With all of America reading books by the experts on topics ranging
from "How to Keep a Happy Parakeet" to "Total, Unequaled, Ecstatic Fulfillment
in Sex and/or Marriage", as Jews we can get caught up in this popular
Wandering from total sexual expression to the asceticism of
Eastern "paths", the Jew is impelled to continue to search for the "right
attitude". Most of us fall somewhere in the middle of the extremes - most
American Jews are married or divorced but are still living within the
traditional framework of marriage, children and family.
Advice from experts seems to soothe the wounds or tries to
rationalize the break up of familes and help those involved adjust. The Jewish
way of life as explained to us by our Sages and the Torah gives firm bedrock of
advice and behavior patterns to the searching Jews to prevent situations of
split and disillusioned families.
The number of individuals and families that have started using the
laws of the Torah to guide their intimate relationships is growing steadily.
Today's Rabbis and observant communities are experiencing resurgence in the
number of women using the local Mikvaot on a regular basis.
For different families, this resurgence has different reasons and
meanings. For some women, this mitzvah of immersion in the mikvah may
be a way of marking herself as a Jewish woman and may be the only
mitzvah observed in the family. More often the acceptance of the
relationship the mikvah gives to the couple comes with a general re-awakening of
Jewish commitment on the part of the family; coinciding with Shabbat observance,
keeping kosher and other mitzvaot.
"Rachel", a woman from Los Angeles, who has become a Baalas
Teshuvah (one who returns to Jewish observance), talked about how the laws
of intimacy and the observance of mikvah that she is now keeping, have affected
Rachel, working in the field of public relations, had a marriage
of several years standing when she began to be involved with the Chassidic
philosophy and way of life.
As she and her husband experience the change in their relationship
a lot of things happened that she did not expect!
Hinda: How do you feel the Torah laws of intimacy
and mikvah have affected your marriage?
Rachel: I think that the mikvah laws are the most
brilliant possible system for keeping a relationship between two people alive
and exciting through all the ups and downs, which are inevitable in married
life. It just seems so obvious to me now, that if there is an external structure
which limits the amount of time two people are intimate with each other, it will
make the time they do have together more precious.
Masters and Johnson, the most famous of all sex counselors,
separate couples who come to them and forbid intercourse during the first part
of their therapy partly as a means of reducing tension, but also in order to
re-establish (hopefully) the passions and excitement which were there at the
beginnning of the relationship which have subsequently been lost in the course
of sex becoming too available and too demanding.
Jews have known this truth since the Torah was given, over 3,320
But, I must say, when I first heard about the laws of mikvah, I
was aghast. What? Surrender my ideas about sex? You mean I can't always decide
how and when and with whom!! I was indignant. I did not want to give up control
over that area of my life. Anyway, the laws sounded terribly puritanical and
obsolete. And of course, I felt I was 'above' needing them.
But there was an instance of "try it, you'll like it!" While I
first dreaded being "Niddah" (two week separation period) for fear I'd
fall apart for lack of physical contact, I found that I almost didn't want it to
end! I experienced a sense of inner strength, of self-respect and autonomy in
the relationship which I had never felt before!
The laws of Family Purity are meant to give the woman a special
status. It forces the man to see her not as a sexual object, as someone who is
there to satisfy him and his needs, but as a person in her own right. it's also
a time when the tension about "when" and "if" don't exist and since a couple's
desire for sex is often not the same, this has an equalizing effect on the
relationship. It also breaks up the routines which couples tend to get into and
which are so devastating in a relationship.
Most important, I think, is the constant reminder that no matter
how smart we think we are, these laws, dealing with our most private life,
remind us that we must be guided by something higher than our own minds and
hearts on certain matters. We live in an era of "if it feels right, do it."
What kind of an attitude is that! You can rationalize anything
that way and people are certainly doing just that. The beautiful part of being
Niddah is that parts of each other's personalities become revealed that
never could before.
I never had to really find out what my husband was like inside
about certain issues and vice versa, because at times we "solved" things in the
bedroom instead of the living room. In other words, talking it out becomes
crucial and fundamental. Once things are cleared emotionally - that's the
beginning of relating on the more spiritual level that Torah requests of a
couple in their intimate life.
There are times where it's hard and it's a discipline that is
demanding. But each time I go through my doubts, I find if I take the time to
really understand my own ups and downs about my commitment to mikvah, I find out
more about myself as a spiritual and psychological being. What is my resentment
all about? Very often not the things that seem apparent at first glance.
I've also got such good feelings and results in my marriage
through keeping these laws that just empirically, experientially, I could never
go back to our previous way of relating.
Hinda: Most women are aware that in the monthly
cycle the time of ovulation is generally 14 days before the onset of the next
period. Knowing this,what are your feelings about the fact that mikvah
observance, for some women, can increase the chances of conception?
Rachel: I know that without becoming Orthodox, I
probably wouldn't have decided to have more children. When we had my daughter
six years ago, I did go through feelings of isolation and other changes, even
though I loved her and felt all the maternal feelings. I was really into my
career and "self improvement" courses.
I was too selfish to give up so much of my time and effort to
Like most women in today's "modern" world, I began to see kids as
a drag to my freedom, as noisy, messy, demanding and manipulative. Now my
attitudes and values have changed completely. I welcome the chance to give. I
put my family first now and see the inconveniences of a child as minor in
comparison to the realization that this is perhaps the greatest mitzvah of
Although I always thought my creativity had to take on form in
writing or speaking, communicating information of "significance", I never
realized that what I was "creating" was really in the final analysis, transitory
events which affected or impressed people, but which certainly weren't the
monumental contributions to society that my ego wanted me to believe them to
Giving love, creating a warm, stable home where your children
experience G-dliness, direction in life, feels self-worth and actualization as a
spiritual being through the family rituals of Shabbat, davening...this has come
to mean much more to me. The fun that I have with my children that centers
around Judaism reaches deep into my sense of fulfillment.
Even objectively, this society is so concerned with
the psychological problems that people have because of a lack of love. Nothing
can replace the home and the nurture and love we receive there. A happy home?
It's becoming an endangered species.
I still work. I like it. I get satisfaction from it, but it's less
of a total self-definition, less of a career to which my energies are
unswervingly dedicated to. Right now, while my children are young, they come
first. I don't think mothers of today feel compelled to stay home to be good
When my baby was small and I went back to work part-time, it was
important to me that I had the BEST childcare and I also continued nursing. The
ingenuity and planning I put into my career made me realize if I looked at my
home relationships as being even more crucial and significant, that I could
certainly handle the multiple responsibilities.
I'm glad that the laws of Family Purity helped me make up my mind
about children, because I certainly was swayed by Zero Population Growth talk
and the anti-child bias of our society today.
I used to know a lot of people who thought they were very
spiritual, but when it came to being with kids or making a commitment to a mate,
they couldn't handle it.
Hinda: You've mentioned the spiritual dimensions
that these laws have brought into your relationship. Could you tell us a little
bit more about how you would define this "spirituality"?
Rachel: To me, the relationship between a man and
wife tell more about their spirituality than any one single thing about them. We
really do manifest our G-dliness in our relationship to those closest to us. If
we're inconsiderate, irresponsible and vindictive to our mates, then that says
more about our relationship to G-d than anything else. You can fake piety in the
synagogue, but you sure can't fake it at home, which is where it really
I am not naive. I realize that the laws of Family Purity can't
change a person's nature, or make someone more loving and kind. But the laws
certainly set the groundwork for mutual respect, which is undoubtedly the most
important aspect in marriage in my opinion. I've seen couples that claim to be
very much in love...when they're in love! When they are not "in love" they can
say and do anything to each other.
What is spirituality all about? Torah asks us to look at our
relationship with each other, husband, wife, friends, neighbors, etc. as a clear
barometer of where we are in relationship with G-d.
I think that in general, the Torah way of life fosters an
unselfish attitutde in people - that is if it is practiced as it should be, not
mechanically like a burdensome chore. The most important thing in marriage is to
have the attitude of "what can I give", and not "what can I get".
A Torah observant Jew is trained in this kind of mentality from
the earliest years; you can't even take a bite of food without 'giving' a
bracha (blessing) of thanks to G-d. You are always giving of your time,
your money and your effort to do mitzvot. Giving of oneself is the best
preparation for marriage.
If you're on the take, you're going to be constantly disappointed
in life and in people. But if you always feel that there's so much more and more
to give, then life is joyous and being with people means having the opportunity
to give, even if it's "only" lending an ear, which maybe is the most
important gift of all.
In our marriage, I feel like we've started all over again and I
see that my husband and I are so much less selfish. We are grateful to each
other sometimes just for the opportunity to feel the beauty of a Jewish
marriage, something that almost transcends us personally.
Hinda: With couples setting out in marriage
knowing that they only have a 50% chance of survival, maybe even less in
California, what could you say about the bond that has been created between you
and your husband through Torah?
Rachel: A shared goal in life makes it so much
easier to have a stable relationship that is not torn apart by every little
frustration or disappointment. Obviously, not all Orthodox people have wonderful
We're all here on earth to work on ourselves, to learn constantly
to be more humble, more giving, more disciplined and loving. But if a man and
wife are sincerely devoted to Torah then chances are great that they will take
seriously the business of continuous self-improvement and will practice an
attitude of forgiveness and compassion.
It's a lot easier to overlook some irritating trait in the other
person, if your ideals and goals are the same. Before, I'd make an issue of
every little irritation, now I realize that we're both serving G-d in whatever
way we're able and that's enough.
As smart as I was, I was deluded into thinking that what the books
call 'romantic love' was going to take care of all my problems. I was going
to fall passionately in love with someone and that would be it. Boy! What
nonsense. Well, that lasts until the first fight and then what have you got?
I have my insecurities, and sometimes I would panic when things
didn't go the way I wanted, imagining all sorts of bleak scenarios. But I sure
wasn't helped by the fact that I couldn't trust myself. I mean, I didn't know if
I'd fall 'romantically in love' with someone else tomorrow.
It was hard for me to create stability and order. In the
beginnning of marriage, after the illusory romance becomes a little tempered
with reality, time schedules, etc., a lot of the fantasies have to go. I know
we both have fantasies about the type of person we might have married. We did a
lot of "if only you had such and such a trait, things would be much better".
Now I see that he's doing what he's supposed to do as a man and
I'm doing as a woman and it makes us respect each other greatly and keeps us
happy with what we have. As long as my husband is sharing Torah with me, what
more could I ask?
I'm grateful that through studying Torah he has become a more
sensitive and thoughtful person. Marriage as a life commitment is not so remote
and strange. There's no Prince Charming out there who could put me on Cloud 9.
Even when I'm on Cloud 9 with my husband, it would all be meaningless without
our common goals.
To get back to mikvah, that's the basics for me. When the Talmud
says that it makes you feel like a bride and bridegroom, it's really true. You
always keep the feelings of anticipation. If each married couple could imagine
taking a short honeymoon in the midst of the hustle bustle of life at home -
that could begin to describe a beginnning of what it feels like to go to the
mikvah. Just you and your husband exist, alone in the world as the only couples
who ever were in love. It's pretty amazing!