The Torch explores gender and religion in the Jewish community. Named for Deborah the Prophetess, "the woman of torches," the blog highlights the passion and fiery leadership of Jewish feminists, while evoking the powerful image of feminists "passing the torch" to a new generation. Disclaimer: All posts are contributed by third party authors. JOFA does not assume responsibility for the facts and opinions presented in them.
I was born Orthodox. I was raised Orthodox. And without much of a rebellion at all, I slipped into adulthood as a happily Orthodox person. No drama. My elementary school, my high school, my summer camps – all Orthodox. I spent a year between high school and college studying in Israel. I really just followed the path set out.
All of this led to my (no exaggeration here) SHOCK when I started going to Kallah classes, classes that explore the Jewish laws of marital intimacy, before I got married. My teacher was a lovely person but perhaps not a great teacher. And also maybe I wasn’t a great student.
Here’s why: I could not separate my moral outrage from the lesson plans. I was twenty four years old and could not believe that there was a set of halakhot, laws, that I was simply unfamiliar with. How had they been kept hidden from me for so long? I mean, sure, I knew the basic outline of niddah, laws pertaining to menstruation and a couple’s relationship at that time, and of mikveh yet how was it that my good girl routine did not gain me entry into this world of halakhot? It seemed that there was a list of vocabulary words, anatomy lessons and customs that were only laid out in front of me scant moments before I walked down the aisle. Suddenly I needed to become way more familiar with the inner workings of my menstrual cycle. I needed to jot things down, calculate my cycle, and spend a lot of time counting days. Not exactly what I wanted to think about as I met with the florist and the caterer. There were new laws and there were new customs and I felt that I had no one to turn to who could guide me.
We are super good at keeping things quiet… us Orthodox Jews. Perhaps under the guise of modesty or perhaps simply “waiting for the appropriate moment,” we choose to be selective in how we present our Judaism. I think it probably extends beyond Orthodox Jews and it probably extends beyond these laws. We don’t talk about miscarriages or infertility. We don’t talk about divorce. We don’t talk about sexual abuse.
So here’s for a little more transparency. I’m not advocating talking to you local kindergarten about the mikveh, but I think we could do a bit better. The conversation, the vocabulary can be introduced – in detail – a little earlier. In high school (true story) instead of visiting the mikveh and the butcher in an all-day Jewish version of “who are the people in your neighborhood,” we can start exploring sexuality and the role it plays in Judaism. Happily, these days the resources are there. There are curricula being written. There is an elite cadre of women (at least in my mind) who can answer any question related to family purity laws. We have developed an infrastructure to help woman learn about and talk about sexuality.
These days I teach brides but they are few and far between. I choose the women that I know and that I love or that need a little more attention or direction or sensitivity. I walk through the curriculum each and every time with a yoetzet halakha (women who are trained as halakhic advisors in the area of niddah) to build the perfect curriculum for each student. I want the students to encounter the halakhot in a way that is appropriate for them. I want them to connect spiritually and emotionally. I want them to feel comfortable feeling very uncomfortable. Because, if you are not squirming a bit, I’m probably not teaching you well.
There is an implied shame in things we don’t talk about. There should be no shame in mikveh. There should be no shame in niddah. It is our job as parents, as women, and as educators to open this conversation up. We have seen the damage that can be done when things are kept quiet. Let’s start talking.
A new chatan and kallah class for couples who want to learn from teachers with a modern sensibility is beginning Sunday, May 10, 2015. Click here for more information.
Pronounced: kah-LAH, sometimes KAH-lah, Origin: Hebrew, bride