Reviewing: “Sefer Nishmat HaBayit: Responsa on Pregnancy, Birth and Family Planning.” Edited by Rabbanit Chana Henkin and Rabbi Yehuda Henkin. Midreshet Nishmat and Maggid Books. 2018. Hebrew. 374 pages. ISBN-13: 978-9655262346.
This collaborative work consists of 63 teshuvot on subjects related to pregnancy, birth, pregnancy loss, nursing and contraception written by seven yoatzot halacha and reviewed by Rabbi Yehuda Henkin and Rabbi Yaakov Warhaftig. In addition, the sefer contains five medical appendices by Dr. Deena Zimmerman, herself a yoetzet halacha as well as a medical doctor. The work contains the haskamot of Rabbi Dov Lior, Rabbi Avigdor Nebenzahl and Rabbi Nachum Rabinovitch, among others.
Each teshuvah presents a summary of the practical pesak halachah followed by a more detailed look at the classical and contemporary halachic sources on which the pesak is based. The teshuvot are admirably clear and erudite, and the work as a whole provides an excellent guide to these complex halachot.
We owe a debt of gratitude to Rabbanit Henkin not only for her work on this excellent book, but for her vision in founding the program of yoatzot halacha. There is no doubt that women are more comfortable asking questions of other women in this sensitive realm. Speaking from my experience as a rabbi in Englewood, New Jersey, I think I can safely say that Shayna Goldberg, who has served as a yoetzet halacha for our community and consulted with me on occasion, has received more questions in her years here than I have received over a period of many more years.
The phenomenon of bringing questions to women in these areas is not a new one. Rabbi Rabinovich, in his haskamah, points to a Talmudic precedent for women advising other women on these matters. In Brisk, the women would bring questions to the wife of the Brisker Dayyan, Rav Simcha Zelig, who would bring them to her husband. This system functioned well until Rav Chaim Soloveitchik was asked to be more active in pesak for the community. Rav Chaim agreed to answer questions in the area of taharat hamishpacha so the women began bringing their questions to Rav Chaim’s wife, who brought them to him. However, Rav Chaim had follow-up questions for each case and wanted to speak to the women directly. Since the women did not want to speak directly to Rav Chaim, the old system of bringing the questions to the Dayan’s wife was quickly restored. Yoatzot trained in these halachot make the process of asking questions and receiving responses a smoother one.
In sum, this sefer is an important addition to the halachic literature on these subjects, and represents the welcome development of a cadre of women who are equipped to provide guidance in the realm of family purity.
By Rabbi Menachem Genack
Rabbi Menachem Genack is the rabbi of Congregation Shomrei Emunah in Englewood, the rabbinic administrator for the OU’s kashrut division and a faculty member of RIETS at Yeshiva University.