“Monologim Mihamikveh” (“Mikveh Monologues”), was the title of a recent article that my Hebrew tutor, Rona, showed to me. I met Rona through ESRA, an Israeli organization that supports English-speakers moving to Israel. Once a week, we sit at her kitchen table to drink coffee, schmooze, and read books or articles in Hebrew.
Rona and I have spoken a lot about mikveh over the past few months as she’s gotten to know me and Mayyim Hayyim and helped me read Parashat Hamayyim, a book of immersion ceremonies. Now, whenever she sees something in the Israeli Hebrew press related to mikveh, she clips it for us to read together.
The article’s title, “Monologim Mihamikveh,” reminded me immediately of Mayyim Hayyim’s theatrical production, The Mikveh Monologues (being performed this March for the Central Conference of American Rabbis). Yet there’s no mention of theater in the article. Instead, it is an interview by columnist Emily Amrousi with Naomi Wolfson, the author of a new book, Merchak, Ngiah (Touching Distance).
Wolfson is a well-known psychotherapist, couples counselor, rabanit (rebbetzin) and mother of eight. She specializes in working with both Orthodox and non-Orthodox couples who are preparing for marriage.
She teaches about mikveh as a requirement before marriage and according to the laws of Niddah (monthly immersion following menstruation and physical separation from one’s husband). She’s compelling, direct and unapologetic when it comes to encouraging couples to enjoy sex as a valuable and sacred part of their marriage.
She notes that water is life, speaking universally about the power of a shower in the morning for daily renewal. Immersion in water, she says, “m’ta’in’ah otanu b’hayyim”(recharges us with life). Sex, she argues, is not just about procreation, but also about pleasure. Those are two different matters – one must not negate the other. She refers to biblical, rabbinic and Hassidic texts to support her argument.
She notes that one benefit of Niddah observance is the idea that “distance makes the heart grow fonder,” meaning that our natural desire grows when we know that we will be separated for two weeks. On the other hand, she also discusses sex at times when there is no Niddah-imposed separation, such as during pregnancy or menopause. In those cases, it is essential to find joy and pleasure in physical intimacy for the sake of a healthy relationship.
I found this refreshing. In the past few weeks Haaretz, another leading paper, has been doing a series on the Gur Hassidim, an ultra-Orthodox sect espousing the exact opposite regarding intimacy, pleasure and respect for women. Those articles are maddening, but God willing, they will also open some eyes to the potential for Judaism to be a positive, pleasurable influence on our most intimate lives.
Aliza Kline, Founding Executive Director, has led Mayyim Hayyim from its initial stages, overseeing fund raising, publicity, design, construction, staffing, recruiting volunteers, and board development. In May, 2009, Aliza was awarded an AVI CHAI Fellowship (best described as the “Jewish MacArthur Genius Grant”) in recognition of her accomplishments, creativity and commitment to the Jewish people.