Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Dunkin' Dames

When it comes to the three basic laws of Jewish family life it is interesting to note that one of these pillars is often ignored.  People love to talk about kashrus and shemiras Shabbos and often when deciding whether or not a couple is frum enough to be trusted when it comes to a dinner invite those two factors are often raised for consideration.  When we in the Torah-observant community compare ourselves to our non-observant brethren it is these two areas that are talked about as well.  "They" don't keep properly kosher.  "They" don't keep Shabbos.  If we're going to mekarev "them" we need to discuss those things and when they adopt them we can consider them on their way.
But there is also the third pillar that needs to be mentioned: taharas hamishpacha.  This is often far more an Orthodox "thing" than kashrus and Shabbos.  Many non-observant Jews keep a modicum of kashrus in their lives, even if it's something minimal like avoiding bacon and ham on principle.  Many also light Shabbos candles and make sure to have at least one seudah over Shabbos.  A far smaller proportion keep a reasonable facsimile of the laws of taharas mishpacha and sadly, a large number don't even know they exist.
That's why, whenever we discover a non-observant person observing those laws, we should pile on the encouragement.  The penalty for eating non-kosher food is minimal compared to the penalty for a husband being with his wife when she is a niddah.  Why wouldn't we want to increase observance of this mitzvah, or even just an awareness and some minimal behavioural changes around it, if possible?
That's why, when I read about women being turned away from the mikveh in Israel I get quite annoyed. 
I was shocked by this whole exchange. I could not believe that a bride trying to immerse in a mikvahwould be turned away anywhere. Don’t we want women to be going to the mikvah? Such emphasis is put on this practice in the Orthodox world, and here they are pretty much guaranteeing that this young woman would never try to enter a mikvah again in her hometown of Jerusalem. Why would she? Everything beautiful and holy about that moment had been ruined. I had been looking forward to the thrill of visiting the mikvah in Jerusalem, but this also made me feel unwelcomed. I was no different than that bride, as I did not have a document from an Orthodox rabbi that said I was ‘fit’ to enter a mikvah.  I did not have a copy of my ketubah to show that I was a married woman.
Now one must keep in mind while reading the article that there is one big criticism that can be leveled against it: the women writing it never actually experienced being turned away from the mikveh.  She heard about it, she experienced it vicariously through a teacher of hers telling her about it, she shared in the frustration of a Chabad rebbitzen but she never actually got told "You can't come in here".
Nevertheless the experiences she describes are troubling.  One of the problem with Israel have an official religious policy is that those with a little power create a big set of problems.  Everyone knows of the kashrus authorities who deny certificates to institutions because of political considerations that have nothing to do with their food preparation procedures.  Now it seems we can add visiting the mikveh to the list.  If this article is accurate, we're discussing women who are prepared to show up at the right time, prepare themselves the right way and dunk according to halacha.  Yet because of other issues they are being denied to right to do so.
And what is the limit of the sin being caused?  Imagine a non-observant woman showing up at the mikveh before her wedding and being turned away because she's not Orthodox.  Instead she goes elsewhere and performs a tevilah that, al pi halacha, is not sufficient.  She goes and gets married and her husband is now guilty of intercourse with a niddah.  Tell me, on whose head does that sin actually go?
This is something that needs to be protested.  Behaviour is not changed through intimidation or insults.  It is changed through encouragement and positive examples, something we must insist on from our comrades.


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Michael Sedley said...

I didn't read the full article, so I can't comment on that specific case, however in Israel I believe Taharat Mishpacha is more widely observed than you would think.

My wife tells me that she often meets women at the Mikva who don't dress "Frum", particularly women from the Eidot Hamizrach take mikva very seriously, even if they don't identify as "Dati"

Also, before a sfardi wedding, the bride makes a big celebration of going to the Mikva, celebrated together with the female members of her family. This is in sharp contrast to the Ashkenazi world where we try to keep Mikva attendance a big secret.

Before a wedding in Israel, women are required to complete a course with a Kalla teacher and need a letter from a Mikva confirming that she was there before the Rabbanut are able to carry out the wedding.