Is Public Breastfeeding Immodest? An Orthodox Jewish Perspective

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Welcome to the July 2010 Carnival of Nursing in Public This post was written for inclusion in the Carnival of Nursing in PublicNursingFreedom.org. All week, July 5-9, we will be featuring articles and posts about nursing in public (“NIP”). See the bottom of this post for more information. ***

breastfeeding baby shadowNursing in public is controversial in today’s Jewish world. A guest post I wrote on a liberal Orthodox Jewish blog, advocating acceptance for woman nursing in the women’s section of the  synagogue, drew hundreds of mostly negative comments.  But there is no evidence that Jewish texts and tradition prohibit breastfeeding in public. And rabbis never viewed breastfeeding as too “unholy” for the synagogue.

A Jewish discussion of nursing in public usually centers on two possibly conflicting values. Judaism recognizes the importance of breastfeeding in nurturing children, with the mother as the primary spiritual influence in the early years. Yet Jewish law requires women to dress modestly, and that includes keeping breasts covered.

My cousin is writing a doctoral thesis on the history of Jewish women’s dress. She explained that Jews usually adopted clothing styles of the surrounding culture, making changes when necessary. For example, Jewish women living in societies where uncovered breasts were the norm covered theirs. In Judaism, breasts have a dual role—they feed and nurture children, but they are also erotic.

Two biblical stories shed light on a Jewish approach to breastfeeding. Baby Moses, hidden so he wouldn’t be killed by Pharaoh’s evil decree, was placed in a basket on the Nile. His sister stood by to make sure he would be safe. When Pharaoh’s daughter rescued Moses, she sent for a wet nurse from the Hebrew slaves. According to the Midrash, an early compilation of rabbinic interpretations of Exodus, Moses refused to nurse from an Egyptian wet nurse. The leader of the Jewish people was nursed only by his own mother. In Judaism nursing is more than food—it plays a key role in transmitting religion, values and culture. Hannah also nursed her son, Samuel, for several years before sending him to study under Eil and fulfill his life’s mission as a prophet (I Samuel, Ch. 2). Rabbinic texts define the nursing period from between two to four or five years old.

Does the fact that breasts are seen as erotic mean that breastfeeding is erotic as well, and should be private even when the breasts are not visible? In Jewish texts, a discussion of women’s modesty centers around whether a man can pray in the presence of a woman with various body parts exposed. According to the Ben Ish Hai, a rabbi from the late 18th century in Baghdad, while a woman is breastfeeding her exposed breasts are not considered erotic. The function of the breasts, feeding a baby, trumps considerations of modesty. But the fact remains that even though Orthodox women are careful to cover up when nursing, they are often made to feel uncomfortable.

I saw a woman in a black robe down to her ankles calmly nursing her baby on a bench in a Jerusalem zoo. I’ve also met women comfortable showing cleavage or a bare midriff, but not with nursing in public. Whether one nurses in public has little to do with religion or modesty. Modern Jewish expressions of discomfort with public breastfeeding come from the un-Jewish attitude of the surrounding bottle-feeding culture.

All of the reasons for protecting the rights of women to nurse their babies wherever they are—convenience, social involvement, better breastfeeding rates– remain valid for traditional Jews, especially mothers of large families. It saddens me that society’s negative attitudes toward breastfeeding in public could influence young Jewish mothers to avoid breastfeeding.

**Welcome to the Carnival of Nursing in Public

Please join us all week, July 5-9, as we celebrate and support breastfeeding mothers. And visit NursingFreedom.org any time to connect with other breastfeeding supporters, learn more about your legal right to nurse in public, and read (and contribute!) articles about breastfeeding and N.I.P.

Do you support breastfeeding in public? Grab this badge for your blog or website to show your support and encourage others to educate themselves about the benefits of breastfeeding and the rights of breastfeeding mothers and children.

This post is just one of many being featured as part of the Carnival of Nursing in Public. Please visit our other writers each day of the Carnival. Click on the links below to see each day’s posts – new articles will be posted on the following days:

July 5 – Making Breastfeeding the Norm: Creating a Culture of Breastfeeding in a Hyper-Sexualized World

July 6 – Supporting Breastfeeding Mothers: the New, the Experienced, and the Mothers of More Than One Nursing Child

July 7 – Creating a Supportive Network: Your Stories and Celebrations of N.I.P.

July 8 – Breastfeeding: International and Religious Perspectives

July 9 – Your Legal Right to Nurse in Public, and How to Respond to Anyone Who Questions It

Photo credit: MJTR

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Comments

  1. The mother just has to be fully covered . My sister in law would sit on the couch to nurse while the other family members would eat. There were other men there. I did the same.

    Discomfort in watching a mother nurse does have something of a intimate nature.

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  2. Modesty is very subjective. I sat in a public park and nursed my daughter while being completely covered with a shawl I had crocheted just for this. A group of women standing nearby, very modestly dressed (in spite of the heat) were talking about me in Yiddish (which I speak fluently) about what a fallen woman I was. Modesty is not just what you wear, or what you show of your body, it’s also how you act. So who was the modest one in this little show?

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    • Miri, you’re right that it is subjective. That’s why breastfeeding advocates object to language mentioning discreet breastfeeding in legislation. Sad about the ladies in the park.

      Ita, there’s another article in the carnival that mentions the breast only needing to be partially covered. I asked her for the source.

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  3. I did share this post. This is a fantastic article. I’m sorry i can’t join you by doing the public thing but only because I just weaned my 2.6 year old last month…but I’m all for it, and I have breast fed both my children in public many many times. if I have the chance I’ll do it again.

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  4. Mrs Belogski says:

    I have nursed all my children in all sorts of public places, using a blanket or whatever else was available, either to cover myself and the baby, or, as now with a 14 month old who doesn’t like to nurse under a blanket, to shield myself so that nothing is showing that shouldn’t be. I tend not to nurse at the dinner table if we have male guests, but apart from that- if I am covered over, if they don’t like it it’s their problem! yesterday I interviewed a politician and I had my baby with me. When the baby started to get fractious because it was time for his nap, I fed him, while talking to the guy, and he fell asleep on my lap, allowing me to continue the interview undisturbed. Not a peep or even a blink from the politician!

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  5. I once nursed my (now 15 yo) in the dining hall of a 5 star hotel in Eilat. We had been invited there for dinner by relatives in from New York. Baby was hungry, we were at a long drawn out meal, I nursed him discreetly at the table.
    Afterwards, a forbidding-looking middle aged man made a bee line for me; I prepared myself for a stream of abuse. To my surprise he said “Kol HaKavod (well done). You were all eating and your baby needed to eat too”.

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  6. Shoshana says:

    I nursed in public with both my children and the sad thing is that I was comfortable in the mall and all sorts of public places (and yes, i nursed in the women’s section in shul too – no one said a thing though i occasionally got strange looks, but i think they just wrote me off as the crazy american.

    The sad thing was, of all the places i nursed, I was made to feel most uncomfortable in my own home…. by my in-laws when they visited. My mother-in-law could not help herself and he concern on how awful it was for me to do such a thing in front of my father-in-law and how uncomfortable he was (he never said a thing, mind you). She expected me to not nurse in my own living room! I, however, am not the most obedient daughter-in-law and told her that they can stay in their guest room then when i’m nursing as it was far more comfortable for me to sit on the couch or the rocking chair to nurse than in my bed (and my bedroom had no room for a chair in it).

    My father and I talked about it once and he said that at first, with my oldest sister, he was a bit uncomfortable but he realized it was him and not her… and by the 7th grandkid, he had learned to overcome himself (as he said, nothing was showing but he simply didn’t remember seeing it till us kids grew up)

    I was proud to nurse in public and truth be told I got far more positive comments by all sorts of stranger than I ever did any negative feedback – more than once I got a ‘kol hakavod’ from a random stranger.

    Having visited the US while nursing, i can say its far easier to NIP in Israel – far fewer dirty looks and far more positive comments

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  7. I only recently read the Jewish laws about breastfeeding to two and up to five years old – absolutely fascinating! I’d be interested to know whether full-term/extended breastfeeding is more common among Jewish mothers. Thank you so much for this informative post.

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    • Dionna, it’s hard to say whether it’s more common, but it’s certainly not unusual. Practicing Jews living in countries outside of Israel are already used to going against the mainstream.

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  8. I have no problem nursing in public. I nurse in malls, zoos, parks, wherever. I draw the line at nursing IN the ezras nashim in shul. It might eb modest, but I do not believe that it is respectful to the davening or sifrei kodesh.

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    • CR, thanks for your comment. Not every mother feels comfortable nursing in public in every situation, and some won’t nurse in public at all. That’s fine. My comments about nursing in shul is to prevent those who do from getting dirty looks or being asked to leave. Because there’s no halachic problem with it.

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  9. BookishIma says:

    I’m sure I’m not the only mother who felt nursing with a cover was not only more difficult and annoying for myself and the baby but also less modest – it takes longer to get settled, you can’t see what you’re doing so you’re more likely to fumble and have the cover fall off, the baby pulls it off and then you do feel exposed. I very quickly ditched the cover and nursed the baby almost anywhere. I was always surprised at how few people seemed to notice what I was doing – they were genuinely oblivious! I am still breastfeeding now that he’s a toddler but I can’t remember the last time I nursed him in public – probably on an airplane. As he got older, nursing has become mostly at bedtime/morning.

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  10. Bookish Ima–I also believe you can cover adequately without a cover or blanket.

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  11. Very interesting! I’ve been there. I breastfed my son until he was 1 1/2. It’s appropriate to cover up when breastfeeding in public and we don’t know what’s on the mind of the other people. I’m glad I’m over it :-)

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  12. Gette, thanks for your comment. If “something” is on people’s minds covering up doesn’t help much. :)

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  13. mother in israel,
    That isn’t necessarily true. Are you sensitive to keep yourself totally covered while niddah? Many women do that as a way to help their husbands keep in check for that time period. Men are very sensitive visually in this area. That is where the idea of “Shemiras Einayim”(watching of the eyes) comes from.

    If you have Rabbi Falk’s book on Tznius it will tell you about nursing in front of men etc..
    I think the issue here is.. there is nothing wrong with nursing so why not?
    Nursing in public out of necessity is one thing, but to nurse in public b/c you feel like it is another.

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  14. Mrs Belogski says:

    BTW I went to an exhibition of quilts at a big London museum a couple of weeks ago and my baby started fussing. I couldn’t see any chairs around so I curled up with him in a quiet corner and fed him. No comments from anyone who saw me. Then I carried on through the exhibition and found a bench with another woman nursing a tiny baby. I remarked that I was pleased I wasn’t the only person feeding a baby in there – to which she said that she had seen a few! when I needed to feed him again, I went back to the bench and we had a chat about nursing. It was obviously that sort of place, because when I went into the garden to eat lunch, there were other women nursing out there with and without covers. Maybe we’re just more laid back about this sort of thing in London, or maybe as my daughter said in the middle of a work day, only nursing mothers and older people are able to visit design museums! Also BTW my mother in law ( and mother) who both breastfed have always been v supportive and my MIL particularly said how nice it is that I just feed whereever as she always felt shy and only fed in her bedroom.

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  15. This was a very interesting read–thank you for sharing your perspective!

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  16. Ariella says:

    RE Miriyummy’s story: I once saw a woman whose dress indicated she was a Satmar chassid nursing at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden. She was seated in one of the covered benches opposite her husband. So she was somewhat discreet but not altogether out of sight. I’ve seen modest women nurse in libraries and even when visiting a nursing home. No one is doing it to make an exhibition of herself. So it is absolutely absurd to cast such aspersions.

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  17. Ita, I don’t think I’ve ever met a woman who nurses anywhere, in public or at home because she “feels like it”. Generally, women nurse because they’re babies are hungry.

    Shoshana, I had the same exact issue but at my in laws- with my first, I plunked myself down in the living room to nurse when my daughter was hungry. I was discreetly informed through my husband that my in laws considered this inappropriate because they still had teenage sons in the house. I was banished to the office area they had near my husband’s room that had a big semi comfortable chair.

    By my second daughter, I was actually grateful for the breaks from the rest of the family.

    I drew the line in my own house though. I nursed where I wanted regardless of who was in the house.

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  18. Right, most ppl nurse kids b/c they are hungry. And if they are fully covered, it is fine in the living room..
    But, if your kid doesn’t let you cover it is only appropriate to go into your room and nurse. that’s all i am saying.. to keep fully covered!

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  19. Abigail says:

    Interesting post, thank you. I am not Jewish, but as a Christian, modesty is important for me too. I’ve heard a lot of teachings like what Ita mentioned, how men have a hard time controlling their eyes, even on seemingly innocent things. However, it’s ultimately between the man and God how he controls his thoughts; if I am taking reasonable measures, I don’t think I bear the responsibility if a man sees some skin and has sexual thoughts.
    I’ll admit, though, I spent much of the time after my son’s birth hiding out at home because I was very uncomfortable to NIP. Second child is on its way, and I’m trying to get encouragement and brace myself. I’ve found a more supportive group of friends, which helps. It’s not that I’m ashamed per se, it’s just that here in the US, it attracts attention. And I don’t like the extra attention… wondering what people are thinking, why they are staring, what if my baby suddenly pulls away and I’m exposed to the world, etc.
    Here are the two most extreme polar reactions I got: One was from a man who said while passing, “if I were him [meaning my son] I’d want those ninnies too.” The other was from a nun at a cathedral my family was touring. My son was getting fussy, and there was a lull in the tour, so I sat down on an out-of-the-way pew and nursed him. A nun passing by saw me, got tears in her eyes, and said, “Oh, it’s so holy! Like the Virgin Mary! I haven’t seen a woman nurse in here in years!” Of course, the cathedral was echoey, and the others in the room heard her! I’d much rather have the second reaction than the first, but I’d rather have zero attention at all for it!

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    • Abigail, thanks for sharing. Congrats on your new pregnancy! Experience does help a lot. I sympathize with your discomfort at nursing in public. What an obnoxious fellow (reaction #1). and how funny (reaction #2). I think what you picked up with the second reaction is that nursing should be seen as normal, not something “holy” and special and worthy of note.

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  20. this was a really fascinating post, thank you for writing it. i always felt most comfortable nursing in private. and actually didn’t mind separating from all else to do so(really, i didn’t). i *do* think that nursing shawls are a perfect solution for everyone. as open as i am about mothering and nursing, if i’m being perfectly honest, it isn’t 100% comfortable being around an openly uncovered nursing mom. i would never want anyone to leave or whatever, it’s just not for me. thanks for putting such an important topic out there, and in such an interesting light.

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    • Minnesota Mamaleh: Your post went to spam again. I don’t know why. I think that many of us who grew up in a primarily bottle-feeding culture are uncomfortable with nursing, on some level. Thanks for sharing and sorry for missing the comment earlier

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  21. Ita, I fully agree that you should stay covered when nursing and I never had a problem staying covered while nursing any of my three kids.

    I’m not sure how going to one’s room will solve the problem for a woman who’s out of her home. And again, even women who have fussy babies who like to play with their shirts are pretty adept and keeping their shirt down. Yes, it can happen once and a while I guess that a piece of skin can be flashed but most experienced bf’ers are pretty good at staying covered.

    It’s up to the mother where and when she should should bf, not anyone else.

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  22. Join Scentsy says:

    I think it all has to do with tact. You wouldn’t openly pray over food in public, but would do it quiety with the intent to be polite. The same thing should be done about public ‘feedings’ You should cover up out of respect.

    Making statements is for people looking for controversy when none is required.

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  23. I think public breastfeeding is actually quite acceptable in Israel. I see women breastfeeding everywhere, from park benches to the couches on sale at IKEA. For the most part, they are discreet and I have no issue with it.

    A friend of mine returned from a couple of years in the States, and she told me that she was shocked at the difference in attitude. Apparently they are more puritanical over there, and breastfeeding in public is really frowned upon.

    Personally, I usually tried to avoid nursing in public just because I’m a very private person. I would go into another room to nurse when I had guests or when visiting others.
    But in contrast to the commenters above, my very Israeli (and religious)
    in-laws always encouraged me to stay and nurse in the same room with everyone. They never had any issues with it, I was the one with the puritanical baggage.

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  24. When my daughter was born, I had huge hang-ups about nursing in public, and it took me a while to realize that that’s just what they were: hang-ups, not halachic issues. She never yanked the cover off so I could be completely covered up anywhere, it wasn’t the issue. There was a time when I had to nurse pretty much constantly to boost my supply. It worked and we never had to give formula, but it meant that I hid out for a month and a half or so!!

    When she was seven months, we were invited to a Shabbat chatan. It had been months since I’ve been to synagogue because I didn’t feel comfortable nursing in the (mostly nearly empty) ezrat nashim. This time I had to go.

    I nursed in the dusty and stifling geniza. Not very comfortable but at least there was a chair and shadow. After that, we proceeded to the kiddush and the meal, which was a LONG one. She wanted to nurse again. The meal was in a dining hall and it was impractical to go back to our room, so I just went outside, crouched somewhere in a tiny spot of shade and nursed. The baby and I were stiflingly hot and I was crying because I felt so suffocated by always having to miss out on conversations and family celebrations. I felt as though I had spent the best part of the last months hidden away. I didn’t even dare to tell my in-laws, “I need to nurse the baby.” I would just disappear.

    Anyway, when I came back, I saw another mother comfortably sitting on a mattress in that dining hall and nursing without even a cover. Her breast was hanging out, and NO ONE WAS PAYING THE LEAST BIT OF ATTENTION. I could have hit myself over the head for how silly I’ve been! It was a wake-up call and since then I was much more comfortable with nursing in public.

    We also went to my husband’s high school reunion where most of the couples were Haredi, and women just nursed their babies (covered up) during dinner without even thinking of leaving the room. I later asked my husband whether he noticed this and it turns out he had no clue. I’m sure that was true for most of the men.

    Ever since, I have noticed how women just pop out a breast and no one blinks, and I want to hit myself over the head again. :o) If I weren’t so committed to nursing I would have given up much earlier, and for no good reason.

    I’m expecting another baby in about a month and a half and now I plan to do things differently and nurse wherever and whenever I need to. We have enough halachic obligations to keep up with, we don’t need additional false “modesty” rules about nursing. I don’t advocate to have your breasts hanging out and I intend to cover up as much as possible, but if someone has a problem with the fact that my baby is eating in public (while nothing is showing), that’s totally their problem.

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  25. Ita, Rabbi Falk is known to be very machmir (stringent) and I don’t follow his rulings.
    Shira, Diane Wiessinger, an American lactation consultant who spoke in Israel, said it used to be like that in the US 30 years ago. I hope we’re not headed in that direction.
    Mrs. Anna, what a lovely story. I may collect these comments into a post.

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  26. Right, Rabbi Falk is machmir. My lactation consultant in Boro Park told me to look in there. As far as I remember, he is not so machmir on this issue itself.

    One question I do have is, shouldn’t it be a last resort to nurse in public? Shouldn’t some effort be made to do it in private?

    Does anybody think that the mother with her breast hanging out was acting appropriately?? Shouldn’t she have made some effort to cover?

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  27. ps. I actually saw a chareidi woman at a Chareidi Bar mitzvah nursing her child at the table in a very discreet way.. so I don’t think it’s the chareidi thing not to nurse in public but to be cautious to make sure that nothing was showing.. someone who lets themselves hang out like that shows that she doesn’t care about the world around her.

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  28. @Ita, if you’re constantly worrying about being “caught” in public and “having to” nurse because you’re “stuck,” you’ll never go out. (FWIW if you have a baby and older kid(s), this is especially unrealistic.) Either you will completely isolate yourself (not healthy) or quit nursing because what kind of life is that? Constantly harangued by the real or imagined judgments of others?

    And I think it 100% sends the wrong message, that women need to disappear in order to care for babies that are part of a family, part of a circle of friends, part of a shul community, part of the society, part of the public. It just perpetuates the idea that nursing is somehow shameful or not normal. Is feeding your baby a cracker in public shameful? Is hugging your toddler after they hurt themselves abnormal? Why is nursing any different?

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  29. Ita, I’m not interested in enforcing standards.

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  30. Uh, as a person who nursed one kid for 15 months, only to stop b/c of impending miscarriage and nursed another for 23 months, I never felt isolated.. b/c I did nurse in living rooms and the like . I just made sure to be COVERED.

    People tend to think that modesty is something horrible and restrictive for women when in fact it’s the opposite. Nobody questions why jewelers need to have their expensive jewels under lock and key!

    Kate, nursing is different b/c you are exposing a part of your body that normally is covered which can arouse certain feelings in a man whether you like it or not. Even if you are covered. This isn’t religiosity. It’s nature of man.

    Mother of israel, just curious , if it would physically bother your husband to see you nurse exposed while nidda, would you say it’s his problem? would you care about the comforts of your husband?

    Nursing your child is so much more than just giving the child milk from your body, it’s about bonding with them.

    I don’t think nursing is shameful but I also think that women arent’ cows .We are just like a really expensive jewel in the jewelry that is covered and only exposed at certain times.

    What is the big deal with me saying that a woman shouldn’t see with herself hanging out?

    Do you know how easy it is to wear a larger shirt and just stick your baby underneath? I was very good at it.. But no, I would never sit at the table and nurse. I would just sit at the couch and still be part of the conversation.

    And, I do hug and kiss my kids in public.

    Nursing in private is not shameful.. it’s a private bonding session between mom and baby.

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    • Ita, my husband would never make me feel uncomfortable about nursing our children in our own house. I don’t walk around without a shirt.

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  31. Please note that the Ben ish hai is not a rabbi from the late 18th century in Baghdad, but from the 19th century (he says it is permitted to say Shema opposite a nursing mother) and he is the Major Hlachic authority for Iraqi and other sefardi Jews

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  32. Ita, I don’t understand how nursing in the same room as others (which you said you did) is different that nursing at, say, a shopping mall.

    Regarding arousing the feelings of men–I do what I can to dress in an appropriate way, but I cannot be responsible for other people’s thoughts.

    I used to love nursing tank tops to wear under other shirts, so I could nurse without exposing my midriff, but if someone was WATCHING me during the half-second it took for my baby to latch on? I refuse to consider that exposing myself. Why is it up to me to safeguard others?

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  33. I will just add something funny
    We recently made a new synagogue in our area. The whole thing they did was really quite long
    I invited my Mother along

    There were a few women who nursed their babies there (and this is upstairs behind a mehitza) and all along my mother is saying “why didn’t they make a nursing room” ” why isn’t there a nursing room” as if the synagogue was badly planned since we did not plan a separate room for mothers to nurse in.

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  34. Clay Falcon says:

    I really enjoy what you blog about here, very fresh and intelligent. One thing though, I’m running Firefox on Linux and parts of your layout pieces are a little broken. I know it’s not a popular setup, but it is still something to to keep in mind. Just shooting you a heads up.

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  35. Jon Degani says:

    Hi Hannah,
    Interesting post. I never thought of the halachic aspect of it until recently (for obvious reasons). Has your brother, while doing his research, seen any she’elot u’teshuvot dealing with this issue? Do you have the source for the Ben-Ish Chai you mentioned?

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  36. Jon,
    Do you mean my cousin? I can ask her, but I doubt it.

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  37. Jordan Hirsch says:

    My wife nursed all our kids anywhere they needed to be nursed. A prominent Rosh Yeshiva at YU told her that nay man who has hirhurim because a woman is nursing in his presence ought to have his head examined, and a woman is not required to take into account the inability of a small minority of men who cannot make a distinction between exposing oneself in a sexual way and exposing breasts to feed a child. The Rabbi of our shul said that she should not nurse in the ezras nashim, however, only because eating in shul is assur for everyone.

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  38. Hi Jordan. I’m curious, does your rabbi allow small kids to eat candy in shul? Most shuls do, and I don’t think they generally prohibit baby bottles either.

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  39. Hi, mother in israel.

    In the Young Israel that I went to the kids were not allowed to eat in shul if they were older than babies. That is what the youth groups are for.

    I would think that shul would be the exception and that the mother would go to the bathroom to nurse out of respect for the area. Even if technically permitted, it’s not respectful. A mother should nurse her child before she goes to shul so that the kid won’t be so hungry once there.

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  40. I have a question.
    If you would have an audience with the Queen of England in Buckingham . Would you just open your shirt to nurse your child while talking to her?? The answer to that question should be how you feel about davening in shul. You are there to talk to Hash-m, not just sit and nurse .

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  41. Jonathan Degani says:

    Ita – I disagree with your analogy. Yes, God is King, but we are talking about doing something that serves the needs of a baby; it’s not like a woman is eating a candy bar herself in the middle of davening. Also sometimes a woman is unable to time feedings perfectly in order to avoid feeding in shul. Finally, I think that if a woman was on such terms with the Queen of England that they met three times a day and for several hours every Shabbat, then yes, the Queen of England would be understanding of breastfeeding.

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  42. Jonathan, how many women with nursing babies go to shul three times a day???

    Nobody is casual with the Queen of England.. Go on you tube.. There is nothing wrong with nursing in a shul bathroom! G-d is a king and shul is not like sitting in a mall or something like that.

    Nursing is not just about nourishment for the body. It’s about Chinuch! What kind of lessons are you teaching your child by nursing in the womans’ section where the Torah is nearby. Every human being is like a living sefer Torah.. which is also covered up except for certain times and certain places.. Tell me, would you open a sefer Torah in your room while you are naked? no.

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  43. Jonathan Degani says:

    A few things:

    1) Women should not nurse in the bathroom – not in shul, not anywhere. A bathroom is not a sanitary place where anyone should be eating, certainly not a baby who needs an even higher standard of sanitation.

    2) Nursing is not like using the bathroom. Urine and fecal matter are considered disgusting in Halacha and one may not even pray near them, certainly not the case with mothers’ milk. Also, some babies do not take on the first attempt and it can take as long as 40 minutes. Why should a woman have to miss most of Kriyat HaTorah if the baby needs to be fed, when she can quietly nurse in the corner?

    2) Women are not naked when they breastfeed. Women cover themselves with something, be it a blanket or cloth diaper. Perhaps for half a second a breast may be uncovered until a covering reaches it, but we’re not talking about being naked in from of the Torah and I think that such a comparison is ridiculous.

    3) I think the chinuch aspect of it is fantastic. Many nursing women do not get out of the house as often as they like and it sends a powerful message to others when these women do leave the house, with all their accoutrement, they go not to a mall or salon, but to a shul. Perhaps people who go begrudgingly go to shul and use it as a format for speaking lashon hara, should look to the effort of these women for inspiration and realize that going to shul is still a privilege.

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  44. To ‘Jonathan Degani'; what an excellent response! I find it so disrespectful that anyone would suggest women should brastfeed in the bathroom; how often do you yourself eat next to a toilet? It just goes to show the underlying, negative and complexed way with which we, as a society in which exclusive breastfeeding has become marginalized by bottlefeeding, have come to regard this godly way of nourishing our children!

    And how funny that often the men’s opionion on the subject is more informed and enlightened than the women’s!

    Fortunately, there exists the La Leche League, which advocates a woman’s right to breastfeed her baby, anywhere, anytime.

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  45. Dr. Michael D. Evans says:

    Breastfeeding in public is never immodest. You just have to be considerate of the people that surrounds you. Having a nursing bib to cover you will definitely do the trick. Kudos in choosing to breastfeed!

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  46. Just found this article now. What a great conversation! Maybe I’m missing something but I’ve always nursed my babies under a blanket everywhere, even at the Kotel! Our babies are helpless and it’s not like we can explain to them “wait till later.” I would certainly nurse in front of the queen, especially with the new nursing blanket I just bought from my friend Tzivi at Chibuki.com. No one would even suspect that there’s a baby under it, let alone a nursing baby!
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    • For those who actually thought that I meant to sit on the toilet.. I didn’t meant that. There are many with benches specifically made for that purpose of a mother sitting and nursing.. When people are davening there is nobody eating. I am not against nursing in public per say but in shul it is not appropriate.

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  47. Ita, first of all, Rav Falk is not a reliable halachic authority, no matter which posek you ask. (Not gadol hador – POSEK, Someone with the right to pasken, who knows halacha.) Second of all, FWIW (and to you it should be worth something) the Chazon Ish held that any man who gets hirhurim from seeing a woman nurse, needs to have his head examined. If you know the Chazon Ish’s style, you will recognize that this is somewhat of an unusual thing for him to say – thus, you should take it more seriously.

    I am, BTW, classed by others as chareidi, and I nursed in public. I tried to find private places to do so, because I found it hard to keep 100% covered, but seriously, when you need to nurse, you need to nurse. And the rest of the world can control their eyes.

    Shmirat Einayim is the *man’s* mitzva, not the woman’s. Halacha does not require a woman to leave the room, because she is naked and a man has to recite kriat Shema. Rather, the *man* must leave the room. Now, as I said, I try to keep myself tznius. But at the end of the day, the achrayut falls on him – not on me, or Mother in Israel, or you – and that needs to be made clear, to all of society, and especially chareidi society. National relgious, and secular, people seem to have understood this already.

    He needs to learn self-control. I need to give my baby the best. If that bothers him – fine. But it’s not my fault.
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Trackbacks

  1. [...] up over something going on in my corner of the ‘sphere. Hannah at A Mother in Israel wrote a post for the Carnival of Nursing in Public. At her blog, there was a lively discussion of the parameters of modesty and where nursing in [...]

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  2. [...] Is Public Breastfeeding “Immodest”? An Orthodox Jewish Perspective [...]

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  3. [...] Is Breastfeeding in Public Immodest? An Orthodox Jewish Perspective [...]

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