An anonymous reader sent me a link to an article containing an interview with the founder of the non-denominational mikveh in
“For a lot of people, the mikveh’s been associated with a lot of negatives — the second-class status of women, the denigration of women’s bodies,” says the play’s co-author, Anita Diamant. Premiering in 2005, the play was created as a means of fundraising for Mayyim Hayyim, a state-of-the-art nondenominational mikveh opened in
2004 inthe largely Jewish community of Newton, Mass., near . Diamant, best known as the author of “The Red Tent,” founded that mikveh, which has spawned a movement for alternative ritual baths nationwide, including one that is planned to open in Boston 2010 in . Los Angeles
It’s interesting to me that self-described liberal Jews have decided to rally around what is generally considered one of most misogynistic, archaic, politically incorrect mitzvot and one of the first to be dropped by Reform Judaism, and dressed it up into something empowering to women and even friendly to homosexuals.
My anonymous reader (AR, not to be confused with my commenter Regular Anonymous or RA) pointed out that the article is full of problematic statements or implications.
AR objects to the depiction of a mikveh lady as stern: I got married in
When I lived in the
Half the women at your Israeli neighborhood mikveh would never be identified as observant if you saw them on the street. One woman told me that she chose that mikveh because they don’t make a fuss about her long nails. (You are supposed to cut your nails in preparation for the mikvah, but there can be exceptions.)
RA continues: The “only mikveh in the
My first thought is that Diamant must be referring to people who are undergoing a non-Orthodox conversion. Presumably every mikveh is open to anyone who wants to use it, except for non-Jews and men (at least at the same time; in a traditonal mikveh men only immerse during the day). If a lesbian woman wanted to use the Orthodox mikveh, would anyone stop her? If she is talking about conversions, I find her complaint that the mikveh “was only available to them on Mondays from 9-
A check of Mayyim Hayyim’s website indicates a bit of overcompensation in this area; it’s open seven to eight hours five days a week and two additional hours in the evenings. This is despite having only three to four immersions per day (3800 over three years, according to the article). In contrast, at least 20-30 women pass through my local mikveh each evening.
My second thought is, well, I don’t have a second thought. Non-Orthodox women shouldn’t need a separate mikveh. But I can see how some mikveh attendants might give some women a hard time. Or maybe the issue is that non-Orthodox women want to immerse during the day, something that Orthodox women, except for brides, generally don’t do.
Here’s why AR thinks the mikveh has been reclaimed:
I think mikveh is attracting attention because it is post-feminist, that is, there is no competition from men. Unlike shul, or school, and even though they have immersions for men, too, it is a very clear to everyone that this is mostly for and about the women and their uniquely female experiences (menstruation, birth, lo aleinu breast cancer…), although I am not sure the subjects of the article would accept that.
And she asks, “Wouldn’t it be great if all the women who are committed to mikveh as part of ol malchut shamayim (accepting the yoke of the Torah) also thought it was the most wonderful thing? And had beautiful mikvaot to go to like the one in the picture?”
Taharat hamishpacha is a very difficult mitzvah for many women, even with stunning, rabbinate-sanctioned mikvaot like the one that recently opened around the corner from me. Maybe liberal Judaism’s adoption of this mitzvah will make it easier for the ones who struggle with the concept.
What do you think?