The Scholars and Physicians Who Are Bringing the Most Intimate Areas of Jewish Ritual to Social Media

In the past few years, a number of popular accounts have appeared on the photo-sharing platform Instagram that are dedicated to educating a mostly-Orthodox, female audience about the finer points of taharat ha-mishpaḥah (literally, “familial purity”)—a set of halakhic regulations centered around married women’s monthly immersion in mikveh, or ritual bath, and that govern the most private aspects of Jewish life. Some of these accounts are run by physicians who specialize in gynecology and obstetrics; others by yo’atsot halakah, female halakhic advisers trained to render decisions of particular relevance to women. Lindsey Bodner analyzes this phenomenon:

With the words “mikveh,” “pregnancy and postpartum,” “male and female infertility,” “taharat ha-mishpaḥah,” “consent,” and “PCOS” flashing on the screen, a woman lip-syncs the song, “My Favorite Things” from The Sound of Music, deadpan. . . . Infertility and postpartum [depression], among the others, are rarely among people’s favorite things, but the tongue-in-cheek video “reel” on the Nishmatyoatzot.us Instagram account is part of a pioneering effort to educate through humor and validate practitioners of taharat ha-mishpaḥah, Jewish laws of family purity.

Those who practice taharat ha-mishpaḥah, mostly Orthodox married couples, have traditionally been instructed to be highly discreet about their practice. Typically, people learn the mechanics of taharat ha-mishpaḥah when they are engaged to be married in several hours of private or small-group [brides’ or grooms’] classes in the weeks or months leading up to the wedding. For the average person observing the laws, supplemental learning takes place mostly ad-hoc when questions arise. Specific questions that come up in the course of practice are directed to the couple’s halakhic authority, though some couples are uncomfortable asking. Of the books available, [few] include scientific explanations or sex education, and fewer still address women’s lived experiences.

Over the past several decades, efforts have been made, in no small part by Nishmat, a Modern Orthodox educational institution that rigorously trains women in taharat ha-mishpaḥah and women’s health, to increase learning and transparency in these matters. Synagogues, organizations, and high schools sometimes provide foundational courses, “refreshers,” or classes addressing special topics. However, Instagram provides validation largely missing from taharat ha-mishpaḥah education, and it is more public and far-reaching than any of these endeavors. In fact, it likely reaches a wider audience than all of these efforts in the aggregate.

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More about: Mikveh, Niddah, Orthodoxy, Social media, Women in Judaism

Condemning Terrorism in Jerusalem—and Efforts to Stop It

Jan. 30 2023

On Friday night, a Palestinian opened fire at a group of Israelis standing outside a Jerusalem synagogue, killing seven and wounding several others. The day before, the IDF had been drawn into a gunfight in the West Bank city of Jenin while trying to arrest members of a terrorist cell. Of the nine Palestinians killed in the raid, only one appears to have been a noncombatant. Lahav Harkov compares the responses to the two events, beginning with the more recent:

President Joe Biden called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to denounce the attack, offer his condolences, and express his commitment to Israel’s security. Other leaders released supportive statements as well. Governments across Europe condemned the attack. Turkey’s foreign ministry did the same, as did Israel’s Abraham Accords partners the UAE and Bahrain. Even Saudi Arabia released a statement against the killing of civilians in Jerusalem.

It feels wrong to criticize those statements. . . . But the condemnations should be full-throated, not spoken out of one side of the mouth while the other is wishy-washy about what it takes to stave off terrorism. These very same leaders and ministries were tsk-tsking at Israel for doing just that only a day before the attacks in Jerusalem.

The context didn’t seem to matter to some countries that are friendly to Israel. It didn’t matter that Israel was trying to stop jihadists from attacking civilians; it didn’t matter that IDF soldiers were attacked on the way.

It’s very easy for some to be sad when Jews are murdered. Yet, at the same time, so many of them are uncomfortable with Jews asserting themselves, protecting themselves, arming themselves against the bloodthirsty horde that would hand out bonbons to celebrate their deaths. It’s a reminder of how important it is that we do just that, and how essential the state of Israel is.

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Read more at Lahav’s Newsletter

More about: Jerusalem, Palestinian terror