A Phone App Could Replace a Rabbi in the Bedroom


Written by Joseph Dunsay. After earning a Masters of Science in Ecology and Evolution, Joseph Dunsay became a science writer for international audiences. Find more Jewrotica writing by Joseph here.

Rated PG-13

There are times when a Jewish couple wants someone outside the marriage to tell them whether or not they are allowed to have sex. No, this is not an article about BDSM relationships. It’s an article about the laws of niddah and new technology. Jewish law forbids a couple from having sex when the woman is menstruating and for several days after her menstruation stops. A stain on a woman’s underwear could be a sign that her menstruation started again or it could result from another cause. Couples sometimes show the stained underwear to a rabbi with the expertise to determine if a stain indicates menstruation.

A new phone app called Tahor eliminates an awkward trip to the rabbi’s office by allowing couples to photograph the stained underwear and anonymously send the picture to a rabbi who will determine the nature of the stain. The app has a list of rabbis whom the couples can choose so that they can pick the expert they feel most comfortable with. It is a boon to Jews who are traveling and the app developers could advertise app to Jewish couples who have to travel regularly for work or other reasons. In my humble opinion, this app could help stir the pot by making it possible for Jews without any formal connection to Orthodox Judaism to observe the laws of niddah, provided they have an appropriate body of water to jump naked into. Being a Jewish farmer in Montana is more feasible than it once was.

Digital pictures of suspected menstrual stains beg a question. Must a rabbi see those stains or can the phone determine for itself if a woman is in niddah? An AI for recognizing menstrual stains could function like an existing AI that helps diagnose cancer. Infervision, a technology startup, developed an AI to assist doctors who diagnose cancer. Over 600,000 people die from lung cancer each year in China where a shortage of specialists make it difficult to diagnose and treat cancer. The lack of medical imagining services is most severe in rural areas.

Infervision programmed their software to have algorithms that imitate the way the brain works so that it could improve its performance with deep learning. Under human guidance, the AI learned to recognize and tag images from healthy lungs. This allowed doctors to focus efforts on suspicious images from patients who might have cancer. The images could also go to doctors outside of China for review. There aren’t any plans to eliminate doctors from the process at this time.

Skipping a doctor when there might be cancer is risky, but trusting an AI to evaluate underwear stains is a feasible goal. Any Jew can tell when Shabbat ends by looking for 3 stars in the sky. The status of a stain is just another fact determined by observation. It is not a matter of deriving halacha for new circumstances. Many couples lack the experience to know the origin of a stain by looking at it, but an AI could learn to recognize stains before it is launched as an app. Armed with that new technology, Jewish couples could observe the laws of niddah more easily and more privately. The added privacy is worth replacing a rabbi with some silicon in the bedroom.

After earning a Masters of Science in Ecology and Evolution, Joseph Dunsay became a science writer for international audiences. His LGBT erotic e-book launched in the summer of 2015.