Mikvah: The Secret of Jewish Sisterhood


By Atara Kaye

The practice of mikvah was a conscious choice made Jewish women throughout history…. Contemporary studies of Jewry rebut claims that Jewish women are oppressed in this regard.

Mikvah, the ritual bath used by many Jewish women to purify themselves after their menstruation, is a subject of great significance to the Jewish People. It’s a ritual that traditional Jewish communities held sacred for thousands of years, one universally practiced in Orthodox Jewish communities today.

Contemporary Jews who are critical of the ritual maintain that mikvah oppresses the Jewish woman to be ‘sex ready’ and clean for their husbands. They assume that this ritual bath for women is forced upon them; they have no choice but to perform this hateful archaic ritual, a relic of an ancient world. Furthermore, the critics would understand this women’s ritual as an instrument of a patriarchy disgusted by menstrual bleeding, declared menstruating women as dirty and unclean. This fear by men was the reason for Jewish men to force their wives to accept oppressing laws that forbid intercourse during menstruation and took as far as forbidding the husband and wife to eat from the same plate of food. This fearful rite translated in Jewish women dreading their monthly menstruation, expecting to be met by the rejection by their spouses due to this oppressing ritual.

It’s likely that these arguments may be rooted in a Christian feminist allegation during the 1970s that the Jewish People invented the patriarchy and that Judaism is the source of society’s sexism, a claim which appeared to the Jewish community simply as a feminist version of classic Christian antisemitism.

Regardless of the source of the criticism of mikvah, this perspective very well may be the case for some women, at the same time, it would not reflect the entirety of the Jewish woman’s experience. Perhaps mikvah is more meaningful than one might think. Why would women continue to practice a law through the ages, even during times when performing any Jewish ritual could incur a death penalty from the non-Jewish authorities? If Jewish women were so oppressed by this seemingly ancient tradition, they would have dropped the ritual at the first opportunity, and there were numerous occasions throughout Jewish history to do exactly so (e.g. the Greek Hellenization, Roman occupation, Spanish Inquisition, etc.). Perhaps the reason this mitzvah continues to exist, even thrive, in a postmodern world is because this ritual is much deeper and meaningful for Jewish women. Perhaps the practice of mikvah was a conscious choice made Jewish women throughout history. Mikvah may just be the secret of the Jewish sisterhood, a sisterhood that both empowers women as well as gives them the feeling of equality in a patriarchal world.

If this positive perspective is true, mikvah may be a great historical example of feminism and sisterhood. The halacha of mikvah has been traditionally passed on to women, and many women see their fulfillment of the ritual at the very center of their religious identity. Of course, going to mikvah would be different for each woman. Context as well as environment can have a significant impact on a woman’s attitude to the arrival of her mikvah night. Some might see going to mikvah at night as exciting and even mysterious, while others may feel with anger and resentment for an obligation that would require them to go out late at night in the freezing winter or to pass through a dangerous side of town, etc. (Wasserfall, 1999). In some communities in Israel, women would see this ritual as either patriarchal (institutionalised by men) or increasingly politicised (Cicurel, 2000).

In any case, contemporary studies of Jewry rebut claims that Jewish women are oppressed in this regard.  Scholars have found that American Jewish women who are mikvah users do not have a significantly different negative view towards menstruation than non-mikvah users. Additionally, researchers found that mikvah users felt significantly more inter-menstrual arousal than non-mikvah users (Siegel, 1986). In fact, many observant American Jewish women see mikvah as an enhancement to their family life (Wasserfall, 1999). This finding may lend support for the Jewish understanding of the concept of mikvah as a tool for revitalising the marriage with passion (Boteach, 2000).

We see that the practice of mikvah is one Jewish women throughout the ages were proud of, and even today, it is a practiced embraced by many, a rite seen as a secret of Jewish sisterhood, a key to Jewish survival.

References

Boteach, S. (2000). Kosher Sex: A Recipe for Passion and Intimacy. Harmony Books.

Cicurel, I. E. (2000). The Rabbinate versus Israeli (Jewish) women: The Mikvah as a contested domain. Nashim: A Journal of Jewish Women’s Studies & Gender Issues, 164-190.

Siegel, S. J. (1986). The effect of culture on how women experience menstruation: Jewish women and Mikvah. Women & Health, 10(4), 63-74.

Wasserfall, R. R. (1999). Women and Water. Menstruation in Jewish Life and Law. pp.1 – 14.

Is it possible to estimate size of Chabad in the US? #Chabad #Statistics #ChabadSociology

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Chabad estimates vary a great deal. It is often reported that Chabad members number some 200,000.

Samuel Heilman has estimated Chabad at around 40,000. But even he is unsure whether or not to count the Jews who have joined the many Chabad centers across the globe as members of the Chabad movement proper.

Heilman’s figure might not be that far off. But suppose we could get a solid estimate for Chabad in the US using Jewish day school figures?

In the US, there are around 13,000 students in Chabad day schools. Jewish day school education is pretty much the standard among US Orthodox Jews. So it is reasonable to assume that these students are from Chabad homes.

If this is so, suppose we try calculating based on this figure? All we would need is the number of children per Chabad home. Working backwards, we might be able to get a safe estimate for the number of Chabad Jews in the US.

A Pretty Cool (beta) Project is Underway at NYU – #MODIYA #NYU #ChabadSociology

modiyaMODIYA is a pretty cool project that is underway at NYU.

While still in its early stages, this project has managed to dig up the weirdest of things for their collection of Jewish Media artifacts.

Try a Hip-Hop group named Chutzpah.

While I’m not entirely sure what immediate benefits this will bring, I don’t doubt that this collection may one day be useful to some people.

Chabad Statistics: Let’s Examine the Estimates #ChabadSociology #ChabadStatistics

demographics2

Let’s revisit a previous post on Chabad statistics.

I’ve pointed out that the figures posted on Wikipedia.org and elsewhere does not appear to be based on any actual survey or poll, it’s all just a hunch.

But let’s examine this a little closer. What have the authors of the Chabad Wikipedia article found for us?

Here’s what they wrote:

“The movement has over 200,000 adherents,[13][14][15][16] and up to one million Jews attend Chabad services at least once a year.[17][18] .”

Here are their sources:

13. The perfect matzo a matter of timing, Associated Press April. 12, 2006
14. “Wertheimer, Jack. A People Divided: Judaism in Contemporary America. New York: Basic Books (A Division of Harper Collins) (1993); pg. xiv–xv”. Adherents.com. Retrieved 2010-05-12.
15. Occhiogrosso, Peter. The Joy of Sects: A Spirited Guide to the World’s Religious Traditions. New York: Doubleday (1996), Chapter: Judaism; pg. 250.
16. Andryszewski, Tricia. Communities of the Faithful: American Religious Movements Outside the Mainstream. Bookfield, Connecticut: Millbrook Press (1997); pg. 95.
17.Slater, Elinor and Robert, Great Jewish Men, Jonathan David Publishers 1996 (ISBN 08246 03818). Page 279.
18.Sharon Chisvin (5 August 2007). “Chabad Lubavitch centre set for River Heights area”. Winnipeg Free Press. Archived from the original on 27 September 2007.

For starters,  Associated Press (note 13) and Winnipeg Free Press (note 18) are both news sites, so you are relying on the reporter’s estimate. Not exactly scientific. In fact, the Winnipeg article claims there are over a million Lubavitchers globally, again with no source.

The source in note 14 actually points out to the lack of quantitative evidence. Here’s what the author actually wrote.

“The magazine of the New York Times ran a celebratory cover story of the Lubavitcher rebbe… Without adducing any quantitative evidence, the article claimed that the rebbe was “lionized by his nearly 200,000 followers” and declared his movement “a missionary juggernaut”. “

The sources in notes 15 and 16 state the 200,000 claim without providing sources And note 17 is a compilation of biographical sketches of “Great Jewish Men”, not the greatest primary source for Chabad demography.

What’s the bottom line here? There does not seem to be any serious demographic estimate of Chabad-Lubavitch.