzion vol.3 pg. 119-120

  01 שו"ת יביע אומר (חלק י' יו"ד סימן נח אות כב עמוד שמו ד"ה אולם)

למרות כל הנאמר לעיל שאין בזה משום ובחוקותיהם לא תלכו, או משום דרכי האמורי, ואין למחות בידם, מכל מקום האיש הנבון והמשכיל בתורת ה', יש לו להתרחק מכל דברי הבל והזיות שנהגו בהם הנשים מחוסרי הדעת, וכגון אלו שאומרים: שיולדת תוך ארבעים יום לא תכנס לבית חתן וכלה, פן תגרום שהכלה תהיה עקרה, וכן להיפך בכלה הנכנסת לבית היולדת. וכן כל כיוצא בזה, שאינן אלא פטפוטי נשים סכלות מוסרי הדעת. ויתכן מאוד שלמדו כן מן השכנות בחו"ל אשר לא מבני ישראל הנה וכוו

11 שו"ת משפטי עוזיאל (חיו"ד מה"ת סימן כ”א)

שהם דברי שוא ותפל, שאי בהם ממש, וצריך להתרחק מהם, ומה גם שאמונות תפלות אלו גורמים לריב ומדנים בין משפחות ישראל, ומעשים בכל יום עינינו הרואות שמבקרות יולדות וכלות אשה את רעותה, ואינם נפגעות במאומה, ואין שטן ואין פגע רע. לכן אסור להעלות על הדעת הזיות טפלות אלה ויש לפרסם שדברי הבל הם. לא ירעו ולא ישחיתו. ע"ש

12 Shu”t Mevaseret Tzion vol.3 pg. 119-120

13  Sefer Ein Lamo Mikshol, Ish Ubeto, pg. 412

14  Sefer Mishnat Yehoshua Vol. 1 6:6. Cited by Minhag Avotenu (Rav Eliyahu Hacohen), Vol.3 pg. 57