My Reaction to TahorPosted on Nov 30,2017
By: Debbie Akerman, LMSW – PhD candidate
I grew up in Middle America, the Midwest to be exact, and although culturally very Jewish- holidays, food, even education and prayer, my family and I were not observant. I guess to some that would be odd, but until I turned about 11 years old, this arrangement suited me very well, and I gave no thought to the oddity of it. As I entered my pre and teen age years, the difference between me and my classmates, and me and my synagogue mates began to show. There was no one to discuss American Bandstand or Soul Train which I watched with the same religious fervor Saturday afternoons after Shul Shabbat morning and a traditional lunch. There was no one to share a burger with at Burger King, or even more importantly, I began to cringe if I was at the mall eating something not kosher and a schoolmate with their family member would be in the same mall. The pressure of conforming- to G-D, of whom I was afraid, and equally importantly to my peers and community began to sway my blissful ignorance of the past decade plus.
And, thus began the journey of the quasi- Baalas Teshuva- a returnee to the faith. A faith which I knew intellectually, a faith which I did follow somewhat in my heart, a faith that had betrayed and destroyed much of my Holocaust surviving family, and a faith that I knew I wanted to be part of wholly and completely. Fast forward a few years later- six to be exact- one heartbreaking but educational relationship with a much more religious boy from one of our communities premier families- Yichus to boot!; who explained to me that the rules of Shomer Negiah only applied to sleeping together and since I had not gone to the Mikvah we wouldn’t do that- and don’t worry, he learned this in Yeshiva…….. I became engaged and prepared to become a proper Jewish wife. I don’t quite know how other brides went through this process, but I was all of 19 years old, embarking on this journey with less than supportive parents to put it mildly. I started learning with a very nice lady in the community who wasted no time espousing the beauty of this type of lifestyle. I listened in earnest, envisioning holiness prevail upon our home. One fine warm summer night several weeks before my wedding, the topic of “bedikas” or the internal checks began to be our focus. I was pretty comfortable with my own body, and was not bothered with the notion of the small white square cloth used to check my status. It became very different however when I was informed that this cloth, or my white underwear, or my white sheets, or anything that became in contact with me during certain times would have to be looked at by the Rav.
A RABBI? Looking at my underwear? At my body colors? What if there were other colors on the underwear? I mean, you know, there are different reasons that there are different colors and different times of the month, the day, or the hour. Is this for real? I mean, it’s one thing to present (anonymously of course) a clean, sterile no identity cloth- but my underwear???
So, thus it began. My almost thirty year battle of the bedika. I learned a lot about my spouse in the twenty five years plus that were married, and most of them not pretty. Among that which I learned was that he (the ex) was not going to be involved in the dropping, asking, and waiting for an answer department. This was MY responsibility, and MY responsibility only. Sink or swim time, I began to navigate waters that I often felt I was swimming alone. IF……If I liked the Rabbi, then I would be embarrassed because we were sorta kinda “friends”. Can you be friends with a Rabbi? I didn’t know, but it made me feel that then this was sort of, I don’t know, illicit, like I was being seen naked or worse. If I felt the Rabbi was cold and non- understanding- and I DID FEEL that way much of the time, than I did not want him near my underwear, near my body color near my permission to be physical or not…….. Add to that multiple pregnancies (13 to be exact) thank Hashem 11 live births, and a propensity not to nurse “clean” a term that I discovered after I became even more religious- a term that was used to signify months of marital bliss with some added protection of birth control, made my affiliation with a Rav as vital as a good mani-pedi lady, (wasn’t getting those in the day-) a great hair- stylist; same, or a great OB-GYN- that I did have. BINGO and JACKPOT! My constant questions due to my pregnant and nursing state were best handled by a Rav,- a mumcha- expert in Hebrew that lived in Brooklyn. Now, all I had to do was take the underwear, cut out the offending part….. (I was NEVER going to send the entire garment, I mean did they try to figure out how much you weighed by looking at it? Even the imperceptible, irrational chance was not gonna sit well with me,) take it in a sealed envelope with a written explanation, and overnight the package to his residence. Answer with in one day! I kept up this arrangement for years until this kindly Rabbi (who really did explain to me over and over that this was not an issue and please please wear black undergarments except for the required week of white) became too old, and too infirmed to answer queries anymore.
The timing was about right, as my childbearing years were coming to their natural end, as was my marriage. I guess that the message that I would like this story to impart is how much I would have appreciated the Tahor App when I was in that stage of my life. Not raised in this tradition, with a far less than supportive spouse, I had neither mother, sister nor spouse to lament, laugh and commiserate with. Although I did have friends, at that stage of my life, I truly believed that discussing these things was not appropriate, and besides I knew that husbands took care of this, and my husband- a paragon of the community was not. Tahor App would have provided me with the anonymity and comfort that I desired, and the question answered in a very timely manner. Our bodies, and our sexuality are very private matters in the Orthodox community, and although there is much effort as of late to open dialogues in respectful, educational ways, the bottom line (no pun intended) is that this is fluid from a women’s body that is being shown and inspected by other people. Comfort levels and degrees of shame and embarrassment are not to be taken lightly. People bring with them their own personal baggage, upbringing and experiences to marriage and the laws that revolve around this relationship.
I commend, support and applaud the founders of Tahor App. This will allow equal, anonymous access to every Jewish women, man = couple, to information and decision no matter where they are. Today, I surmise there are equal numbers of Returnees to the faith at there are individuals and couples that are looking for an alternative religious lifestyle to the one that they were raised with. The laws of Niddah in many circles of Judaism are integral in the definition of Orthodoxy, and with the invention and implementation of Tahor App, the dignity of the woman, the desire to obey the laws, and the lack of anxiety, which equals the more serenity and acceptance of these laws will be a result.
Kudos and congratulations to the purveyors or this wonderful idea. May their efforts meet with great success!