“I just hit age 42 and my body is not doing what it usually does.”
“My other pregnancies did not go this way; I didn’t sign up for this.”
“It’s so unsettling that my status is never clear with the new contraception that I am using.”
“My intimate life is not the same as it was; we have never had to deal with this before.”
“I used to really enjoy mikvah and now I really don’t.”
“We spent so much time deliberating about having this child and now I just had a miscarriage. This was not the plan.”
“I learned about this in kallah classes but it’s so different in real time.”
“I thought I would never have to ask another question again, and now I am having a procedure at age 55 and it seems like the laws have changed?!”
The above are sound bytes from conversations with women of all ages from my work as a yoetzet halacha. Yoatzot are Orthodox women trained by Nishmat in Israel and in the U.S. through Nishmat’s Miriam Glaubach Center to serve as advisers on the laws of taharat hamishpacha (Jewish family purity). The program entails two years of in-depth study of traditional talmudic and halachic texts, coupled with extensive training in women’s physical and mental health.
Some may be surprised to hear these excerpts of conversations that women share with yoatzot. One might expect the discourse to be different, for it to take on more of a question form and include stems such as: “What is my status now that...?” “Can I immerse in the mikvah if…?” Indeed, I do receive many queries in this form—but they are often accompanied by preambles, addendums, and caveats that demand careful attention and add nuance and context to the questions being asked. It is a sampling of these that are represented by the sound-bytes above.
As yoatzot, we often find ourselves on the front lines of women’s physical and emotional wellness due to the intimate nature of the questions that we field, and are privy to hearing these repeat sentiments from thousands of women and collating these common motifs. Our work provides us with a window with a wide and rich view into women’s common thoughts, feelings, unmet needs, and gaps in knowledge. As a result, we are uniquely positioned to create educational resources and learning opportunities that directly address the unique needs of our community of women—taharat hamishpacha-related, physical- and mental-health-related or otherwise.
Our seventh annual community-wide yoetzet halacha event, “Mind the Gap: Shifting Our Mindset to Meet Life’s Realities,” scheduled for Monday, August 5, at 8 p.m., is centered around one of the common motifs that is present in the 5000+ questions I have fielded over the past six years: How do we navigate life when it throws us curveballs? I will be joined by Dr. Elana Goldmintz Gotfried and Dr. Leah Knapp at this event, which is designed to provide the community of women with proactive and responsive strategies to more effectively manage life’s unexpected ups, downs, twists and turns—taharat hamishpacha-related and beyond. I welcome all the women in the community to join me on Monday night as we share strategies for enhancing our mental and emotional health from halachic and psychological perspectives.
By Tova Warburg Sinensky
Tova Warburg Sinensky is the yoetzet halacha for the greater Teaneck community. She also serves as the yoetzet halacha for the Young Israel of Toco Hills, Atlanta, and the Yoetzet Initiative of Greater Philadelphia, and is an educator at Yeshivat Frisch. To register for the August 5 Yoetzet event, please visit https://www.rinat.org/form/yoetzet-halacha-event-2019.
To follow the Teaneck Yoetzet Initiative on Facebook visit: https://www.facebook.com/TeaneckYoetzet/.