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.

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Chabad Synagogues Increase in MetroWest NJ #ChabadSociology #ChabadStatistics

MetroW NJThe 2012 MetroWest Jewish Population Update Study“, conducted by Ira Sheskin, updated the information from the 1998 MetroWest Jewish Population Study.

The study surveyed Jewish life in Essex, Morris, Sussex and northern Union Counties in the state of New Jersey.

Presented in the study’s report was the number of synagogues and affiliated households.

Chabad-affiliated synagogues were not specifically highlighted in the findings but were grouped within the Orthodox synagogue count.

After examining the report, it became clear that roughly half of the Orthodox synagogues are in fact Chabad. This was also true for the nuber of affliated households. See table below.

Synagogues 1998 Household Count 2008 Household Count 2012 Household Count
All Orthodox 33 1,031 3,217 3,378
Chabad 16 61 1,402 1,558
Chabad Percentage 48% 6% 44% 46%

________

And when comparing Chabad to all synagogues in that area, Chabad appears to make up 20% of all synagogues, but only 8% of affiliated households. See table below.

Synagogues 1998 Household Count 2008 Household Count 2012 Household Count
All Denominations 82 12,108 19,247 18,781
Chabad 16 61 1,402 1,558
Chabad Percentage 20% 1% 7% 8%

________

Methodology Note: We’ve identified this list of Chabad synagogues by a) having “Chabad” (or “Lubavitch”) in it’s name, and b) by visiting the synagogue website (e.g. on the “about” page). The other Orthodox synagogues either identified as “Modern Orthodox” or gave no indication as to being affiliated with Chabad.

Below is a complete list of Chabad synagogue totals, as listed in the report.

Synagogue City County 1998 2008 2012 2008-2012
Increase/
(Decrease)
Bris Avrohom/Congregation Shomrei Torah
Ohel Yosef Yitzchok
Hillside Union NA NA NA NA
Chabad at Short Hills/Ahavat Torah Short Hills Essex NA NA NA NA
Chabad Center of Northwest New Jersey Rockaway Morris NA 250 250 0
Chabad Jewish Center in Basking Ridge/
Chabad of Somerset, Hunterdon & Union
Counties
Basking Ridge Somerset NA 75 150 75
Chabad of Montville Township Montville Morris 0 50 75 25
Chabad of Mountain Lake-Boonton
Township-Denville
Denville Morris NA 30 30 0
Chabad of Northwest NJ-Western Region Flanders Morris NA 50 50 0
Chabad of Randolph Randolph Morris 0 60 40 -20
Chabad of Sussex County Sparta Sussex 0 70 100 30
Chabad of Union County Fanwood Union 0 15 30 15
Chai Center of Millburn/Short Hills Short Hills Essex NA 80 90 10
Congregation Levi Yitzchok/
Rabbinical College of America
Morristown Morris NA 100 100 0
Congregation Shaya Ahavat Torah/
Chabad Center of SE Morris County
Parsippany Morris 25 35 30 -5
Lubavitch Center Shul West Orange Essex 36 52 68 16
Maplewood Jewish Center / Congregation
Beth Ephraim
Maplewood Essex NA 35 45 10
Union County Torah Center Westfield Union NA 500 500 0
Total: 16 61 1402 1558 156

________

General Note: Many synagogues were unable to provide estimates for 1998 membership. Changes reflect only those synagogues for which 2008 and 2012 information is available. Italicized numbers are used to indicate reasonable estimates where data are not available.

References:

Sheskin, Ira M. (2013). The 2012 MetroWest Jewish Population Update Study. Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ. http://databank.bjpa.org/Studies/downloadFile.cfm?FileID=2383

Chabad and Hillel Learn from Each Other #ChabadSociology #ChabadandHillel

Hillel-LogoIn the spirit of the upcoming Jewish New Year, we’d like to point to a finding that should warm your heart.

Chabad on Campus and Hillel are two Jewish organizations that serve the needs of Jewish students at universities all across the United States.

In may ways, they are engaged in a fierce competition. They compete for student involvement and public support. Their approaches are different, but they are playing on the same turf.

But one student found that Chabad and Hillel learn from each other.

In her Master’s Thesis, Heath Watenmaker at HUC points to some of the ways the organizations influence one another. According to Watenmaker: “Largely in response to Chabad’s presence on campus, Hillel has actively tried to incorporate more of a family feel into their Shabbat experience… Perhaps as an adaptation to Hillel’s ability to successfully reach large groups of students with highly social events, Chabad now holds events like paintballing… and they have monthly social gatherings.”

While this does not account for the experience at all campuses, this is a development that is wonderful to see.

References:

Watenmaker, Heath A. Building Bridges, Creating Community: How Hillel and Chabad Reach out to Students on Campus. HUC-JIR School of Jewish Nonprofit Management (formerly School of Jewish Communal Service) Masters Theses. Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion School of Jewish Communal Service. May 2006: http://www.bjpa.org/Publications/details.cfm?PublicationID=5126

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.

Don’t Go Away!!! Stanford Scholar Asks to Collect Online Orthodox Material #ChabadSociology #OnlineResearch

Chabadjpg
Searching Chabad-Lubavitch on Google Scholar

Heidi Lerner, a Judaica cataloguer at Stanford University, has highlighted the scholarly value of preserving Jewish Orthodx materials being posted online.

“The research value of these materials to the study of Orthodox Judaism is quite considerable. Scholars have acknowledged the importance of  institutional collections of physical ephemera, notably the National Library of Israel (the new official name of the Jewish National and University Library in Jerusalem); the Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary’s broadside, poster, and “pashkevilim” (public wall posters used for communication in Haredi society) collections; and Harvard College Library Judaica Division’s collection of audio and videotaped sermons. The increasing concentration of such materials on the Web will necessitate new efforts at preservation.”

But doing that is not easy, as Lerner notes.

“The transient nature of these online sources and the difficulties in finding them are ongoing areas of concern that researchers and scholars need to address. There have been many third-party attempts to organize them on portals, individuals’ collections of links, scholars’ Web pages, etc. However, these do not provide systematic indexing or archiving, or any guarantee of longevity.”

I have seen a few attempts to try to organize Chabad-related resources, and I hope that they don’t just disappear…

Read more of Lerner’s article here.

References:

Lerner, Heidi. Researching Orthodox Judaism Online. AJS Perspectives: The Magazine of the Association for Jewish Studies. Association for Jewish Studies (AJS). Spring 2008: 36-38

Campus Shabbat Experience @ Chabad – Sociologists Research & Make Recommendations #ChabadSociology #ChabadonCampus

Jewish Sociologists collaborating with the Chabad on Campus International Foundation examined the phenomenon of Shabbat dinner events held on American college campuses by the Chabad-Lubavitch movement.

The researchers identified factors which make the program so successful, and make recommendations for how other Jewish programs can tap into the needs and desires that motivate young American Jewish college students to attend these events.

Chabad Mizou
Photo by MendyDesign

Their recommendations to Chabad were for them to:

1. Expand its work in this area.

2. Continue its willingness to think “out of the box.”

3. Expand the kinds of educators it has engaged in this work and increase the educational training of Chabad rabbis so that they can incorporate more pedagogic tools in their repertoires.

4. Take unique ideas that have chemistry and enable them to grow without turning them into routine.

You can view the full report here.

References:

Cohen, Steven M. Chazan, Barry. Reimer, Joseph. Bryfman, David. Home Away From Home — A Research Study of the Shabbos Experience on Five University Campuses: An Informal Educational Model for Working with Young Jewish Adults. Chabad on Campus International Foundation. August 2006:http://www.bjpa.org/Publications/details.cfm?PublicationID=3623

Top 5 Resources Online to Access Chabad #ChabadSociology #ChabadTop5

chabadorg2

#1 – Chabad.org

Ranked number one and for good reason. Chabad.org is overflowing with information and media on Judaism and Chabad-Lubavitch. You can easily wind up visiting there on a daily basis.

wikipedia-logo2#2 – Wikipedia.org

Wikipedia has an impressive collection of articles on Chabad. As far as quality goes, they could use a little help. Not all Chabad-related articles are up to par with Wikipedia’s own editorial standards. Usually you will find a note at the top of the article highlighting issues with the article.

If you spot something that doesn’t sit right with you on their site, don’t become alarmed. The site can be edited by anyone, so why not set the record straight.

chinfo&collive

#3 – CrownHeights.info & Collive.com

There’s nothing like getting to know the world of Chabad-Lubavitch than from a true insider perspective. CrownHeights.info & Collive.com are two popular community websites. There’s a big focus on community events and happenings. If there ever is a “public square” where members of the Chabad community talk about how they feel and what they think, it is in the comments section of these two sites.

lubav-com#4 – Lubavitch.com

Lubavitch.com is the official website of Chabad-Lubavitch. This is where you should be headed to find out the latest news and developments in Chabad around the world. The site is professional, crisp and easy to navigate.

hebrewbooks#5 – HebrewBooks.org

Finally, there’s HebrewBooks.org. A site which allows you to browse the contents of over 500 Chabad books. Unfortunately, the site does not appear very user-friendly for the English speaking user. And the majority of the Chabad books on the site are in Hebrew. For those wishing to study Chabad texts online, this is the go-to site.

Is Chabad Bilingual? Study in Bilingual Patterns in Chabad – Circa 1968 #ChabadSociology #ChabadBilingual

Study in Bilingual Patterns in Chabad – Circa 1968

Following up to an earlier post (“Walking the Walk. Talking the Talk. Linguistic Studies on Chabad“), here’s a link to a study on linguistic patterns in the Chabad community circa 1968!!!

black-guyOnce again, I’m sure some people would not find the nitty-gritty details all that exciting, and who can blame you?

But before you dismiss the all the confusing tables and notes, there is at least one statement in the paper that should be noted.

George Jochnowitz, the fellow doing the research, concludes his study with an rather interesting remark:

“It is therefore reasonable to conclude that the Lubavitcher community will remain bilingual indefinitely.”

What do you think? In your experience, is Chabad bilingual? And to what degree?

References:

Jochnowitz, George. “Bilingualism and dialect mixture among Lubavitcher Hasidic children.” American Speech 43, no. 3 (1968): 182-200. http://www.jochnowitz.net/Essays/BilingualismDialect.pdf

Summing Up the Total Chabad School Count

In “Comparing Full-Time and Part-Time Numbers at Chabad Schools” we’ve noted the numbers on Chabad day schools (full-time Jewish schools). In this post, we’ve summarized the total and provided the average student count for Chabad schools.

dayschools

There are at least 222 part-time Jewish schools affiliated with Chabad. Student body is about 8,500. The average student count per school is 38.

There are at least 73 part-time Jewish schools affiliated with Chabad. Student body is about 12,300. The average student count per school is 168.

In total, there are at least 295 Jewish schools affiliated with Chabad. Student body is about 20,750. The average student count per school is 70.

The report on part-time Jewish schools can be accessed here.

The report on full-time Jewish schools can be accessed here.

References:

Schick, Marvin. A Census of Jewish Day Schools in the United States 2008-2009. Avi Chai Foundation. October 2009.

Wertheimer, Jack. A Census of Jewish Supplementary Schools in the United States: 2006-2007. Avi Chai Foundation. August 2008.