by Julie Gruenbaum Fax
October 29, 2008
You Can’t Ask a Rabbi THAT…
Asking your rabbi a question about your period or your sex life might seem odd, but couples who observe the laws of family purity — where they refrain from sexual contact during and after a woman’s menstrual cycle — occasionally need to provide intimate details to male rabbis.
Questions often involve irregular periods or midcycle staining, which may or may not render a woman a niddah, off limits to her husband. Sometimes, the questions are more emotional, dealing with miscarriage, menopause and infertility.
For the past eight years tens of thousands of women from Israel and the United States have opted to bring these questions to yoatzot (advisers), women trained to either answer the questions or act as a liaison between the women and rabbis.
About 50 women have undertaken two years of study at Nishmat’s Jerusalem Center for Advanced Jewish Study for Women (http://www.nishmat.net), and have answered 70,000 phone calls on a hotline and thousands more questions on a Web site (http://www.yoatzot.org/index.php).
This weekend, Bracha Rutner, a Talmud teacher and yoetzet in Riverdale, N.Y., will be in Los Angeles to talk with girls at YULA and Shalhevet Orthodox high schools, and, on Shabbat, will address the topic of the Jewish view of love and romance at Young Israel of Century City (YICC). She will also join with doctors and other professionals at YICC on Sunday morning to talk about the intersections of Jewish law and women’s health issues, including the use of birth control and hormones.
As demonstrated by Rutner’s topics, the yoatzot have broadened their role beyond dealing with halachic minutiae. Nishmat in Jerusalem and Nishmat’s Miriam Glaubach Center in New York have dispatched the yoatzot to communities across the country to provide proactive education on women’s health issues and open up conversations on women and sexuality. Online courses prepare new brides and refresh long-married couples on the laws and meaning of family purity.
Nishmat also has a Web site (http://www.jewishwomenshealth.org) for medical and halachic professionals.
“These are brilliant women, who are so well trained, and can speak to other women in a way men cannot,” said Rabbi Elazar Muskin of YICC, where yoatzot have spoken twice before. “The important thing is they encourage women to observe this mitzvah and make them more comfortable with it, because they can explain things and talk to them, woman to woman.