Homemaking is a challenge for many Jewish women. Some people are just disorganized. Some did not have competent mothers, or mothers who ran an observant Jewish home, or mothers at all. Add a few small children and maybe a job, and you have a tremendous challenge.
Flylady has helped many make progress with their housework. But Flylady is American, English-speaking, and most definitely Christian. Megeirot filled the need for a supposedly Jewish approach to housekeeping. The problem is that the Torah doesn’t tell us much about cleaning drawers. So the bulk of Megeirot‘s content had to come from non-Jewish sources.
As a reader who completed the first “level” of Megeirot wrote in an email: “I liked the overlay of Jewish, spiritual goals achieved through standard cognitive – behavioral type exercises.” In other words, Megeirot consisted of Jewish concepts tacked on to a particular psychological approach. I have no problem with applying psychology in order to achieve a goal. But it’s not inherently Jewish.
Faith/Emuna wrote about attending Megeirot, where she was advised to ask for help from above when straightening out clutter. The idea of a personal prayer doesn’t disturb me, but saying someone else’s prayer might. Same with prayers said over a closet. I don’t know that religion should be mixed directly into everything.
According to the original article in Makor Rishon (Hebrew), Sylvie trained the instructors to negate the feelings a student expressed about the contents of her drawer. No matter what the student said, the instructor was told to tell her: “Sheker (falsehood), that is a statement of the ordinary sechel (intellect) which is your non-sechel. You don’t have any sechel.” Then the student recited a prayer, intended to redirect the woman’s thoughts. Replacing negative thoughts with positive ones is a good idea, but telling a woman she has no sechel is not. At any rate, some instructors revised the methods, and even distanced themselves from Sylvie, the founder.
According to Makor Rishon, Rabbi Dov Lior of Kiryat Arba opposed Megeirot from the beginning and warned that it was not based on Jewish teachings. Later he and his wife worked with several women who had been harmed by Megeirot and Sylvie. Other rabbis felt the method had merit, despite the alleged faults of its founder.
We do need prayer, a connection with God, and a sense of higher purpose even when involved in mundane tasks. But we can also achieve spirituality through learning, serving the community, joyful observance of mitzvot, and caring for our families.
Megeirot appears to have helped many women. It probably served as a good support group, whether or not the content was problematic. Anytime people meet frequently with a competent counselor to discuss housekeeping, parenting, marriage, or dieting, they will improve in that area just because they are focusing on it. But when a method involves prayers, and marital and childrearing advice, one must be extremely careful about the person leading the group. Appearing religious and knowledgeable does not qualify someone to give sensitive advice. Even more importantly, a good counselor knows when to refer to a professional. Sylvie may not have taught every group but she was presumably the one instructors turned to for guidance in specific situations. And if the allegations about her are true, that’s scary.