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.