April 17, 2024
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Why Attending This Year’s Annual Teaneck Yoetzet Initiative Community Event Might Be More Important Than Ever Before

“I think I had COVID but I wasn’t tested. Am I allowed to go to the mikvah?”

“I have a gel manicure and I can’t get it off because the nail salons are closed. Is it a chatzitza (barrier to immersion)?”

“My husband and I have been fighting incessantly. Has anyone else told you this?”

“I had been instructed years ago to shower at the mikvah after immersion because of a chlorine allergy. What do I do now if we are not permitted to shower or bathe there?”

“I heard that our mikvah is doing a fantastic job, but I’m anxious to go to the mikvah because of the coronavirus…I know we already spoke about this three times.”

“I’m just furious that I can’t immerse because I have COVID-19.”

“I was in the middle of an IVF cycle and my clinic is shutting down…”

“Am I obligated to immerse in the mikvah if I’m too worried and my husband and I agree to stay in Niddah and observe the laws?”

The work of Yoatzot Halacha has always been a mix of education through answering halachic questions, delivering shiurim and providing a listening ear for women who wish to share their triumphs and struggles in the realms of taharat hamishpacha, marriage and their individual lives. Since March 4 when I received my first coronavirus-related call, my work and life have shifted dramatically to help marry the observance of Niddah with the rapidly changing world of pandemic information––and in doing so, meet the evolving needs of the women and families in our community.

Of the two roles delineated above, I’ve always felt that one of the unique contributions female Yoatzot members bring to the table is the ability to support women through a common experience––the lived experience of taharat hamishpacha. Pre-COVID-19, a regular “day in the life” of a Teaneck Yoetzet may have consisted of two or three questions out of six or seven that concerned this topic.

Over the past four months, call volume has increased 44% as compared to this time last year. In addition, the ratio of halachic conversations to support and counseling conversations has shifted toward the latter––and I’ve been humbled by the responsibility and opportunity. During the first five weeks of the pandemic, 55% of the 275 coronavirus-related questions I received involved allaying anxiety about the impact of the pandemic on the laws of Niddah, particularly the mikvah.

These questions, of course, are often answered in collaboration with rabbaim, medical and mental health experts and mikvaot. Over the past months, due to the massive influx of rapidly changing information and the continual updating of mikvah policies, I’ve had the distinct privilege of collaborating with our outstanding community rabbaim and esteemed mikvah leadership and staff on a nearly daily basis. There has not been a day that has gone by where I have not remarked to myself just how incredible our communal leadership is.

Our local and global community has endured a lot, and the responsibility of charting a path ahead during such times of uncertainty has fallen on these lay and klei kodesh who strive to have their finger on the pulse of the individuals and families they serve.

The questions delineated above are not just about navigating the emotional and logistical challenges of the changing reality of mikvah immersion. They are not merely reflections of how our halachic system responds to modern realities, and in this case, to a pandemic of crisis proportions. Rather, if my read of the communal pulse is accurate, I believe the underlying question that many couples are asking is, how do we maintain, enhance and in some cases, salvage, the most intimate aspect of our relationship––that which the mikvah guards?

As such, this year’s eighth annual Yoetzet Initiative seeks to address this topic head-on. On Sunday, July 19 at 8:30 p.m., our event, “You, Me and We: Cultivating Intimacy,” will feature a Zoom conversation with Suri Halpern, a noted family and couples therapist and certified sex therapist. While being a married Jewish couple is legislated by the laws of Niddah, that does not mean that these laws define the essential nature of a couple’s physical relationship. Rather, at the center is the emotional and physical connection between the couple, with the laws of Niddah forming an orbit around this most sacred core.

Some of the topics that we will address in this dialogue, relevant to all ages, include how intimacy changes across the lifespan, the impact of stress on the physical relationship, and practical ways for couples to enhance this important area of marriage. Participants are invited to submit questions in advance when they register for this event at http://rinat.org/yoetzet2020, and will be able to submit questions anonymously at the conclusion of the event for the Q&A.

To register for the Yoetzet event, please visit http://rinat.org/yoetzet2020 

Tova Warburg Sinensky is the Yoetzet Halacha for the Teaneck community. She also serves as the Yoetzet Halacha for Ohr HaTorah of Toco Hills in Atlanta and is as a kallah teacher as well as a consultant for high schools on intimacy education. To follow the Teaneck Yoetzet Initiative on Facebook visit: https://www.facebook.com/TeaneckYoetzet/

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